A lady skips down Cockermouth’s Main Street in a 50s style purple dress with a full net skirt and tangerine sash with shoes to match, swinging a bag in one hand and a sewing machine in the other. It is such a delightful image of joyous abandon that it is easy to see why it was chosen for the front of a leaflet promoting Recreate & Make.

The lady had spent the morning finishing off her ensemble at one of Recreate & Make’s workshops and was so proud of it that she wanted to wear it immediately – and show it off to the town.

The studio and shop is a hotbed of creativity both for its owners Maggi Toner-Edgar and Sarah Ames, who have many years’ experience as teachers, designers and makers in the textile sector, and its ‘students’ who come with all skill levels.

Great British Life: Recreate & Make, in Main StreetRecreate & Make, in Main Street (Image: Sheena Alcock)

The premises are highly appropriate too, having once been bookseller, businessman and historian David Winkworth’s Printing House and museum.

“Before Covid I had plans for a ‘stitch academy’ because I wanted to teach people how to make things,” explains Maggi, who ended up running a popular series of tutoring sessions online during the pandemic.

“Our ethos is community, creativity and the environmental aspects of upcycling and recycling, trying to get people to mend their own clothes and to be creative, and to have fun doing it.”

Great British Life: Sarah AmesSarah Ames (Image: Sheena Alcock)

Maggi, who founded the Eden Valley Artistic Network (EVAN), and Sarah, who has a masters in contemporary applied arts and her own textiles business, recently moved into 102 Main Street, next to the National Trust’s Wordsworth House.

“We wanted a space where we could have both a shop selling our and other people’s work and a workshop. We have a progressive syllabus where if you come one Saturday morning a month over the course of a year you will learn at least ten techniques of art textiles or making clothing,” Maggi explains.

Courses include needle felting, pattern making, machine embroidery, millinery, dressmaking and customising clothing on commercial sewing machines that have names like Maud, Betty and Doris.

Great British Life: Recreate & Make, work by Sarah AmesRecreate & Make, work by Sarah Ames (Image: Sheena Alcock)

Friday mornings are for beginners with Introduction to Stitch and Essential Skills; Tuesdays offer the opportunity to join a group of likeminded makers developing their own creative projects. Saturdays are Creative Days for makers to try something new within a year-long programme of full-day courses aimed at beginners, those with some project experience and confident, experienced stitchers.

Young Stitchers is open to 13 to 18-year-olds after school on Wednesdays.

The last Thursday of every month is Tea and Textiles, a relaxed afternoon of tea, chat and slow stitch.

Great British Life: Recreate & Make, in Main StreetRecreate & Make, in Main Street (Image: Sheena Alcock)

The shop also interiors items, gifts, cards and upcycled clothing as well as basic haberdashery including needles, threads, buttons, wool and fabrics.

Maggi, who specialises in renovations and customisation, says: “It is places like this that can make a difference to the high street, giving people a reason to come and to be part of something.”

Sarah, who makes dolls, soft furnishings and home accessories, adds: “It’s amazing the number of people who keep coming back, they just want to be here. When we’re in here and it’s busy, people going past look in and want to come and see what’s going on.”

Great British Life: Zebra Clothing, in South StreetZebra Clothing, in South Street (Image: Sheena Alcock)

For ready-made fashion Zebra, in South Street, offers mid-range women’s wear sourced from European brands. Sue Graham opened the shop with her sister-in-law ten years but now her business partner has retired Sue is continuing alone.

“We have a very loyal, growing customer base and we stay true to them while ringing the changes,” says Sue. “We keep abreast of what’s trending to bring them different things that we think they will want to wear, keeping it fresh but within the style we’re known for.

“What sets us apart is completely personal service. It’s about the whole shopping experience and we want customers to leave feeling happier than when they came in, whether they’ve bought anything or not.

“We want ladies to find things they will want to wear for a long time. We do alterations too, and we wouldn’t let anyone buy something that didn’t fit well.”

Brands include Irish company Naya, Marble from Scotland, Australian label Orientique, Tinta from Spain and Canadian brand Frank Lyman.

“We are quite global and you won’t find the clothes we sell in department stores, only independent shops can buy them. We focus on contemporary, comfortable clothing for any occasion in sizes 8-22.

Great British Life: Sue Graham, owner of ZebraSue Graham, owner of Zebra (Image: Sheena Alcock)

“We have two sales a year, in May and just after New Year, and we don’t do reductions at any other time because there’s nothing more irritating for customers to buy one week then see it reduced the next.”

Sue is just one shop owner who is confident that visitors can find everything they need in Cockermouth. “It’s an excellent shopping centre,” she says. “We’ve got two shoe shops, three dress shops, lots of nice cafés, Fagans for gifts, all sorts of interesting places. There’s enough to fill a full afternoon and that’s relatively unusual now.”

Cockermouth also has a strong history of arts-based, independent businesses including Billy Bowman’s Music Shop, Percy House Gallery, The Bridge Gallery and world class original art at Castlegate Gallery. The Kirkgate Centre is the place to go for performance and live entertainment.

