Ormskirk - We meet the passionate people behind the market town's revival
PUBLISHED: 00:00 14 October 2013 | UPDATED: 18:20 09 March 2016
A campaign is underway to encourage more people to fall for the charms of Ormskirk
It’s easy to like Ormskirk – the wide pedestrianised streets, friendly independent stores, bustling market and familiar high street names make it popular with shoppers; the good pubs, and nice restaurants mean foodies are fans; and the lovely old buildings, pleasant countryside and an interesting past give most other visitors something to enjoy. For locals too, there’s much to admire with clubs and societies for every age and just about every conceivable interest.
But Katie Givens doesn’t just want people to like Ormskirk, she wants us all to love the place.
Katie, who part owns the Pandora’s Box lingerie shop started by her mum more than 20 years ago, helps to run a campaign which aims to give a boost to high street stores affected by the economic downturn. ‘The aim right from the start was to put the buzz back in to Ormskirk and get the town back on the map,’ she said. ‘We wanted to make Ormskirk thrive again and to bring people back into the town.’
Last spring Katie brought community groups and business owners together to bid for money from the government-backed Portas scheme which gave grants to towns around the country to help revive the flagging fortunes of their shopping areas.
Although they were turned down, the group continued to meet and formed Love Ormskirk which now has more than 50 members and seven directors who all run businesses in the town.
Katie said: ‘We were not given the money from the Portas project but we had formed a really good group of people and we all realised that we were stronger together than each fighting our battles alone.
‘It is hard to quantify how successful we have been but there are fewer empty shops around the town now and that buzz is definitely coming back. More people are making the effort to shop locally and to support the independent shops around Ormskirk.’
Sean Gibney, who owns Josephs Jewellers, is one of the directors and he added: ‘There was a realisation among us that if we didn’t so something we didn’t know where we – our businesses and the town itself – would be in two years time.
‘The issues that are affecting Ormskirk are not unique to us, a lot of places are in the same position and other towns are doing their own thing so we had to try something or Ormskirk could have been left behind.
‘The town centre is the hub of the town and if the centre suffers because it isn’t given the support it needs then that wouldn’t just be a bad thing for businesses, house prices would be affected and the whole town would suffer.
‘Ormskirk has a lot to offer – it’s a lovely historic place and there are some really great independent shops – but the town centre needs as much support as it can get.’
Food businesses who are members of Love Ormskirk will host a two-day event in December as part of the town’s Christmas celebrations. Other festive events are still in the planning stage but Katie added: ‘Everyone loves food markets and we have some great food businesses in Ormskirk so this will give them a chance to promote their businesses and to show what there is to offer in the town.
‘If we can attract people in to Ormskirk for events like that it’s not just good for the food businesses, it’s good for the whole town.’
Five more great reasons to visit
The legend of the church
The story goes that Ormskirk was founded by the Viking leader Orme, who found Christianity and built a church (or kirk) where he tried to please both his daughters, one of whom wanted it to have a tower, the other a spire.
The truth is more mundane – the spire was built in the early 14th century and the tower added about 150 years later to house the bells from the dissolved Burscough Priory. Today’s church, dedicated to St Peter and St Paul, stands in the same spot as Orme’s original is one of only three in the country to have a tower and spire and is also notable for some impressive Norman architecture.
Make it for the market
Ormskirk market dates back to 1286 when the monks at Burscough Priory were granted a Royal Charter by Edward I. These days traders gather on Thursdays and Saturdays when Aughton Street and Market Street are lined with stalls doing a brisk trade in a friendly and unhurried atmosphere.
Restaurants and pubs
Ormskirk has more pubs, cafes and food shops of all kinds than many much bigger towns. From the traditional charm of the Buck I’th Vine pub with its old wooden bar to continental delis, stylish wine bars and the bright aisles of major supermarkets, there’s something for everyone. Restaurants around the town serve dishes from around the world and suit all budgets – although there is a large student population, thanks to Edge Hill just down the road, Ormskirk manages to strike a balance between student-focussed bars and take-aways and places with a more mature clientele.
Follow famous footsteps
What do Prime Minister Harold Wilson, television presenter Robert Kilroy-Silk and comedian Jon Culshaw have in common with former Smiths frontman Morrissey? The answer is that they could all share anecdotes about Ormskirk.
TV funnyman Culshaw was born in the town, Morrissey lived here (and may have taken up vegetarianism after seeing graffiti on a butcher’s shop window reading Meat is Murder, later to be the name of one of his classic albums) and the other two have both been MP for Ormskirk, although their political careers took very different courses. Benjamin Disraeli was MP here, too, and now has a statue in the town centre and a pub named in his honour. None of the others have either, although the Morrissey Arms would undoubtedly be a popular addition to the town.
Another famous name with an Ormskirk connection – albeit a gruesome one – is the seventh Earl of Derby, James Stanley who was buried at the church after being beheaded at Bolton in 1651 after the Civil War. His body and head are in separate caskets.
Get the picture
Love Ormskirk is hosting a photographic exhibition at the town’s Chapel Gallery throughout October which features members of the group shot in unusual ways. Photographer Zoe Richard has taken pictures of about 20 Love Ormskirk members and the group’s managing director Katie Givens said: ‘We wanted people to look at Ormskirk differently and to think about their local businesses in a new way. That is certainly what this exhibition does, it will really make people think.’
How to get there
Ormskirk sits off the A59 and close to the M6 and M58 motorways. Trains run frequently from Ormskirk station to Liverpool and Preston. Regular buses also run in the Ormskirk circular as well as to Skelmersdale, Burscough, Hesketh Bank and Southport.
There’s plenty to see and do in the surrounding area too. Rufford Old Hall, just a couple of miles up the road is reputed to have one of the Lancashire houses where William Shakespeare spent some time. The hall is now owned by the National Trust and is open to visitors, with special events held throughout the year.
The Martin Mere Wildfowl and Wetland Centre is one of the region’s biggest tourist attractions, with around 200,000 human visitors this year and many more feathered ones. Earlier this year a canoe safari and electric boat were launched and the new ‘Weird or Wonderful’ opened, aimed at highlighting and explaining the differences between different birds.