Mill town millions in Burnley, Lancashire

PUBLISHED: 22:05 12 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:01 20 February 2013

The Singing Ringing Tree designed by Tonkin Liu to provide a panopticon for Burnley

The Singing Ringing Tree designed by Tonkin Liu to provide a panopticon for Burnley

Burnley is undergoing a renaissance. Emma Mayoh met the people hoping to transform the fortunes of this famous old town

BURNLEY locals were surprised Lancashire Life had chosen to feature their mill town. There were shocked faces and short intakes of breath when they found out the county's best magazine was there to find out all about their home town. And I suppose they couldn't be blamed for their reactions.

Cast your mind back to Burnley at the turn of the century and it was attracting anything but positive media attention. The town was under the spotlight when it became one of a handful of towns embroiled in racial tensions in 2001. It's the type of thing that gives a place a reputation that's difficult to shrug off.

But Burnley seems to have done it. A walk through the town centre shows there has been some serious investment here. New buildings are springing up, the old ones seem to have been given a spring clean and the people appear happy. One huge recent investment in the town is the opening of a new campus of the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan). The site is all but complete and due to open to students in September.

Dr Martin Brown, director of the new campus, said: 'UCLan has a long history of working in the region. We have been working with Burnley College for over 20 years and have an excellent relationship with the college.

'Having the campus in Burnley will enable us to work more closely with schools, colleges, employers and community groups to raise aspirations. We recognise that many potential students cannot move away from the region for financial, family, work or cultural reasons and the university campus will provide an opportunity for these potential students to get a university education.'

On the other side of town the historic Weaver's Triangle site, a collection of disused, dilapidated buildings and mills that once formed the backbone of the town, is due for a huge makeover. Burnley Borough Council was recently awarded a 4.9 million grant from the Northwest Regional Development Agency to buy up a number of the properties and land from four separate owners at the three hectare site. This included landmarks such as Victoria Mill, Slaters Terrace, the old Waterloo Hotel and a former engine house. The council bought it so they can secure investment from the private sector to transform the area with new canal-side homes and businesses as well as leisure attractions and shops. It is expected to costs tens of millions of pounds.

The Weaver's Triangle was once at the heart of the cotton industry and development of the area has been contentious. Several developers over the years have shown interest but nothing has happened.

Steve Rumbelow, chief executive of Burnley Borough Council, said it is now or never for the site.

'It has to happen now,' he said. 'It's getting to the point where we will lose the buildings if someone doesn't take it on now. We've already lost some like the old Clocktower Mill. It's a hugely important part of the town that needs to be looked after.'

Urgent repair works will now be done on some of the buildings and when the economy starts to recover, the council will put out to tender the opportunity to redevelop the site.

Steve is also hoping to work with British Transport to reopen a small section of railway to create a direct rail route to Manchester from Burnley's Manchester Road station in a bid to attract more commuters to the area.

'At the moment if you want to get into Manchester, you have to go via Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire,' said Steve, stood at the side of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal. 'It's not good enough. If we get direct trains up-and-running again that will bring in an around an extra 8 million into the area's economy.

'Burnley was once at the heart of the cotton industry. We have a huge manufacturing economy and with investments like the university and the Weaver's Triangle. If we get the rail link open too, Burnley could once again be at the heart of things.'

Others investing in the town's future are Jason Fildes and Nigel Feeney. Jason, who also owns Barden Mill, has spent around 1.3 million creating Reedley Marina, a mooring place for narrowboat and wide berth boat owners. It only opened late last year but almost all of the 100 moorings have already been snapped up.

'On a sunny day here, you could be in the Mediterranean,' said Jason. 'We wanted to create something that would really make the best of this beautiful area overlooking the countryside.

'People have really taken to it and there's a fantastic atmosphere. We've got a caf with a balcony for people to enjoy the views and the people who moor here really are great. Most people don't expect something like this to be just a short while out of the town centre so they're really pleasantly surprised when they come here.'

As well as looking to the future, there are people in Burnley working hard to guard its heritage. First mentions of St Peter's Church in the town centre, for instance, can be traced back to 1122. Burnley grew up around St Peter's and although nothing remains of the original church, the oldest part of the present structure still dates back to the 15th century. One of the key events in it history came when it had to be significantly restored following a huge fire in 1991.

Canon Tom Bill said: 'The first time I came here the walls were black and smoked by the first and there was a huge hole in the floor. Someone had put some oily rags under the door and set first to them. It destroyed a large part of the church.

'The next time I came back in 2002 it has been done up and it took my breath away. What a beautiful church. The bishop was in ear shot so I think he saw me as the perfect candidate to be Canon here.'

The parish is currently gearing up for the summer fair to be held on June 6th and the church also gets involved in several other community events.

Canon Bill said: 'We're a small town and you get to know each other. We work together well for the good of Burnley. We work with local schools, the council and allsorts of people.

'We also had world renowned musicians perform here and we have lots of concerts. Burnley started here at this church so it is only right it should be a big part of the community.'

Another group, albeit in a different way, are also contributing to Burnley's future. Just outside the main centre is Moorhouse's Brewery. It was first started up by William Moorhouse in 1865, just down the road from its current site in Accrington Road. He started producing mineral waters and he built a drinks manufacturing site but he died after an exploding bottle seriously injured him. His brother took over the business and started to develop Hop Bitters

Today, Moorhouse's have won dozens of awards for their beers including for Pride of Pendle, Black Cat and their Premier bitter. They have their own pubs and they have gone from producing 35 barrels of beer a week to 320 barrels a week.

They are now undertaking new 3.5 million plans for a new brewing complex with added conferencing facilities as well as plans to make it a tourist attraction. It will also mean they will be able to produce 1,000 barrels a week

David Grant, managing director, said: 'We're at completely capacity now so we have to expand. We'll be creating more jobs in the area and hopefully making people more aware of us. There are so many Burnley people that don't even know we're here and we want to change that.

'We want to run brewery tours and have a little shop. Moorhouse's was started here and we want to keep it here in Burnley, it's only right. It may have had a lot of bad publicity and it's about time that changed. Hopefully we can help do that.'

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