Meet the people working behind the scenes in Lytham
PUBLISHED: 00:00 16 December 2016 | UPDATED: 09:44 16 December 2016
There is plenty going on in Lytham but it takes teams of dedicated people to keep this much visited town ticking over. Martin Pilkington reports.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going, but the people of Lytham also get creative and generous. Amenities across the town show that having ‘can do’ and ‘can give’ attitudes pays dividends for a community.
Take Marianne Blaauboer, of Lytham Hall, the Grade 1 listed Georgian mansion which stands in many acres of beautiful grounds. The trust running the hall had hoped to start a new phase of renovation work but a £1.7 million Heritage Lottery grant has been withdrawn while the plans are re-examined to ensure they are viable.
‘We’ve suffered a setback, but they’ve invited us to put in a new bid for a new scheme, which gives us the opportunity to look at the site with fresh eyes,’ says Marianne. ‘It has changed enormously over the last few years.’
The hall, with its newly created tearoom, has become a major visitor attraction for Lytham, particularly with its annual programme of outdoor theatre. So there is no shortage of things happening while that new bid is prepared. ‘We still have Woodland grant money to bring more paths to the park,’ says Marianne, adding that a kitchen garden was close to completion and a new orienteering challenge was planned for the grounds.
‘In December we have events like the Revoe Community Choir Carol Concert on the 7th, and a Christmas Party Night in our newly refurbished West Wing, which is looking fabulous and we’re bringing back weddings to the historic hall. People ask about that every week, and weddings here help finances, though a generous benefactor would be great too!’
Several generous benefactors have helped the Lowther Pavilion theatre of late, including a national jewellery business and one local businessman who donated £100,000.
With a large Fylde Council contribution too, major improvements have been made. Most noticeable is the new banked seating that slides out effortlessly to accommodate audiences for shows like this year’s panto, Jack and the Beanstalk, and an eclectic mix of comedy (Al Murray included), music and drama productions. ‘We’re trying very hard to move the venue towards picking up what we feel is not represented currently in the area,’ says Tim Lince, Chairman of the Lowther Trust. And, of course, the proceeds will help future developments like a new foyer and backstage area, a studio theatre, and a rooftop restaurant overlooking the river.
Local benefactors have helped build up what for a small town is an exceptional fine art collection, pieces from which are frequently displayed at the Fylde Gallery – a space provided by Booths Supermarket. ‘The collection was started by John Booth who lived in the area, and was a local councillor,’ says Christine Cockburn of Friends of the Lytham St Annes Art Collection. ‘He donated the picture, the Herd Lassie, in 1925, the first picture in the collection, and that became a bit of a trend and the current Mr Booth provides this gallery.’
‘It’s such a lovely space and a terrific resource for the town,’ adds her colleague Christine Marshall, ‘Societies from the area are free to use it to display their work.’
Across the road from the gallery a larger space, the Queen Elizabeth II Playing Fields, has been transformed not by the town’s grandees but by the passion of energetic volunteers. ‘We were set up 15 years ago when a few parents came together when this was just a boggy field with decrepit goalposts and a bit of a sandpit and not much else,’ says Park Ranger Julie Norman. ‘We did sponsored walks and cake bakes, and asked loads of businesses for money, and did lots of other things to raise money initially to drain the land for a football field.’ Not content with that they added a BMX track, skate-bank, wooden walks, and playgrounds, and now there’s even a kitchen garden raising produce for the cafe. A year and a half ago they added the Eco Pod Community Centre. They host a gardening club, welcome school groups for den building days, and have the only junior herbalist club in the country.
All that creativity and hard work has been recognised with a major national award. ‘We’ve just received the RHS Britain in Bloom Public Park Award, marking us as the best in the country,’ says Julie. ‘Previously it has been won by large parks like the Edinburgh Botanical Gardens, and Roundhay Park in Leeds, places with far larger resources than ours.’ But surely with no greater drive and enthusiasm?
Similar resourcefulness and originality have made Lytham a regional retail success. ‘The business community embraces whatever is going on, such as the many festivals we have here – Lytham Festival itself, St George’s Day, the 1940s event, Club Day, the Art Festival... there’s something on throughout the year,’ says Denize Ashton, of the Lytham Business Partnership.
‘If a shop falls empty there tends to be people queuing up to take it on,’ says Michael Sayward, co-owner of clothes shop Attire, ‘People aspire to have a shop in Lytham, it has a cachet, so there are lots of independent shops. We don’t have many of the names that dominate too many lookalike town centres, so it has character and individuality.’
‘For Christmas just about every shop will dress their windows specially, but those displays and the traditional Christmas lights are kept classy and subtle – like the town!’ concludes Denize.
At your service
For the Reverend Nick Wells of St Cuthbert’s Church this will be his first Christmas in Lytham, and it’s set to be a busy one, his church raising money for various local charities and of course hosting a packed series of events. ‘We begin on Advent Sunday, 29th November, when all the denominations come together for a service for Advent, held here this year. Then on the first Sunday in December at 3pm we’ve a service for parents of lost children, and the following Sunday we have our Christingle service in the evening.’
Another event involving all the local churches, the walking service, takes place on the 17th, touring the pubs – but, finding no room at the inn, they are forced to tell the nativity story outside. The traditional candlelight service of nine lessons and carols follows next day.
There are services on Christmas Day but the most attended event is the day before. ‘On Christmas Eve, the 4pm nativity service will be standing room only, with 500 cramming the pews,’ says Nick, ‘It should be like that every Sunday!’