Ormskirk success stories

We meet some local people whose successes are boosting their town's confidence. Amanda Griffiths reports <br/>Photography by John Cocks

If it’s true that the calibre of our children dictates the future success of our communities, then the west Lancashire town of Ormskirk has many reasons to be optimistic.

As well as becoming a magnet for students thanks to the thriving Edge Hill University, Ormskirk School is celebrating a number of triumphs in everything from sporting excellence to academic achievement.

Toria Swift is a prime example. The energetic 17-year-old has just represented Lancashire in the school cross-county competition at Heaton Park in Manchester, coming second overall, as well being good enough to take part in County Championships in Birmingham, which is open to the best runners of all ages.

Meanwhile, Megan Thomas, a pianist and singer, will be playing at the O2 stadium in the summer as part of the Live and Unsigned Festival. It’s part of a prize she won at a competition in Manchester which will also see her recording a single and, if all goes well, that will be followed by an album.

She and Toria both say the support the school has given them has been invaluable. ‘They are just two of our students who are doing exceptionally well,’ says Elaine Jackson, sixth form director and assistant head.

‘We’ve also got two students going to Oxford and Cambridge in September - David Harper has been offered a place to study mathematics at Oxford and Rosanna McCurrie has a place to study theology at Cambridge.

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‘They are exceptional students who are talented in their chosen fields but who also work very hard to achieve excellent results.’

While there are great things happening academically in Ormskirk, the smell of success is also to be found in this busy retail area. For instance, butchers G&E Hallsworth and Sons, beat off competition from more than 60 rivals to pick up a string of awards for their sausages.

‘We went to the North West regional competition at the Reebok Stadium and won a gold award for our Cumberland sausages, a gold for our home cooked bacon and a silver for our traditional sausages,’ says 24-year-old Chris Hallsworth.

‘People we talked to beforehand said they’d been going for a number of years and never won anything so we didn’t expect anything on our first try.

‘It was a bit of a shock really. We’re passionate about our products, we’re  more than happy with them and know we do a good job but we didn’t expect to win.’

All the seasonings in their bangers are home-blended from recipes developed by Chris’s dad and his granddad over the years.

‘I’m a third generation butcher and the shop has been here since 1958,’ he adds. ‘I’ve worked here with mum and dad from an early age. I have seen a lot of changes in that time. I’d say the biggest is that where once people would come in for big joints for main meals, now they come more for convenience products. I think that’s just the way our lifestyles have altered.’

Like many towns of similar status, size and age, Ormskirk has changed over the years, most notably in terms of its shops. Once, the emphasis was on local independent retailers. While there’s still a good selection in the pedestrianised town centre, national retail chain names are here to stay.

However, it was one which went bust that inspired one artist exhibiting at the town’s Chapel Gallery in St Helen’s Road.

Recollection looks at the way simple objects can evoke emotions and memories. Louise Wood, is just one of 11 artists in the exhibition and local people will find her work poignant.

‘My work has always touched on memory and old buildings,’ explains39-year-old Louise, who works in ceramics. ‘My pieces in this exhibition are based on two striking industries, one very local and one national.

‘For me, Woolworths was the iconic symbol of the High Street. I didn’t expect it to disappear and I don’t think anyone else did. There’s a whole wealth of childhood memories attached to it.’

The Woolworths pieces are 12 sculptures created from the stories of a dozen ex-employees. ‘It just so happened that a number of ex-staff socialised at the gallery,’ says Louise. ‘Ruth Owen at the gallery introduced me to them and it all went from there.’

The other piece Louise is exhibiting during Recollection, which runs until June 5, is based on the memories and recollections of Ainscough Mill in nearby Burscough. Louise has been waiting for a chance to incorporate this once-significant employer into her work since she first came across it, around  ten years ago.

‘We were looking for a new house in Burscough and out of the window I saw the mill,’ says Louise. ‘I had to leave the house immediately to investigate the building and from then on it was burned into my mind

‘Again, I’ve interviewed a number of people about the mill. There were so many characters; they all talk fondly about the place, it wasn’t just a place of work for many of them.

‘There are so many people who helped me, not only by telling metheir memories, but lending me photographs, donating clay or helping with the posters. I couldn’t have done it without them.’

Orme truths

The name Ormskirk is said to come from an Old Norse name and the old Norse word for church.

The Parish Church of St Peter and St Paul is the oldest building in Ormskirk, although its exact date of origin is unknown.

Legend has it that the church has both a spire and tower because Orme had two sisters, one who wanted one and the other who wanted the other. Orme built it with both to please both. The church is unique in the fact that the spire and tower are built at the same end of the building.

Famous people with Ormskirk connections include impressionist Jon Culshaw, TV presenter Stuart Maconie who was a student here and footballers Billy Ayre, Duncan Ferguson, Tony Morley, Jimmy O’Neill, Robbie Slater and Stephen Warnock.

Where is it? Ormskirk can be found off the A59, roughly 15 miles from Preston or off the A570, nine miles from Southport. Key L39 4QR into your satnav and you should find it.

Where to park? There are plenty of short stay (up to two hours) pay and display car parks in the centre of the town as well as longer stay pay and display car parks a little further out.

What to do there? Visit the bustling market on Thursday or Saturday; take a walk around the Parish Church of St Peter and St Paul; feed the ducks or enjoy the quiet surroundings of Coronation Park; take a trip to The Chapel Gallery, browse the latest exhibition, have a bite to eat in the caf� and pick up some contemporary gifts in the gift shop.

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