Lancashire's Wonderful Wigan
PUBLISHED: 11:47 17 January 2010 | UPDATED: 14:45 20 February 2013
We visit Wigan, a Lancashire town full of ambition
MY grandma used to say 'it's people from Wigan that want' when every Christmas during my childhood I would point at toys demanding 'I want that'. To this day I don't really understand where the phrase came from and a recent visit proved there was no substance to it.
For surely you couldn't be wanting for anything if you live in Wigan. As well as strong sporting connections with the Wigan Warriors and Wigan Football Club, there is an interesting history - hinted at with the black and white Tudor facades on some of the town's buildings - as well as the hugely popular Wigan Pier and Haigh Hall and Country Park and who could forget Uncle Joes Mint Balls.
The town even has its own first Wig and Wellies walk this year to raise money for charity. Add to this an endless source of little cafes, restaurants and shops tucked away in the small streets winding awayfrom the centre and a thriving jazz festival this month it is easy to mistake the former coal mining town for something much grander.
Wigan is ambitious to rival nearby Manchester, Preston and Bolton. And John Sanson, manager of the new 120 million Grand Arcade shopping centre, is spearheading that campaign.
He said: 'We want to make Wigan a better shopping destination and get into the top 100 in the country. We want to stop people going to Manchester, Liverpool, Preston and Bolton. We can offer just as much as these places.
'We knew that Wigan was punching below its weight and we wanted to change that. The shopping centre plans have evolved from being a small scheme to something much larger for the whole of the town and we have more plans for the next few years. It's all about creating something different for Wigan rather than becoming another clone town.'
There were some interesting finds during the work on the shopping centre, which is built on the former site of the Wigan Casino and is expected to bring about 1,000 jobs to the town. Remains of Wigan's links with the Romans were discovered, including an ancient hypocaust.
A replica of this heating system has been created outside one of the centre's entrances. There is also a display of Wigan Casino memorabilia in the centre to commemorate the popular northern soul dance hall.
Mr Sanson said: 'We've revived redundant buildings and hopefully a part of the town that was not looking its best. There's still a massive interest in the Wigan Casino because there were so many people involved with it from the people that went to it to kids who seem to love it too. There is a lot to celebrate about Wigan and we wanted to make sure we did just that.'
And there is a lot to celebrate in Wigan. The people, famed for their no nonsense attitude, the beautiful parks and the music are just a few. As well as being home to huge 90s indie band, The Verve, and Kajagoogoo's lead singer, Limahl, there is also a strong schools music scene.
Keith Orrell, vocal projects leader for Wigan council's music service, works with the Wigan Junior Youth Choir and the Wigan Youth Choir who performed, complete with African drumming, at St Stephen's Church.
This month he is involved with a huge event which marks the culmination of a school project, Let's Sing. About 500 pupils from the Wigan borough will perform at Robin Park Arena and Sports Centre on July 4. His work is com mended by local parents because it gives their children something to get involved with and keeps them busy.
Mr Orrell said: 'Let's Sing is aimed at improving the confidence and singing of children and young people and to maximise the fantastic feeling one can get at a massed singing event. There have been lots of similar events in the past months and there are also plans for the next academic year.
'There are a lot of talented young people in Wigan and it is good that we are able to celebrate that. It is part of my grand plan to get as many young people as possible involved in singing. Lets Sing is quite an event and it is something I'm very much looking forward to. It is a great event for Wigan to be involved with and a good opportunity to celebrate the level of talent we have here.'