Witches guide to Barrowford

Hop on your broomstick and head for Barrowford, home of witches and wonderful shops

Barrowford is a land of wicked witches and wizard retailers. Its heritage centre attracts thousands of visitors to hear tales of the Pendle witches while what was once a mill town has been transformed into one of Lancashire’s shopping gems.

Its revival from a town hit by the demise of an industry underpinning thousands of jobs to a thriving, vibrant community has been spectacular. Its long main sandstone street is peppered with small independent shops, many of them top fashion stores cutting edge enough to attract footballers and their wives hunting down designer tags.

However, it has managed to avoid turning totally twee - it retains the down-to-earth feel of a town that can still make things. Today, some of the mills continue to provide jobs - but in much smaller numbers.

For instance, the former mill in Dixon Street is now home to Britain’s biggest manufacturer of polytunnels. The boom in grow-your-own and changing trends in commercial agriculture sparked a surge in business at First Tunnels.

The firm employs 14 people involved in creating and selling kits of tubular steel, wood and polythene, which are exported around Europe. They have even been bought by residents on the tiny South Atlantic island of St Helena - so they must be wind resistant!

First Tunnel, owned by Sean Barker, has been selling up to 3,000 units a year. Sales and marketing manager Gail Burn said: ‘The number of people choosing to grown their own veg has increased business at the smaller end of the market while more of the big commercial growers are now using polytunnels.

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‘At times we were traditionally quiet we have been extremely busy. There’s been no let up. It really started to take off 18 months ago and hasn’t stopped. We have also started working with schools where environmental projects have led to the use of our tunnels.’

Colleague Laura Crawforth added: ‘I’ve been here for eight years and last year was the busiest I’ve known. We were working 60-hour weeks.’ These old mills might not thrum to the sound of looms, but they are still providing a living for a small number of men and women.

Just down the road, another business relies on a very different kind of frame - for works of art.

Dyson’s, in Lee Street, is one of this area’s longest-established family businesses, starting off in Nelson just over 130 years ago. The shop provides a picture framing and restoration service, a stylish gallery and a section selling artists’ materials. It is run by third generation Richard Davies, along with his wife Jane and his father, Anthony, who still gets involved in complex and highly skilled restoration work. Both Richard and Anthony are Guild Commended Picture Framers. ‘My father was one of the first in the region to have this qualification,’ said Richard. ‘It means that we might be a little more expensive, but we do the job correctly and it comes with a lifetime guarantee.’

Richard, who trained as a sculptor, moved the business to Barrowford in 2004. ‘We’ve absolutely no regrets,’ he said. ‘We love Barrowford as a place and we love the people. It’s great to have the business here.’

Small businesses like Dyson’s make Barrowford what it is today - an increasingly popular retail centre. However, there’s no denying it has changed its dynamics over the years.

Parish council clerk Iain Lord has been in Barrowford for 30 years. When he first arrived to work in the mills there were seven butchers and two hairdressers. Today, there is one butcher - the highly-rated Beeches - and more than half a dozen hairdressers. It’s a story that’s repeated in almost every High Street in the land.

‘Barrowford has really been on the up for the last 20 years,’ said Iain, originally from Bacup. ‘And as that has happened, property prices have gone � through the roof. We moved here because property was cheaper. Before the recent crash, a terraced house here would cost between �110,000 and �120,000. A similar property in Nelson would cost half that. Of course, that means we are getting to the stage where younger people can’t afford to buy their own home here.’

The old mill opposite the Parish Council offices on Gisburn Road made way for a housing estate and further development is likely as a moratorium on new building comes to an end.

Iain and his colleagues are hoping that that will lead to the building of some more affordable homes. ‘The need for this was one of the main concerns among the 6,000 residents we surveyed as part of the local plan.’

The heritage centre is a major attraction for day visitors and the council is hoping to work with it to encourage more people to venture into the retail centre. To help, a new map to promote Barrowford’s heritage and its shopping is being prepared for next year’s tourist season.

While the town has several things going for it, the lack of a community centre obviously irks many. It was located in a fine stone building on Gisburn Road until Pendle Council leased it to another organisation and many of the local groups, such as the senior citizens’ keep fit club, found themselves homeless.

‘We do find it galling that smaller places like Roughlee and Barley have community centres while we have nothing,’ says Iain.

One development on the horizon which is likely to pull in more visitors is the planned construction of a Booths supermarket on the site of Park Mill, off Gisburn Road.

There were early fears about further traffic congestion - up to 19,000 cars pass through Barrowford every week day - and the impact on local shops. However, the feeling now is that most of the town’s niche shops are so specialised that they are strong enough to withstand competition.

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