Is Burscough one of best places in the country to bring up a family?

Burscough Village

Burscough Village - Credit: Archant

Burscough isn’t used to making national headlines but this small town, wedged between its better known Lancashire neighbours Ormskirk and Southport, was in the spotlight when came in the top 20 best places in the country to bring up a family.

Reserve Manager, Tom Clare and Marketing Manager, Victoria Fellowes, in the new hide development

Reserve Manager, Tom Clare and Marketing Manager, Victoria Fellowes, in the new hide development - Credit: Archant

The annual report took a long hard look at everything from education, safety and childcare costs, through to local amenities, affordable property and green spaces.

Burscough certainly isn’t short of green spaces and family activities, with Martin Mere Wetland Centre surely taking the top spot. The centre, run by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, is celebrating its 40th birthday this year and has plenty of events and activities to keep the family happy.

This November, the wetland will have some giant new arrivals – but they’re certainly something that you won’t have spotted with your birdwatching binoculars. Made exclusively for WWT by LEGO, ten larger than life brick animals will make their home in Burscough between November 28 and January 31. From an otter and flamingo, to a swan and even a red breasted goose, it will be the first time that animals like these have been put into LEGO form.

‘Blue Peter will be coming down to film these animals, as well as creating their own kingfisher,’ said Victoria Fellowes, marketing manager at the centre. ‘A trail will then be formed where the sculptures will sit among some of their real-life cousins. Visitors will be able to follow the trail and find the animals, and they can also book onto a LEGO workshop to make their own.’

If spotting the LEGO versions of animals isn’t your cup of tea, why not visit the centre the week before for the North West Bird Watching Festival? Taking place over the weekend of November 21 and 22, the festival promises to be a spectacle for bird enthusiasts.

Marketing Manager, Victoria Fellowes, at Martin Mere

Marketing Manager, Victoria Fellowes, at Martin Mere - Credit: Archant

‘It’s the best line up ever in terms of celebrity speakers, and there are lots of new activities and workshops too,’ said Victoria, who added that it’s the first time the festival has had a sponsor. Panasonic will be holding photography workshops over the weekend with wildlife photographer, Phil Gould. ‘There will be plenty of talks and walks allowing you to get closer to nature, with activities such as the bird ringing. It’s also the first time we have released a two-day ticket, meaning that visitors can listen to three different guest speakers per day over the course of the weekend.’

Martin Mere’s new 50 metre Discovery Hide will also be open for the festival. Replacing the Swan Link hide, which was built in the 1980s, the new hide will have four distinct sections to offer visitors a different experience depending on their level of birding expertise. ‘The internal discovery section, which will include sofas and scopes, is perfect for families to sit in warmth and comfort. More knowledgeable photographers and birdwatchers can utilise the outer section to have a closer experience.’

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‘It’s sure to be a spectacle,’ added Tom Clare, reserve manager. ‘Definitely don’t miss the swan feed, as we will have 1000 Whooper swans on site, as well as a mix of wildfowl, geese and ducks. Birds have just finished their migration, with some travelling from as far as mid-Russia and Iceland. Martin Mere is their resting place over winter.’

Author, Sarah Jasmon

Author, Sarah Jasmon - Credit: Archant

A novel idea

‘It was certainly surreal when I was at my own book signing,’ smiled Sarah Jasmon, from her cosy houseboat on the Leeds-Liverpool canal. ‘That feeling doesn’t go away, knowing that people you don’t actually know are reading your work – it’s not just you anymore!’

The Burscough author this summer had her first novel, The Summer of Secrets, published. The tale follows the story of young Helen, about how her life is changed forever when the unconventional Dover family moves into an abandoned cottage on the banks of the local canal.

‘I had always wanted to be a writer, always assumed it was what I wanted to do. But then you have children, events in life etc that take away that time,’ said Sarah, whose children, Hatty, 17 and Gabe, 14, spend half the week onboard the boat with her and their two cats and two dogs. Sarah’s eldest, Fuchsia, 21, is currently away at university.

Author, Sarah Jasmon, at home on the Leeds/Liverpool Canal

Author, Sarah Jasmon, at home on the Leeds/Liverpool Canal - Credit: Archant

‘When I got divorced, writing seemed like a natural thing to pick up. I studied a creative writing Masters at Manchester Metropolitan University, met an agent and publisher soon after and then the book was published.’

The book has certain similarities to Sarah’s own life. The 44-year-old author grew up in a tight knit community in a small village in Wiltshire, but wanted to leave and explore – much like protagonist Helen.

‘I think in your first novel you draw on a lot of emotions and memories from yourself. There’s quite a lot from my teenage years and here on the canal. I’ve lived in lots of different places since leaving Wiltshire, but for the past ten years I have lived here in Burscough. It’s not just the community of the town, but the canal community is great too. I love the big blue skies and fields that go on forever.’

Although Sarah, who has signed a two-book deal with Transworld, wrote the canal sections of her novel here on the boat, places aren’t instantly recognisable. ‘I’ve took a lane from here, a cottage from there. When it came to the editing process, they would have liked me to specify a location. However, I wanted it to be anywhere so people can relate it to their own part of the canal. A friend read an early version and she could see exactly where I was in Burscough!’

The KSSD dancers in Romania with their medals

The KSSD dancers in Romania with their medals - Credit: Archant

Returning triumphant

‘It genuinely couldn’t have gone any better,’ gushed Kelly Tobin, dance teacher at the Kelly Shirley School of Dance in Burscough. ‘We rehearsed six hours a day when they weren’t competing. They standard was high but they gave it their all.’

The pupils have recently returned medal winners from the 2015 Dance World Cup in Bucharest. We caught up with the school prior to their departure to Romania, so it’s great to see that all of their rehearsal time has paid off.

‘The pupils pulled out all the stops, I am so proud of them,’ continued Kelly, who has come home with a variety of medals including gold in the Junior Group Song and Dance category for their performance, One Night Only. ‘It doesn’t happen to most children, the chance to represent their country. To hear them belting out the national anthem was very emotional, a lot of the parents were crying!’

Back home in Burscough in the studio

Back home in Burscough in the studio - Credit: Archant

Kelly, who instilled in the children that if they work hard they will reap the rewards, spoke of how the Russian team reacted with a ‘wow’ when the Burscough troupe was dancing.

‘That’s when you know you have done well! Watching them in Romania, that’s when I realised just how good they actually are. To top it off, at the end of the competition there is a gala where all gold medallists compete head-to-head. We got the highest score, meaning England won the Dance World Cup.

‘To know you are the best in the world in your field is amazing, no-one expected that. We are all on cloud nine. We even received a letter from the Queen, expressing her delight that we had brought the title back to England.’