The Haynes family came to Cumbria from Bedford last year seeking a different pace of life. They had previously had their own facilities management company so were used to running a business – and now they have two, each with a ‘live better’ ethos to support the local community into which they have moved.

Great British Life: Sarah-Anne Haynes at OllievandersSarah-Anne Haynes at Ollievanders (Image: Sheena Alcock)

Ollievanders is a greengrocers in Main Street selling fresh fruit and vegetables – some of which are locally grown – and Cumbrian-made store cupboard products including jams and chutneys by Claire’s Handmade, Wild & Fruitful and Cumbrian Coastal Kitchen, Salkeld Mill flour and oats, cakes by Ginger Bakers and eggs from Linskeld Farm, at Isel.

Sarah-Anne Haynes, who runs the shop, says: “My parents had been here a few times on holiday and loved it, the feel of Cockermouth and the people in the town, so they decided to move. They are quite passionate about healthy food and they want people to be able to eat healthily and to have nice food.”

The shop currently offers a free produce box delivery service across the region, or customers can leave a shopping list for local drop-off.

Great British Life: Vanessa Haynes at Hollie & BelleVanessa Haynes at Hollie & Belle (Image: Sheena Alcock)

Vanessa Haynes was a florist so the family’s move to Cockermouth allowed her to start afresh with a new business, Hollie & Belle.

The former premises of White and Green Interiors, in Station Street, was available and she quickly made contact with local farmers who grow flowers to supply the shop, supplemented by buying in from Holland.

Vanessa says: “Utopia would be everything grown locally – flowers and all the fresh fruit and veg in Ollievanders – and while that’s not possible we do try to source as much as we can locally. Customers already turn up with apples from their orchards and allotments and we pay them as if it were wholesale.

“For us it’s really important to serve the local community and being able to share local products wherever we can more widely, which is why we deliver as far as Sellafield. The more we can distribute the more we can buy in locally and the more confident farmers can be to grow it.

“People say they want to support locally grown, but they also want their kohlrabi and mooli and although there’s not much of that grown here we will get it in for customers.”

Hollie & Belle provides all local floristry services for weddings, funerals and thank you bouquets as well as single stems for bud vases. ‘Kitchen flowers’ are offered at £5.

Vanessa adds: “People can come to the shops and buy as much or as little as they want, just one carrot or potato, or one flower from Hollie & Belle, if that’s what they need.”

Great British Life: Jack Tatham and Emily Baker at Market Place Print StudioJack Tatham and Emily Baker at Market Place Print Studio (Image: Sheena Alcock)

Market Place Print Studio represents a change of life for its owners, artists Emily Baker and Jack Tatham, who have relocated from London.

They had a studio in the capital and found ideal premises in the Georgian part of town from which to run courses and workshops and do their own print work.

“We offer etching, linocut and itaglio for beginners through to advanced, and we offer our equipment and facilities to other artists. It’s a welcoming space for anyone who wants to create,” says Jack.

Great British Life: Jack Tatham at Market Place Print StudioJack Tatham at Market Place Print Studio (Image: Sheena Alcock)

“We aren’t a commercial printer, although we can do small, bespoke runs on our large, traditional printing press.”

With JB Banks, the traditional ironmongers across the Market Place and galleries nearby, it is a good location. “It feels like we fit nicely in the town and especially here where there are traditional crafts and heritage,” adds Jack.

“We’d like to be part of a community for people to come and use the space. We don’t sell very much, just the chance for people to be creative.”

While in the Market Place visitors can pick up fresh bread, homemade cakes, scones and, especially at this time of year, hot cross buns from The Coffee Kitchen Bakery.

Their bestsellers include pane rustica and three-seeded and they also make speciality breads such as Beacon Brown, which is based on an old Whitehaven recipe with treacle and a shot of espresso added.

Cockermouth has always had a strong dining scene with something to suit everyone whether it is a traditional tearoom like Beatfords, in Lowther Went, or Fermento Italian kitchen.

Great British Life: Derek Boardman, chef at No 41 Market PlaceDerek Boardman, chef at No 41 Market Place (Image: Sheena Alcock)

No 41 Market Place is a new addition co-owned by Nikky Beetson and head chef Derek Boardman, who met while working at the Bridge Hotel, in Buttermere.

“We both had the same ideas for a restaurant so decided to go into business together,” Nikky explains. “We focus on seasonal, local produce for a small menu that changes regularly as we drop dishes in and out. It’s a moving menu based on seasonality and everything is made fresh on the premises.

“There’s an awful lot of great produce in this area and we try to use Cumbrian, from our drinks to our food. We work hard to make sure we offer an almost fine dining experience but in a really casual atmosphere.

“We’ve been fortunate to have been very well received, which is really lovely. Cockermouth is a gorgeous little town and the local support has been amazing.”

Great British Life: Nikky Beetson at No 41 Market PlaceNikky Beetson at No 41 Market Place (Image: Sheena Alcock)

Nikky is originally from the Queensland outback in Australia where she grew up on sheep and cattle stations. “Cockermouth is great and reminds me so much of where I come from in the fact that everyone’s friendly and knows everybody. It’s a really nice place to live.

