Rossendale: Unlocking the valley's golden future

By Ged Henderson

05 Jun 2023

Rossendale Hotspots Group Photo

Our road trip around Lancashire’s hotspots takes us to Rossendale. We travelled to the Kingfisher Centre in Rawtenstall to speak to businesses and local government representatives about the issues they and the borough are facing.

Present: 

Mark Allen
Orthoplastic   
John Boys
B&E Boy   
Nick Dykins
Slingco   
Tony Garner
Viva PR   
Dan Gregson
Rawtenstall Market   
Rob Huntington
Rossendale Council   
Mike Lane
WeBuyBooks   
Victoria Last
Carvansons   
Ian Liddle
Farleys

Connectivity and skills – two interlinked issues that hold the key to Rossendale’s economic future, according to its business leaders.

They highlight the absence of further and higher education provision within the borough and the daily difficulties faced travelling around the valley.

There has been some good news on both fronts.

Rossendale received £17.9m government funding in the spring Budget. Some of the millions will be spent on creating a new centre for skills provision in Rawtenstall Old Town Hall and streamlining the gyratory system in the town, to free what has long been a notorious road bottleneck.

Other projects on the agenda include reconfiguring Rawtenstall’s market and redeveloping the site of the existing market in nearby Bacup.

Rossendale Council’s recently appointed chief executive Rob Huntington sees the funding as “a really positive move”, supporting the valley’s placemaking ambitions.

He believes Rossendale can capitalise on its location and the opportunities that presents. In the late 19th Century, an industrial revolution powerhouse, this areawas known as “the golden valley”. Rob declares boldly: “My ambitions are that it becomes that again.”

The skills agenda, connectivity within and beyond the valley and inwardinvestment are all high on his agenda. The lack of higher and further education is “a recognised gap and a key priority”.

He says: “The future of Rossendale’s economy is productivity, we need to have the right people with the right skills, the right opportunities, the right businesses and we need to attract and retain talent, which is about meeting their expectations.

“If we are going to look at inclusive growth, which is about opportunities, then the right jobs and the right skills need to be matched. There’s a gap in the valley at the moment around that and it is something we will be addressing as part of the funding.”

He adds: “We’ve got to think ‘what is Rossendale about, what is that big strategic picture?’ What is our profile and what do we want to be known for.” That means looking at what neighbouring Greater Manchester’s devolution deal means for the borough and what opportunities it can take advantage of from the Lancashire 2050 strategic framework.

Mike Lane is managing director of Rawtenstall based WeBuyBooks. He chaired the borough’s levelling up board which drew up its bid to government. Skills and connectivity played a major part in its discussions.

He says A level students currently face a 50-minute average travelling time each way to go to college. “There aren’t even decent buses,” he adds, pointing out thatthe old Accrington and Rossendale College site in Rawtenstall is now home to a fast-food outlet.

Mike would have liked to have seen more of the funding aimed at skills and training but the levelling up bid process had “considerable constraints”. He says: “All we could do was provide a facility for people to hopefully latch onto. Arrangements with the local colleges to support that are not fixed in place yet and it’s possibly the weakest part of the whole bid.”

Mark Allen, managing director of Orthaplastics, a long-established Rossendale business based in Bacup, says: “As we grow as a company and diversify, we really do struggle with that skills gap and tapping into local employment.

“As a company 77 per cent of our employees are within a 10-mile radius. We are a very big local employer. But as the business grows and we start to expand our portfolio of products we need different skill sets. Unfortunately, these have to come from outside the valley.

“It means you are attracting talent that is potentially coming from 25-50 miles away and then you get into the commute and the transport links and everything else.”

He adds: “We are a very big proponent of apprenticeships. We have to use Burnley College and Nelson and Colne. We have links to the University of Central Lancashire. When you are taking apprentices and the ages they are, most of those people don’t drive.

“If you take on an apprentice, how do you get them into their employment? We are actually thinking of getting an employee vehicle to shuttle these people around.

“We want to attract this local young talent and we want to develop and nurture them within our business, but it is extremely challenging."

Victoria Last is marketing manager at Carvansons, a global perfume manufacturer based in Haslingden which moved into the borough less than two years ago. She says: “The concern is that lack of further and higher education within the valley.

“We’ve had apprentices, but we’ve had to take them from Burnley and other areas. We do day release where they have to go into college.”

She adds: “We are finding recruitment is a bit of a challenge as well. The higher level jobs are the ones that we are struggling to fill.”

Victoria also believes connectivity is a big issue for the borough and highlights the poor state of roads. She adds: “That transport connection is needed to improve what we do.”

Tony Garner, managing director of Rawtenstall based Viva PR, talks about a piece of work his business undertook for the council, which included talking to students from local schools about their futures.

He says: “Almost all of them saw leaving the valley as the only option. A really nice group of talented individuals, they felt they had no choice.”

Tony adds: “When I was growing up Rossendale was known for its footwear industry and there is still that legacy. I’m not clear what Rossendale wants to be know for in the future. In my view it should be encouraging tech firms to come here, but has it got the infrastructure and that skills set?”

Nick Dykins, managing director of Rawtenstall headquartered Slingco, a world leading supplier of cable pulling grips and wire rope assemblies, was also involved in the levelling up bid work.

He says better connections between Rawtenstall and the rest of the valley are vital, highlighting the impact on his employees’ work journeys.

He describes the current situation as “madness” and adds: “I can get people to our factory quicker from Cheshire than I can from past Bacup, Whitworth and Shawforth.

“You can travel for an hour and still be in the valley! There needs to be significant investment, not just in what is the key blockage, but also in connecting the conurbations around the valley.”

Mark Allen agrees. He says: “Transport links into Manchester benefit some businesses but transportation within the local area is how we are going to regenerate. Are the council and the local area going to generate income from commuters or from local businesses that are employing local people?”

Ian Liddle is partner at Lancashire law firm Farleys, which has just bought Mulderrigs, a law practice in Rawtenstall.

The town’s location was a major attraction. He says: “Businesses and people really support the local area and long may it continue.” He adds: “We want to encourage people who currently work in Manchester city centre to come and work in the Rossendale Valley, we want to grow what we’re doing in this area.”

Better transport links would help in that, he adds. “Just to get to the M66 can be a bit challenging. If that could be improved and if we could get a rail link to Manchester, it would transform the area.

“Then there are the difficulties of travelling within the valley. To encourage people to live and stay here you have to improve that.”

John Boys is director of B&E Boys, a construction and development company based in Rossendale for more than 60 years.

He believes the £17.9m funding has been “targeted reasonably well”. He adds: “Rawtenstall Market has a lot to offer, there is a lot of local interest in that area. I’d like to know more about the gyratory system work, I want to understand how that is going to improve transport links.”

Looking at the levelling-up agenda he says: “Clearly there’s a lot in the planning stage and lot of positivity in what’s being planned.

“However, as an SME we are thinking we might be left on the sideline if we are not careful.

There needs to be a focus on SMEs benefitting from some of this. All the spend seems to be going to the big operators, the tier ones, the nationals, and that for me is a stumbling block.”

The Rawtenstall market project is getting around £4m. Dan Gregson, market director, says: “Levelling-up has directly impacted our business.” The money, he explains, will be spent to create “that sense of a social hub within the town.”

As part of the makeover, its highly successful street food offering will move inside the revamped market hall. Dan says: “The market is thriving. It has a place in everybody’s heart and people identify with it. We’re in a really fortunate position.”

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