Garstang - Fighting for the future of independent businesses

Alex Buxton, Lynn Nickson and Jill Cross

Alex Buxton, Lynn Nickson and Jill Cross - Credit: Archant

A new campaign is aiming to help Garstang retain its indiviuality, as Paul Mackenzie reports

These are hard times for small independent businesses and with more than 150 of them in Garstang, the town could be suffering more than most. But plans are being made to ensure that Garstang comes through the recession unscathed.

The town’s chamber of trade is putting the finishes touches to proposals which they hope will attract more shoppers to the town and enhance their experience once they arrive.

A four-strong sub-committee has been working for months on plans to market the town and member Jill Cross said: ‘We are doing what we feel we have to do to try to enhance Garstang’s popularity. What we are facing here is probably no different to any other small town but we want to do something about it.

‘There is a lot going on in Garstang – Britain in Bloom, the festivals and events – and it all relies upon volunteers. The people here want the best for Garstang and we are trying to do our bit to attract more shoppers into the town.

‘It is hard for independent shops at the moment, we all work very hard and for long hours for little reward but there’s no point just complaining about it, we’re trying to do something positive.’

And they’re starting from a strong position – Garstang is already a pretty and well-liked town, where the emphasis in many shops is on Fairtrade products. Garstang is still proud of its status as the world’s first Fairtrade town, a title bestowed on it in 2000. The centre of Fairtrade activity in Garstang today is the Fig Tree café and shop which stages events and exhibitions.

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Market day here is Thursday, when stalls line the street and the town is abuzz with chatter and the gentle tinkle of coins changing hands. But even when the market is not on, the compact town centre is a shopper’s paradise, whether you’re looking for clothes, gifts, homewares or – and this is where Garstang really comes into its own – food.

Most of Garstang’s shops can be found along the High Street and down the narrow weinds which lead off it and, despite the presence of Booths and Sainsbury’s supermarkets, the local butcher’s and fishmonger’s both remain popular.

Jill, who has run the cake shop Iced for six years, added: ‘We are tremendously lucky to have so many independent traders when many others towns have lost theirs but we have to fight to keep them.

‘The chamber of trade has talked for some time about developing a marketing plan for Garstang but it was a matter of finding the people to take it forward. Now we have. We have great individuals running businesses but the idea is to market them as a collective as well.

‘We don’t just face competition from the supermarkets here, but from bigger towns and the huge new shopping centres which have massive budgets for advertising. We don’t have that but we do have people who are passionate about improving Garstang.’

The road to Garstang

Where it is: Garstang stands beside the A6, roughly half way between Preston and Lancaster. The Lancaster canal and River Wyre meet just outside the town centre.

Where to park: There is a pay and display car park beside the new Booths store and another next to the visitor centre which costs £1.50 for a two hour stay. Both are well signposted and some free street parking is available.

Where to eat: Take your pick – as well as the restaurant in the new town centre Booths, there is Pipers on the high street and plenty of pubs, cafes and delis, not to mention a wealth of impressive food shops.

What to do: Take a walk beside the river or on the canal towpath, take in an exhibition at the Arts Centre and enjoy browsing the shops around the town centre.

Did you know: The town appears in the Domesday Book as Cherestanc, which is believed to mean ‘Land with a pole’.

Find out more: Garstang Discovery Centre on 01995 602125 or

Take yourself on a history trail

• Start at the Arts Centre at the end of the High Street. The front part of the building was originally the boys’ grammar school, built in 1756. The school closed in 1928 and the building now hosts exhibitions by local artists and art groups.

• There are many old and interesting buildings along High Street but the next one we’ll stop at is the Town Hall which was erected in the late 17th century but burned down 70 years later. The replacement did rather better, lasting until 1939 before it too fell victim to the flames.

• As the road forks outside the Royal Oak we pause beside the market cross, although it hasn’t actually been a cross for some time, market pole might be a more accurate term. Markets are still held every Thursday and next year will mark the 700th anniversary of Garstang’s market charter which was granted by Edward II.

• Following the right fork, the road leads to the Lancaster Canal which opened in 1797 originally to transport goods, although passenger services also ran. These days the canal, which crosses the river Wyre on an aquaduct, is well used by lugubrious, and often very pretty, boats which chug gently along its waters.

• Re-trace your steps to Park Hill Road, turn right and follow that, cross the river, to Castle Lane on your left. Beyond the houses, Greenhalgh Castle was built in 1490 by the Earl of Derby. The castle was partially demolished by Oliver Cromwell’s forces in 1645 and stones from the ruins have been used in buildings around the town.