Garstang - the world’s first Fairtrade town goes from strength to strength

PUBLISHED: 19:46 15 August 2016 | UPDATED: 19:46 15 August 2016

Garstang and District Agricultural and Horticultural Society Show; David Hewitt (Chairman), Philip Halhead (Director), Jayne Gibson (Director), Sally Hull (Director), Andrew Thompson (Director), Bill Myerscough (Director), Rosalind Hargreaves (President) and Melissa Wood (Show Secretary) with horses Alderley Shakira and Admergil Toby

Garstang and District Agricultural and Horticultural Society Show; David Hewitt (Chairman), Philip Halhead (Director), Jayne Gibson (Director), Sally Hull (Director), Andrew Thompson (Director), Bill Myerscough (Director), Rosalind Hargreaves (President) and Melissa Wood (Show Secretary) with horses Alderley Shakira and Admergil Toby


They know how to put on a show in this historic town-in-the-country, as Martin Pilkington discovers.

Anthony Coppin, Vice Chairman of the Historical SocietyAnthony Coppin, Vice Chairman of the Historical Society

Garstang is always seems a bustling, busy sort of place, the combination of charming Georgian buildings and largely independent shops with a heart at its centre – this was the world’s first Fairtrade town after all – drawing people from well beyond its bounds. But in August the community ups the pace still further with its arts and music festival and the annual show.

‘This year is the 22nd festival of the arts in Garstang,’ says Elizabeth Cripps, supervisor at the town’s visitor centre and member of the festival committee. ‘It’s a market town that enjoys a number of festivals and community events traditionally, like the May Bank Holiday Children’s Festival and the Victorian Festival at Christmas. The Arts and Music Festival is very popular with visitors, it brings a lot of people into Garstang. People come for the day, have a meal or a coffee, do a bit of shopping and enjoy the events.’

Across the town, the area’s musicians, artists, actors, artisans and poets entertain and involve visitors and locals alike from Monday 22nd to Monday 29th, although the town’s Walk of Art, with works displayed in shops, businesses and community venues, signs the way from August 13th.

The last event of the festival is one that speaks volumes about the town, or at least speaks at volume – the Town Criers’ Competition. Garstang’s own crier since 2007, Hilary McGrath, will be introducing a dozen entrants from around the country. ‘People like the tradition, and it’s a great setting for it with so many lovely old buildings in the centre,’ says Hilary.

Elizabeth Cripps at the Visit Garstang CentreElizabeth Cripps at the Visit Garstang Centre

They will be judged on two cries, one about their home town, the other on which Shakespearean character they’d like to be. ‘I’m hoping not too many decide to show us their Bottoms!’ she jests.

Garstang’s annual show dates from a time when a crier would have been most people’s main source of news. ‘This show has been going for years – last year we celebrated the 200th anniversary – it’s a big part of our heritage that we’re determined to keep going,’ says David Hewitt, who chairs the organising committee.

In 2015, the show attracted more than 12,000 visitors, so it looks set to thrive for many years to come, with a packed programme for this year’s August 6th event.

‘Nowadays it’s about more than just local agriculture,’ David says. ‘It’s a day of entertainment with something for everyone, but we still place great emphasis on contact between the farming community and the general public. So, along with all sorts of produce and animal breeds being shown, we have cars, a fashion show, crafts, children’s entertainments, stunt displays, a freestyle footballer... We cater for anyone who fancies a good day out.’

‘It’s part of our history,’ add Ros Hargreaves, the committee president. ‘So things like the shire horses are important, and the agricultural displays show where our food comes from. This is one of only 24 shows in the country that’s a qualifier for the Horse of the Year Show too, which is quite prestigious, bringing competitors from all over the country.’

Anthony Coppin, the vice-chairman of Garstang’s Historical Society, underscores the importance of agriculture to Garstang. ‘The Industrial Revolution had a relatively minor impact on the town,’ he says. ‘There was some rope-making in the centre, and papermaking in the outskirts, but agriculture was the big thing here – so in late medieval times Greenhalgh Castle would have been built to defend these rich agricultural lands.’

He points out, however, that along with a few remaining mill buildings now turned into very desirable residences, the Industrial Revolution did leave one magnificent legacy for the town in its canal and, in particular, the aqueduct built by John Rennie at the end of the 18th century. He’s keen, too, to emphasise the wealth of historic pubs the town still enjoys. ‘Garstang has a lot of active groups too, like the Historical Society which recently had to shift to a bigger venue to accommodate the numbers attending,’ he says. ‘The Arts Centre, which is the nearest thing to a community centre we have, has around 20 organisations using it.’

Garstang has become known nationally and internationally because of one of those community groups. In November 2001 Garstang was officially recognised at the world’s first Fairtrade town. ‘The idea in Garstang was to coalesce a group of retailers and other organisations like churches, schools and so on, and other voluntary groups, to promote the Fairtrade mark in the town to support those in poorer economies who produce food and other goods for us,’ explains Mary Cammack, Chair of the Garstang Fairtrade Steering Group. ‘The idea has spread and now Lancashire is a Fairtrade County,’ she adds.

‘It started with the Oxfam group here in the year 2000,’ says John Corkish, secretary of The Mustard Seed, a staunch Fairtrade shop and cafe at the Methodist Church in the town centre. The Mustard Seed is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, so it predates the Fairtrade town status. ‘In a sense we created the Fairtrade town movement by unilateral action here. Now it’s a global thing.’

Today there are about 60 businesses and organisations in the town signed up and certified to display the Fairtrade logo. ‘We have contacts with all the shops that may have something to do with Fairtrade, so not just selling but, for example, providing Fairtrade goods to their workers, or B&Bs offering tea, coffee and sugar to welcome their guests,’ explains Mary. ‘They get a certificate annually to recognise them as part of Garstang as a Fairtrade town.’

The idea now permeates the town’s activities. ‘As well as Fairtrade Fortnight we play a part in the Children’s Festival in May, the Victorian Christmas Evening, and so on,’ she says.

And even if they don’t know it, visitors to the town enjoying the Arts Festival and the Garstang Show are pretty sure to be playing their part in supporting producers in distant countries who are now getting fair treatment and a fair price for their goods.

Latest from the Lancashire Life