Why Burscough is a place where local businesses prosper

PUBLISHED: 00:00 17 July 2018

Gaynor Pickering with Neil and Jane Hickson at Burscough Community Farm

Gaynor Pickering with Neil and Jane Hickson at Burscough Community Farm


Handmade and homegrown are the key to success at these Burscough businesses, writes Rebekka O’Grady

Burscough Community Farm members with founding directors, Neil and Jane Hickson (far right)Burscough Community Farm members with founding directors, Neil and Jane Hickson (far right)

When Neil and Jane Hickson were left with 18 acres of farmland, they weren’t quite sure what to do with it. The land had belonged to Jane’s father, and after her brother farmed it for ten years, the couple took over in 2013. ‘We thought let’s have a go at growing our own. There wasn’t a lot of opportunity to buy organic food locally,’ said Neil, who set up Burscough Community Farm and opened its doors to the public. Members can join and get involved in the farm during its three weekly volunteer days, lend a hand with the growing and take away some of the surplus produce.

‘It started as an allotment idea with friends and has really blossomed from there. We are driven by the environment, sustainability, wildlife and the like minded people who come here. The aim is to create a farm that gives people a chance to reconnect with the land. Today many are disconnected to where their food comes from.’

The farm is part of the Community Supported Agriculture scheme, an idea where the customer pays the farmer directly to grow their food for them. Established in Japan during the 1960s, it means that the customer shares the risk and shares the crop, along with supporting local farmers, reducing fuel miles and carbon footprints.

On the farm there are chickens, willow weaving, bee hives and much more, but at its heart is vegetable growing and market garden, which is small scale farming. Through this a weekly seasonal vegetable box scheme is produced, giving a focus and providing an income for the farm. Members of the CSA can also subscribe to the scheme and received a discounted subscription.

‘Whatever we can grow goes into the box. It’s all organic and in season produce; sometimes at the height of season you can have up to 16 different items,’ said Neil. There are three different sizes of boxes and each subscriber gets a share of what has been harvested that week. ‘Although we are a not for profit Community Interest Company, we didn’t want to be chasing for grants so this enables us to be self sufficient and pay for crops. Eventually we would like to form a co-operative and employ three or four people.’

As well as growing crops, as a CIC the farm hosts a large range of other activities and beneficiaries including hosting volunteers with mental health issues that have been referred from their GPs, those with learning difficulties, the home schooled network and the long term unemployed. ‘We have a distinct social mission of improving the health and well-being of those who are involved with the farm. The impact it has is huge,’ said Neil. ‘From our first season we have been amazed at what we have grown. But talking to one of the members in the field, he said that the best thing we have grown here is a community, one that didn’t exist before we started.’ www.burscoughcommunityfarm.org

At The Slipway: Manager, Sonia Swarbrick with owner, Dave Holt and area manager, Vicky McManusAt The Slipway: Manager, Sonia Swarbrick with owner, Dave Holt and area manager, Vicky McManus

The Slipway

An independent Lancashire pub company, Holt Pub Co, purchased this canal side establishment last year, reopening the pub in December after it stood empty for months. The Slipway is the fifth pub in the portfolio run by partners Dave Holt and Darren Cooper. In the space of 12 months, the duo have opened pubs in Wigan, Preston, Much Hoole and on Crabtree Lane in Burscough.

‘Previously it was brewery owned and was running into decline. As soon as we opened our doors, we were blown away with the response – especially considering it was out of season,’ said Dave, who said that despite being open only six months, the pub feels like an established part of the community. ‘I couldn’t be more pleased. The key is definitely keeping things local.’

The Slipway is currently their only pub serving food on site and the menu, created by head chef Steve Prescott, formerly of The Ship at Lathom, is packed full of local produce and ingredients. The bar also features locally brewed ales, including Windmill brewery in Standish and Warton’s Old School Brewery.

‘Being independent we have full autonomy so we can do what we want, tailoring and adapting the food and drink offering to what our customers want,’ said Dave, who is also potentially planning to open their own glass fronted brewery in the boat house, and to create accommodation, such as lodges or converted railway trailers, in the car park. ‘We are just continually moving forward to create a destination.’


David Peeks and Jane Thompson in the bakery at Artisan FoodworksDavid Peeks and Jane Thompson in the bakery at Artisan Foodworks

Artisan Foodworks

You may recognise the name of this Burscough business as the writers of our resident bread column. If you haven’t had the opportunity to make your own bread from their monthly recipes yet, you can pick up a selection of freshly baked goods at their artisan café, Merlin’s Café, located a few doors down from the bakery in Merlin Park.

Run by David Peeks and his family, Artisan Foodworks opened in 2011 and alongside baking bread, savoury pies and cakes, they offer several different bread making classes, including the popular real bread making for beginners and introduction to sourdough.

‘We make our bread to meet the criteria of the Real Bread Campaign, using no artificial additives in any of our bread,’ said David, who said that with the rise of programmes like Great British Bake Off, people are becoming more interested in baking and have a deeper understanding of what is in their food. ‘People are more aware now of what goes into factory produced bread and food and are looking for locally sourced, better quality options.’

Three years ago the business opened Merlin’s Café, which alongside serving items baked by David and the team, offers a 
tasty breakfast and lunch menu made with locally sourced ingredients where possible. Due to the success of the café, 18 months ago they added a glass extension onto the building, creating a beautiful new space to soak up the sunshine and enjoy a rustic sandwich.


Colin and Carole Wareing stand in the hatches of The Wool BoatColin and Carole Wareing stand in the hatches of The Wool Boat

The Wool Boat

From their narrowboat, the Emma Maye, Carole and Colin Wareing cruise the inland waterways of England and Wales, bringing their unique floating wool and yarn shop to towns and villages along the canals. Customers can board the vessel while she is moored, to purchase anything they need for knitting, from yarns and patterns, alongside hand knitted garments made by Carole.

Despite exploring the UK’s waterways, their base is in Burscough on the Liverpool and Leeds Canal. The couple are both local to the area, with Carole, a former maths teacher from Mawdesley, and Colin, who worked in manufacturing, from Banks. Both had been interested in the canals for many years, and starting into boating by hiring for holidays. They have now been boat owners for over a decade.

‘It started off as a gap year in 2006 and we are still on it! In 2008 we took a boat down to London and on the way back we stopped off at a canal festival in Dudley where people were selling things off their boats,’ said Colin. Carole was already knitting at that point and he was taking photographs, so in 2009 they became the Pic ‘n’ Knit boat.

‘During our first year, we were in Leeds and a lady knocked asking if we had any wool for sale. Knitting shops were shutting but the hobby was become increasingly popular so we decided to buy in some wool to sell. By the time we got back to Burscough, people were asking where the ‘Wool Boat’ was – so it was the public that named us.’

For Carole, it seemed almost inevitable that she was going to end up in the wool business. Her gran was born into it and her mum had a wool shop, but she always said that she wouldn’t have one. ‘But look at me now,’ Carole laughed. The couple were even shown on Channel 4’s ‘Walking through History’ with Sir Tony Robinson. ‘That has been broadcast all around the world and from it we have had an awful lot of commissions from Australia, Canada and New Zealand for jumpers. It’s a fantastic life.’


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