Burnley - a vibrant and exciting place to live, work and visit

David Collinge

David Collinge - Credit: not Archant

How the old mill town has developed over the years

Owner, Brendan Salmon at Barlow's Herbalists

Owner, Brendan Salmon at Barlow's Herbalists - Credit: Pics; John Cocks

Burnley, once known largely as a mill town, has re-invented itself. These days, it's a university town, a super shopping centre, a festival town and a regular on lists that cite it as one of the best locations for business and politicians have urged other towns to follow where it leads!

That doesn't mean though that the town is turning its back on its roots. In fact, several businesses have been in the town for decades and are now riding this new wave of success. One of the oldest is Barlows' Herbalist, dispensing herbal treatments since 1882 and now, as a vanishingly rare breed, finds its services in demand throughout the UK.

Owner Brendan Salmon - originally a linguist and now a highly trained herbalist and author of a best-selling book on the topic - took over in 1982.

'I came to find a cure for my sister's acne. She got rid of the acne and I gained the shop. People still come in with skin complaints, but we cover everything from digestive worries to herbs that might help cancer sufferers,' says Brendan, who also offers personal consultations and engages therapists who use up to the minute electronics.

Gillian Ratcliffe and girls, Ella-Mai (5) and Miah-Grace in their Tu-Tus

Gillian Ratcliffe and girls, Ella-Mai (5) and Miah-Grace in their Tu-Tus - Credit: Pics; John Cocks

'These days, we find more people want help with anxiety based issues, although the shop itself, with its original counter and cabinets, can be pretty calming as soon as they enter.'

John Spencer Textiles has a 20 year start on Barlows'.

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In the same family since it began, it weaves in the centre of Burnley and if you're a fan of upmarket textiles, there's a good chance your fabrics were made here - they've even made material for ejector seats' parachutes: no wonder Patrick Grant of The Great British Sewing Bee was mightily impressed.

Today, John Spencer Textiles incorporates Ian Mankin designer furnishing fabrics and is the first weaving firm in the UK to secure a Global Organic Textile Standard Status from the Soil Association.

The Burnley Empire Trust team Sophie Gibson, Allen Thomasson, Jackie and Shaun McCree by the site of

The Burnley Empire Trust team Sophie Gibson, Allen Thomasson, Jackie and Shaun McCree by the site of the Empire Theatre - Credit: Pics; John Cocks

David Collinge is the present director: after a youthful stint as a photographer he came back to his roots. 'There's a real vibrancy in the Burnley air at the moment, an air of optimism, which means there's no reason why we can't produce top quality textiles for another century he says.

Amelia Barton is also part of a family dynasty, with her great-grandmother, grandmother and mum all being involved with Burnley fashion in one way or another from window dressing to modelling. Today, Amelia, a busy mum and wife to Wrexham's former Preston footballer - Adam Barton - owns Hire the Catwalk, Lancashire's only high-end designer dress hire agency.

'I talked it over with mum and gran and decided to go for it! After all, in these days of social media, many people don't want to be seen in the same outfit too often and besides, why not wear a dress that might cost a thousand pounds for a fraction of that? It's good for the environment too, so what's not to like,' says Amelia, who counts celebrities such as Katie Price, Tanya Bardsley and Chloe Lewis among her clients and who sends her dresses, carefully packed, all around the UK.

'Some clients like to browse by themselves but others like some help with styling. As my family shows, age is no barrier to style whether you're 20 or 90, going to an awards ceremony, a day at the races or if you simply want to dress up for a wedding.'

Amelia Barton at Hire the Catwalk

Amelia Barton at Hire the Catwalk - Credit: Pics; John Cocks

Amelia doesn't stock tutus but if that's your thing, head to Gillian Ratcliffe who, only a few months ago, caved into popular demand and rented herself a lovely shop in the market.

'It all happened quite quickly,' she says. 'I'm a mum to seven, five are girls and I taught myself, through trial and error, how to make tutus for them. They're not always that easy to source, especially if you want colours or made-to-measure pieces'

It wasn't long though before people were remarking upon Gillian's tutus and beating a path to her door: who knew tutus would be so popular?

'Well, at first I didn't! But little girls love them, ladies like them for fancy dress and of course, they're always needed for dance schools and stage productions.'

Involved in the Rorary Club of Burnley Classic Car Show are Neil Beecham, Gordon Salthouse, Adrian C

Involved in the Rorary Club of Burnley Classic Car Show are Neil Beecham, Gordon Salthouse, Adrian Cowgill and Tony Green. The vehicles are a 1979 Rolls Royce Silver Shadow II, a 1074 MG Midget and a 1939 Morgan Super Sports - Credit: Pics; John Cocks

If The Burnley Empire Theatre Trust succeed - and there's no reason why they won't - those tutus could appear on the stage of this rare theatre.

'There aren't many of these theatres around and ours has all the qualities needed to be one of the country's showpieces, something for the whole of Burnley, well the whole of Lancashire really, to be proud of,' explains 30-year-old artist, Sophie Gibson, the director and chair of the Trust. The Trust was formed in 2015 and managed to acquire the theatre for £1 from the Duchy of Lancaster and since then has successfully campaigned for a lottery grant of £44,000 and a £10,000 Theatres at Risk grant.

'From the outside, it doesn't look as if much has changed but the money has been used for surveys and things such as asbestos studies, so plenty is going on. That said, millions will be needed to make this into a fabulous entertainment venue again but we're on it. People follow us online and make donations but this year is extra special because this October, the Empire will have its 125th birthday.' The theatre will open for the Heritage Open Days this month and other events are planned for the anniversary.

'Hard hats will be provided but people are going to be astounded at the beauty inside. Ok, things have decayed but the colours are vibrant and there's still a line of glitter running around it. It is magical and although I was expecting my heart to sink when I first entered, it actually soared,' adds Sophie. The Burnley Rotary Club appreciate the beauty of old things, too. Every June, in conjunction with the council, they hold a Classic Vehicle Show in the grounds of Towneley Hall, raising funds for charity. 'We do have some of the best cars,' says organiser, Neil Beecham. 'There's stately Rolls Royces, spritely MG midgets and last year's winner was a rare and superbly restored three-wheeled Morgan. 'One of the best things about having a classic car in Burnley is using it to get out into the beautiful surrounding countryside. But you know what one of the best things is after a countryside drive? Returning to this fabulous town,' smiles Neil.

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