“We spent three months renovating the restaurant and people would stop and ask us what we were doing. They’re curious then are willing to support you, which is the same where I’m from. They know that if you don’t support local businesses they die and it’s really great that we have such a supportive community here.”

No 41 is open for dinner on Friday, Saturday, Monday and Tuesday evenings, and Sunday lunchtime. Menus are published on Instagram and Facebook on Friday afternoons.

Great British Life: Harry Machin and Rachel Dunbar, owners of FikaHarry Machin and Rachel Dunbar, owners of Fika (Image: Sheena Alcock)

Whereas Derek and Nikky are new to Cockermouth, Harry Machin and his partner Rachel Dunbar know it very well.

The local couple took over the former Merienda café, in Station Street, renaming it Fika but retaining much of the menu and the same feel inside, including bringing back the indoor tree for which it was once known.

Chef Harry had worked part-time in the kitchen while operating his own hog roast on Keswick Market, and Rachel worked front of house when she was a teenager before training to be a solicitor. Now they are back, except the café, which has always been a special place for them, is theirs.

Great British Life: Breakfast at FikaBreakfast at Fika (Image: Sheena Alcock)

“After we met and started going out we went to Merienda all the time for breakfast, it was our favourite place to go. I kept pestering John, the owner, for a job and it took a while but eventually one came up,” explains Harry, who previously worked in hotels, two-rosette restaurants and Tom Brown’s Brasserie, in Nottingham.

“I wanted to have my own place eventually and when John said he was going to sell he offered it to us.

“We chose Fika because it means a coffee break and cake in Scandinavian countries and to us this has always been a place to slow down and enjoy quality time.”

In addition to serving breakfast from 9am, brunch and lunch, as well as tea and cake, they also open for pre-ordered dinner on Friday and Saturday evenings, bookings only. “It’s more of a fine dining menu, which is nice for me to be able to do, it’s the type of food I enjoy doing,” says Harry. Dishes include Pigeon Breast, Beetroot, Red Chicory, Blackberries, or Almond Crusted Goat’s Cheese, Red Onion Chutney, Candied Pecans, Pickled Beetroot to start while main courses might be Darkhouse Marinated Venison, Potato Terrine, Carrot, Dark Chocolate and Coffee Sauce, or Chicken Supreme stuffed with Chorizo, Red Pepper and Mozzarella.

Great British Life: Clare Doherty, owner of Choc of the NorthClare Doherty, owner of Choc of the North (Image: Sheena Alcock)

Back in Main Street, Clare Doherty has indulged her love of chocolate by opening Choc of the North.

It represents a change of career for Clare who was a secondary school English teacher for 27 years, including at St Joseph’s Catholic High School, in Workington.

“I just needed a change after so long, and the idea of eating healthier food and therefore healthier chocolate became a real passion. Whenever I used to go to Tebay Services I would look at the amazing chocolate selection and wanted to bring that experience to people in Cockermouth,” she explains.

Great British Life: Choc of the North Choc of the North (Image: Sheena Alcock)

Clare lives just outside the town and when a shop became available she decided to take the plunge. As well as selling loose chocolates by Castle Chocolates, of Carlisle, and bars and boxes by carefully selected makers, she plans to run events and tastings.

“I think people are a bit afraid of dark chocolate, but it is actually fully of antioxidants and polyphenols that are good for you and with not a lot of sugar,” she says.

Suppliers include Sheffield-based Bullion Chocolate, Chocolarder, from Cornwall, and organic products from Chocolate Tree, in Edinburgh. All are small-batch, bean-to-bar craft makers that use ethically sourced beans.

“It’s been a terrible, really awful trial finding the best chocolate,” she laughs. “They are all beautiful, handmade, using the best ingredients with no harmful chemicals and minimum processing, so they’re friendly to us and the planet.”

Great British Life: The New Bookshop, in Main StreetThe New Bookshop, in Main Street (Image: Sheena Alcock)

Coincidentally, Clare’s friend Louise Heaton, another former secondary school English teacher, has also given up education to take on her own business. The New Bookshop with its popular café has been a stalwart of Main Street for many years and was recently taken over by Louise, who has lived in Cockermouth for 20 years and worked at schools in Aspatria, Workington, Keswick and Cockermouth.

“The shop came up for sale and everybody who knows me said told me I should have a bookshop with a café. It was a big leap and a big learning curve but I was very lucky to get a shop that’s so well established and much loved.

“It’s been more a case of building it back up to pre-Covid level and bringing back the book club, storytime and other events rather than changing anything.”

She has also inherited a loyal staff who include Clare Mulligan, who is still working there at the age of 80.

Finally, Cockermouth Rotary is gearing up for its annual Host of Daffodils event which starts on March 23 and runs for three weeks taking in Easter and the birthday of poet William Wordsworth, who was born in Cockermouth on April 7, 1770.

Daffodils of all shapes and sizes will be displayed to complement the real flowers in bloom throughout the town making it the ideal time to visit.