How the Bowland Food Hall in Clitheroe is aiming to be a destination for foodies

Bowland Food Hall

Bowland Food Hall - Credit: Archant

A paradise for foodies has been created as part of the £10million restoration of a Clitheroe mill. Roger Borrell reports

Food Hall Manager, Alison Ashworth

Food Hall Manager, Alison Ashworth - Credit: Archant

Alison Ashworth has travelled to some exotic locations during her career in the food and hospitality trade – from a 13-year-old washer-up in Colne to India’s Taj Mahal Continental Hotel, where she was the first European on the staff.

‘I used to have to get to work two hours early every day – I never could get the hang of putting on a sari,’ laughs Alison, looking a lot more relaxed in shirt and jeans sitting on a bar stool at the new Bowland Food Hall in Clitheroe.

Her father worked in the textile machinery industry in Oldham and often travelled the sub-continent, making contacts among hoteliers. When young Alison decided to make a career of hotel management, dad helped to get her a place at the Taj Mahal and that led to work in far-flung places like Jaipur, Delhi and Agra.

Travel obviously doesn’t daunt her, which is just as well. The last few months have taken her on a unique journey of discovery closer to home as she foraged along some of Lancashire’s most remote byways seeking out the finest food from the county.

Sarah Pearson making an energiser juice at the juice bar

Sarah Pearson making an energiser juice at the juice bar - Credit: Archant

The fruits of her labours can now be seen in the Bowland Food Hall, a spectacular space in Clitheroe’s Holmes Mill, part of a £10 million scheme by James Warburton, owner of the James’ Places group of hotels, inns and the award-winning Bowland Brewery.

The restored mill is already home to the brewery, the old boiler house now has what is thought to be the longest bar in Britain serving 24 different real ales each week, plus there’s a function suite and a gelateria for ice cream lovers. Soon there will be what promises to be a very sophisticated hotel with bistro, bar and grill plus a pool, gym and spa.

But the centre-piece, in the old weaving shed, is the food hall and it shows every sign of turning into a favourite for foodies far and wide. If you want to buy the perfect pie, the most delicious Lancashire cheese, the crustiest bread, most fabulous fish or outstanding sausages – and just about everything else produced in the region – this is the place to come. It’s 7,000 square feet of paradise for anyone passionate about local produce and good food.

It’s the sort of thing you once only found abroad – the Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid, for instance. ‘We did go to Oslo where there is something similar to this,’ says Alison, who manages the food hall. ‘But I don’t know of anything quite like this in the north.

Sommelier, Joseph Hook in the wine department

Sommelier, Joseph Hook in the wine department - Credit: Archant

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‘We wanted to create something really special, something distinctive and I think we’ve achieved that. It’s a great place to work and I hope it’s a brilliant place to shop.’

You’d probably describe the hall as ‘industrial chic’ using a host of upcycled materials from the old mill. There are exposed stone walls, polished concrete floors and metal gantries with floral displays. At one end an old Dennis brewery truck has been converted into a display stand for beers, soft drinks and gins. At the other end, a once battered and abandoned Citroen van, a favourite of French farmers, now makes an excellent display stand for fruit and vegetables.

In between, there are bottles from the famous Byrnes & Co wines, a butchery counter, deli, cheese overseen by Jan Curtis, formerly of the award winning Cheesie Tchaikovsky, a juice bar run by two women who really know their stuff and a counter with high stools where you can sample the produce on sale on serving platters before buying it to take home. Soon, there will also be a demo kitchen where chefs will show visitors how to cook the best of Lancashire.

These are counters not concessions – all the people working in the hall are employed by James’ Places and that way Alison and James can quality control what’s being sold. ‘We also rotate what’s available,’ says Alison, who once ran the Craven Heifer at Chaigley.

‘If someone comes to us and asks us to stock their produce we are happy to do that and if it sells we’ll keep buying it. That’s the whole idea behind the hall – to create a larder for Lancashire showing everything that is excellent. We will also be creating our own Holmes Mill dishes when our central kitchens are complete.’

More than 50 local suppliers are signed up to the new outlet, many of them award winning, with more to come. All share the James’ Places passion for quality and localness.

Alison reels off a host of producers including Leagram Cheese, Gazegill Organics and Roy Porter Butchers, of Chatburn. Rapeseed oil from Wignall’s is on sale alongside Bowland Eggs, smoked trout from the Bowland Smokehouse and raw, organic bars from Gisburn’s Mr Yeti.

Alison, a mum of four daughters, sees her role as a guardian of quality as well as managing the hall. ‘I want to make sure we stick to the ethos we had at the very beginning. I don’t want us saying one thing and selling something else.’

And she promises customers won’t find any click and collect, buy-one-get-one-free, or self-scan tills. In fact, there’s nothing remotely like any of the national supermarket chains and there is a good reason for that.

Alison’s boss, James, hates shopping in supermarkets. ‘He can’t stand them,’ she laughs. ‘Creating the food hall means he’ll never have to visit one again.’ w

* Bowland Food Hall is open 10am-7pm Monday to Saturday and 10am-6pm Sunday