Higherford Mill - the creative people at the heart of Barrowford

PUBLISHED: 00:00 13 April 2020

Scenic Barrowford

Scenic Barrowford

Archant

This landmark building in Barrowford was saved by the community and it is now weaving a new magic for art lovers from across the north.

Art has the ability to entertain, inspire and provoke but does it also have the power to heal? If so, Barrowford should be among Lancashire’s most well-adjusted communities.

At its heart is a warren of a building – the Higherford Mill, sitting proud beside Pendle Water since 1824. Once famous for producing check material, it was saved from demolition by the community and bought by the Heritage Trust for the North West.

Behind its sturdy walls, the clatter of steam-driven looms has been replaced by the less frenetic sounds of around 30 local people who form a co-operative producing a remarkably wide range of art.

One of those who can attest to the efficacy of art is Sarah Dearden, who mainly uses paint and pencil to produce contemporary portraits. She was taught to draw by her talented mother and ‘by the age of five, I was hooked,’ she said.

Scenic BarrowfordScenic Barrowford

She studied fine art at college but decided to follow a career in business.

‘I was reasonably successful in what I did but I became unhappy and unfulfilled,’ she added. ‘Eventually depression took hold and I was locked in a downward spiral.’

Luckily, she had an enlightened GP who referred to a creative well-being centre in Salford. ‘I was only meant to be there briefly but I ended up attending for six months,’ said Sarah. ‘It was amazing – they re-ignited my passion for art and set me on the path to recovery.’

A surprising number of artists here have been able to rekindle their passion after a more conventional start to adult life. Jo Hesketh, whose large scale oil paintings are provocative and challenging, now has a London agent and some celebrity clients such as the TV interior designer Linda Barker.

Gisburn RoadGisburn Road

Jo has been in the mill for just over 13 years, producing work described by The Guardian as ‘brazenly sensuous’. While she says ‘I’ve always been an artist’, that isn’t the whole story.

‘I once worked for my dad as a roofer, I was also a manager at a Help the Aged store and I once got locked in a freezer while at Aldi! Around that time I would see my old art teacher every Wednesday and she told me not to neglect my art. She really got into my head – and here I am!’

Jo’s brother, Roger, is also at Higherford having worked for several years as a graphic designer in the newspaper industry. He now produces large scale works, including portraits, and has successfully exhibited at the region’s galleries.

Across the hall is Anita Burrows, an experienced printer who uses mainly wood cuts to produce beautifully atmospheric landscapes on specialist Japanese paper. Her studio is striking because it has a mezzanine floor that floods with light from the rooftop windows.

She loves moorland scenes from the Lancashire-Yorkshire borderlands, inspired by the same countryside as poet Ted Hughes. Her trademark use of telegraph poles gives her works great perspective while the dramatic weather and her use of colour has attracted admirers from as far afield as Scandinavia.

Next door is accomplished jeweller Wendy Clark. She not only makes contemporary pieces for sale or commission but she also teaches others.

As well as her own workshop, she also has a classroom for up to six students. ‘It is a side of the business that is growing as more people become interested in crafting,’ said Wendy. ‘It’s a fun day and you get to take something nice home. We’ve had people here making their wedding rings and we also produce heirloom jewellery, creating something new and modern from family pieces.’

Matt Riley runs AWL, a leather craft studio. Using mostly British leather, the 32-year-old makes anything from watch straps to high end handbags. He’s also produced menus for the Michelin-starred White Swan at Fence.

One of the most recent arrivals is Simone Hartley-Gott, who runs Cast My Memory. When she’s not working as a mental health support worker, she uses a material called alginate to create moulds before casting anything from a baby’s hands to the paws of a beloved pet.

Stella Boothman is predominantly involved in sculpture of all sizes but her work also embraces photography, printmaking, drawing and even installations involving dance.

Much of it mimics nature and she uses oxidization techniques with anything from iron ore to vinegar. ‘Being in a shared creative space with so many other artists is wonderful,’ she said. ‘As an artist you can be isolated, a lone wolf. But here, if something isn’t working, you can talk it through.’

Stella, who was shortlisted for the prestigious HIX award set up by Damien Hirst, moved to Barrowford last year and lives 100 yards from the mill. She’s a convert. ‘I love the fact that there’s a mix of a village location and fantastic rural locations just ten minutes away,’ she said.

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