Love Ormskirk - showing Mary Portas how the high street revival is really done
PUBLISHED: 18:10 17 December 2012 | UPDATED: 18:21 09 March 2016
Traders in this market town refused to be beaten when they were rejected by Mary Portas. Roger Borrell spoke to one of its driving forces Photos by John Cocks
You might think Mary Portas seems like a very determined lady, but then you haven’t met Katie Givens.
The formidable redhead, famous for setting up a knicker factory at Middleton, told the good folk of Ormskirk they were not going to be part of her government-backed project to revive Britain’s High Streets. So, they applied again. And, once more, they were rejected.
While this might have provoked many a shopkeeper to pull down the blinds and put up the ‘Closed’ sign, it just made the people of this West Lancashire market town more determined to turn around their fortunes.
And with Katie at the helm, you wouldn’t be at all surprised if they pulled it off. She sounds nothing like Mrs Thatcher and there’s certainly no physical resemblance, but she has that edge of steel that gets things done.
‘Being rejected by Mary Portas was what massively spurred us on,’ she says. ‘By the time we were rejected the second time we realised that we had already achieved so much that we decided to go it alone.
‘We didn’t need Mary Portas and, while it was disappointing that the time, it might have been a blessing in disguise. We have more freedom to do what we want. It felt very exciting.’
And so Love Ormskirk was born – a community based campaign with the aim of energising the town to make it a better place to shop and socialise.
Katie and colleagues realised that making the Portas bids had already created the framework and the momentum for a campaign. They spread the word among the traders and they now have 45 businesses on board, the support of the council and they’ve impressed enough people to attract some grants. This has given Love Ormskirk the foundation to start marketing the town.
Like just about every other High Street in Britain, the recession has taken its toll. The town has maintained a good number of independent retailers and still has a buzz on market days, but shops have been closing and traders are starting to feel a bit swamped by charity shops.
Katie’s designer lingerie and clothing shop, Pandora’s Box, was among many starting to feel the pinch.
‘This is a family business and we’ve been here 20 years,’ says Katie. ‘Because of my background I probably do more PR and marketing than most, but people just weren’t coming in like they had been.’
Rather than wring their hands, they decided the first thing they needed was a vibrant Christmas campaign to draw in shoppers. They’ve hired an ice rink for the town centre and this will run in tandem with a Continental Market between December 9 and 11. The rink will return between December 16 and 18 and there are plans to set up a Santa’s Grotto. Talks are advanced with the council to give shoppers a discount deal on parking.
‘We want to create a buzz’ says Katie, a partner in the Pandora’s Box business. ‘We want to attract families to the rink and the Continental Market and, it may well be that they don’t go into the shops. But they might just feel that the place has a good, bustling atmosphere and Ormskirk is worth a return visit.’
The next step is the launch of an in-depth website showing what the Love Ormskirk members have to offer and the campaigners are planning an events calendar for 2013. This could include a major cycling event and a triathlon.
‘Love Ormskirk is something we want to sustain,’ says Katie. ‘Perhaps we have been guilty in the past of resting on our laurels. If you see people doing nothing, you tend to do the same. If others are doing interesting an exciting things, you want to be part of it. These things have a domino effect and, to prove it, more businesses are joining us every day.’
Ormskirk parish church is one of just three in the country to have both a tower and a spire. There are 94 listed buildings in the town, famous for its ginnels.
There is a statue of Disraeli in Ormskirk town centre. Known as the Beaconsfield monument, it is thought to have been erected in his honour after millions of voters were emancipated through the Reform Act of 1867.
Edge Hill University, home to around 19,000 students, is now permanently located in Ormskirk
The clock tower in the centre marks the junction where the old main roads from Liverpool, Wigan and Preston met.
Market day has been a part of life in Ormskirk since 1286. Currently there are two markets every week, on Thursdays and Saturdays.