Lancashire's Clitheroe is king of the castle
PUBLISHED: 21:31 12 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:17 20 February 2013
Clitheroe in Lancashire is an attractive market town with a long history and a promising future. Amanda Griffiths reports
It has been a long time coming, but the multi-million pound re-development at Clitheroe Castle is finally complete but, boy, was it worth waiting for. The interactive new-look museum opened in May and has seen more than 15,000 visitors through the doors in just the first three months.
'There was a lot of pressure for us to open on time and all in one go,' says Rachel Jackson at the museum. 'Some people didn't think we would do it but we did.
The museum was closed for just under two years and the project cost around 3.5 million. 'A lot of the money has gone on things that you can't really see like new heating and lighting systems as well as re-roofing the museum to make it watertight,' she adds.
The obvious signs include the new glass-fronted caf that links the museum, with the Steward's Gallery and education suites. The tarmac up to the cobbled yard at the front of the Norman keep has been replaced with an attractive pebble resin surface and the courtyard has been opened to provide an interactive, creative children's play area with telescopes and other interesting apparatus.
Look closely and you'll see the castle keep has been re-pointed and the wooden decking has been replaced with stone flags from underneath the new caf.
The museum itself still retains much of its internal character with windows and doors museum staff didn't even know existed having been opened up. The bright, modern display cabinets covering everything from the geology of the Ribble Valley, the town's history and local heroes to Lancashire's wildlife have been fitted in such a way they guide the visitor around the museum and don't impede on the fabric of the original house. With lots of things to see, touch and discover it's little wonder that visitors have been flocking through the doors.
Voluntary organisation, Clitheroe the Future, is just one local group that's been involved with the multi-million pound castle museum project, and even though the group is now winding up its operations as their funding comes to an end, Chairman Jeremy Grout-Smith tells me members are hoping to go on to join other key groups in the community to keep Clitheroe thriving.
'When we started our aim was really to stop the town becoming a dormitory town,' says Jeremy. 'We had a high percentage of manufacturing jobs here but those jobs are disappearing.
'I'm not sure how successful we've been on that because half the population still leave the town each morning to go to work. Actually it's interesting because we also have a high percentage of highly qualified workers. In a survey a few years ago Ribble Valley workers came out as the second most qualified in the country outside of London.
'But to keep these workers here we need to improve office facilities and attract more service industries.'
Jeremy firmly believes that if you take care of the fabric of a town, the town will take care of itself.
'We've been instrumental in a number of smaller key things, like improving the street signage and spending some money on improving some of the shop fronts but there were really three main projects we were involved in.'
These include the children's play area at the castle as well as 'Roefield' - the only leisure centre funded by public subscription. Although the centre, swimming pool and football fields were adjacent they had been run separately. Clitheroe the Future was instrumental in bringing the three together with a 1.6 million extension due for completion soon.
The town centre has also seen some dramatic changes in the recent weeks. The Swan pub on the main street is currently boarded up after being devastated by fire. Jeremy describes the people of Clitheroe as having a 'can-do' attitude so, hopefully, traders will be able to pull together. Those affected most directly are obviously those in the Swan Courtyard behind the pub, but on my visit many were still open and trading as usual.
Clitheroe is of course, well known for its independent traders, like Claire Heathcote at Browse, a high-end ladies' fashion boutique celebrating 25 years in business this year.
Jeremy also tells me the town has been lucky enough to have a generous benefactor in The Lancaster Foundation. As well as redeveloping The Grand Theatre in York Street a couple of years ago, they have also built a skate park for the young people. It is, apparently, one of the best in the country and not only does it give teenagers a place to go instead of hanging round on the street corners, it also attracts more young people to the town which can only benefit future generations of visitors.
'The Grand is funded by the Lancaster Foundation and we are very youth focused,' says Gemma Vaughan, marketing manager at The Grand.
'We see ourselves as a hub of the community and a hub of creativity for young people. As well as offering free internet access, a caf area and a performance space for local bands we also have one of Europe's best recording studios downstairs. At the moment it's not really being used but we're hoping that in the coming months bands performing here will want to use that too.
'Everyone seems to love the building. When we have commercial events here with huge audiences (as is happening more and more) we get people wanting to come back because they've been surprised by the building.' Big gigs to watch out for include X-Factor finalists performing on stage in November and the Bay City Rollers in December as well as the well attended Rock the Grand nights which sees three local bands showcasing their talents.
It's all go in Clitheroe!