Darwen - the people helping to revive their once neglected town
PUBLISHED: 00:00 04 June 2019
This Lancashire community has had its challenges over the years but now things are looking up for the town – and its famous tower
Peregrine falcons are associated with courage and versatility, so it's apt that a woven copper sculpture of one will take up residence in Darwen's newly renovated Market Square this summer. The bird is also famous for soaring to great heights - and many Darreners are optimistic their town can match that feat.
'There's a fondness for peregrines in the town as we're so used to seeing them up on the moors. We asked the locals what they would like to see a sculpture of and that came out top,' says Clare Turner, is helping to redevelop the Market Square she manages.
'The market already attracts foodies, as there is an emphasis on locally produced foods from cheese and meat to vegetables and cakes, as well as everything else from flowers to crafts. On market days, the atmosphere is fantastic but we wanted a space where people could meet, pass the time of day and even have picnics. As well as our peregrine, the square will also be home to artwork, cafes, evening events and boutique shops.'
Clare points out that Darwen, with its good transport links and welcoming atmosphere, is becoming an increasingly popular place to live. In order to meet that demand, many new homes, roads and even a school are being built.
However, if the council is successful in its bid for a government grant of £675 million, Darwen will undergo a complete overhaul, creating retail and business opportunities. Fingers remain crossed but that doesn't mean that the town isn't already benefitting from some great businesses.
Once famous for its role in the cotton industry, Darwen has known its fair share of difficulties in recent times but hopes are high that will soon be a distant memory and the WORK Entrepreneur Centre is playing a role in that. Here, people just starting in business can, at a very modest daily cost, rent a hot desk or an office.
'The building used to be the old Co-op Bank but these days it's filled with clean lines, Wi-Fi and the smell of fresh coffee but, more importantly, it's filled with a real friendly and supportive buzz,' says Sarah Suthers, who uses the centre for her work with the charity, The Together Trust. Others there are developing companies dealing with anything from social media and human resources to film-making and a there is a fitness coach who uses the space to see clients.
These are the next generation but Darwen has plenty of well-established privately owned businesses that can provide fabulous role models. One which has a world-wide reputation, working with clients from France to the Cayman Islands, is APM Design, an award-winning architectural design and interiors company.
Owned and run by husband and wife team, Andy and Tracy McCluskey, the couple who met at art college, could have based themselves anywhere but chose Darwen.
'We began 30 years ago working from home but with two young children that wasn't always perfect. We knew we had to find premises when a telephone conversation with a very important client was interrupted by the ear-piercing shriek of a toddler,' laughs Tracy, who finally decided that Darwen was the place to be.
'People might think it is off the beaten track but it isn't. It's easily accessible, not far from the airport and yet surrounded by glorious countryside, something super important to me as I'm a keen equestrian.' She is convinced that Darwen is on track to become one of England's trendiest towns.
As well as local and individual clients, they have worked with Premier League football clubs, the BBC, prestigious theatres such as The Lowry, upmarket country clubs and hotels, spas and even, for the Cayman island client, a beach resort.
'We have recently worked with a hotel in Cumbria that had a splendid Edwardian bathroom suite. The owners were tempted to jettison it but we were able to show them how modern touches could bring it up to 21st century standards while still retaining the heritage - a bit like Darwen really,' says Andy.
Derek Holden has certainly taken Darwen's heritage into account when building his multi-million pound, family owned wallpaper business, Holden Décor. 'Everyone knows that wallpapers began in Darwen and I'm a Darwen boy so it's only natural that I've based my business here,' he says. 'Wallpapers fell out of fashion for a while and there's no doubt that had a detrimental effect on the industry. But good quality wallpaper is back in vogue.'
Derek founded the firm in 1991 and he has attracted a young and talented team of designers to his cutting edge studio, which overlooks a massive distribution space.
'We keep abreast of the latest trends, in fact we quite often set them. Geometrics have been very popular but so are bold designs that might serve on a feature wall. Magnolia has been replaced by grey and rose gold has also made a splash. I do know what is probably going to be the next trend but that's top secret!'
The team even took to the moors in order to take some social media pictures of their own, risking limb - if not life, to hang paper from trees. It's not surprising that the countryside around this town has been such an inspiration.
Like all Darreners, The children of St Barnabas Primary School love Darwen Tower. They even designed a bench for their playground, which meant that they would have a great view of it. 'Darwen Tower is absolutely iconic but sadly, at 121 years old, it is in need of repair,' explains head teacher, Helen Thomas. 'Our local Rotary Club are working tremendously hard to raise its profile and in partnership with the council, they are submitting a bid for £230,000 to refurbish it.
'They have really involved the whole town, helping to raise an extra £60,000 and they've included the children many of whom are in Rota Kids - the children's arm of Rotary - by involving them in a competition to produce paintings of the tower.' The tower was built to commemorate the Jubilee of Queen Victoria but also to celebrate the legislation that meant people had the right to roam the moors without hindrance from gamekeepers, who maintained the land as the private playground of rich industrialists.
It is clear that regeneration of the town doesn't mean that Darwen is leaving its heritage behind - far from it. They have a dedicated Heritage Centre, where the story of the town unfolds. As well as a fascinating array of artefacts and they're always on the lookout for more.
They also have archives which attract historians and those researching their family trees from all over the world - there seems to be someone with a Darwenian heritage in every corner. The next exhibition, opening in June, will concentrate on Darwen Tower.
With all that's happening here perhaps they should think about having a sculpture of a phoenix alongside that peregrine.