Portrait of Penwortham in Lancashire

PUBLISHED: 10:34 21 December 2009 | UPDATED: 11:42 28 February 2013

The old bridge dividing Penwortham from Preston

The old bridge dividing Penwortham from Preston

This South Ribble community is a mix of town and country. Roger Borrell goes digging

To many people, Penwortham is little more than a busy, meandering main street of shops and cafes punctuated by traffic lights and the occasional pub. As you drive through, you might feel further exploration is unnecessary.

But every local will tell you there is a lot more to this diverse and interesting community than Liverpool Road - and woe betide anyone who dismisses it as a suburb of Preston.

Like the toupee sported by Ernie Wise, you cant see the join, but the South Ribble community is a distinctly different place where an awful lot goes on above and below the surface. In some cases, literally below the surface.

It is a mix of town and country and the rural side could be well represented by Holme Farm Dairies on Bee Lane. It has been run by the Simpson family for the last 30 years and today provides employment for a good number of locals as well as supporting farms in the region.

The family started off with a dairy herd and milk supply business. Happily for them, demand outstripped supply and they had to buy in so much from other local farms, they decided to wave goodbye to the animals and move the business wholly into bottling and distribution.

While that was a great idea back in the 1980s, the world has moved on and the market share of the doorstep deliverers has dropped from over 80 per cent to somewhere around 12 per cent. Silly prices and changing shopping trends drove most of the business to the supermarkets.

Now, the current generation running Holme Farm - Jonathan Simpson and partner Nikki Pattison - are fighting back with a campaign called Love Milk, Love Local. It has the support of the Duke of Westminster and it was launched with a fanfare recently in Penwortham.

The slogan is being used on all of the dairys bottles and Jonathan and Nikki hope that, with industry support, its use will catch on. It neatly captures the growing support for locally-sourced produce.

One of the concerns expressed by Jonathan is the volume of foreign milk flooding into the UK. Its hard to get answers but there are millions of litres coming here from places like Poland and, meanwhile, our farmers are going out of business, says Jonathan, whose team delivers 16,000 pints a day as far afield as Freckleton and Banks.

The research we did revealed some young people thought milk deliveries were from the past and no longer happened. Housewives have become women with careers and that means they shop once a week at the supermarket and pick up the milk from there.

Whatever anyone says about cattle contributing to global warming, it cant make sense to drive milk across a continent when we can produce it - and have it delivered - on our doorsteps.

Meanwhile, things are stirring at the towns attractive Hill Road Cemetery. To be precise, its stirring next door on a couple of acres of land where the town council is planning to create a woodland burial ground.
They are hoping work will start soon but it all depends on the great crested newts discovered in a pond on the land. One is an elderly female with only one eye and the other is an immature male, but they are both protected by law.

Town council official Mike Cronin says the presence of these creatures has cost thousands but he is hopeful the issue will be resolved soon. We do get phone calls from people inquiring about woodland burials so there is a demand, he said.

This type of burial is increasingly popular and seen as more friendly to the environment. Visitors will just see a small wood, created with the help of Myerscough College. It will be a cemetery with no headstones or flowers and certainly no teddy bears. The interesting difference is that bodies will have to be micro-chipped so they can be found in the unlikely event of an exhumation.

While the council does its best for the departed, it concentrates most effort on improving things for the living, especially young people who have a variety of clubs and activities which could keep them off the streets most nights of the week.

It seems the council does a pretty good job with town mayor Jim Hothersall highlighting a national quality scheme placing them in the top five per cent of local councils.

The bedrock of future activity is a town plan, which Coun Hothersall describes as a wide-ranging assessment of the aspirations of local people. No prizes for guessing the main bone of contention was the traffic congestion along Liverpool Road. People want action and options for easing it are being examined with the county council. But the hoped for bypass seems a remote chance.

Town manager Steve Caswell points out that brown field developments are also a concern for residents with parts of gardens being sold off for in-fill housing. Its a price Penwortham pays for its popularity as a place to live. No comfort to neighbours who suddenly find a three storey house planned for next door.

Other issues include the quality of shops. While there is a good smattering of local independents, residents want more and the council is also keen because they will encourage visitors, who will spend money.
Litter and graffiti also score high on the list of irritants and the council has responded by appointing a full-time lengthman, Sean Godbert, to provide a fast response to call-outs from residents. This has proved to be a fantastic innovation, says Coun Hothersall.

They have also been active in creation events designed to bring the community together with a huge free fireworks display and a gala event named by the Sunday Times as one of the top 20 in the UK.

Its now a two day gala with a procession involving schools, 60 stalls selling goods for charity and open-air concerts, said Steve. The Sunday has an open-air church service and other events like a teddy bears picnic.

It would be wrong to portray Penwortham as a place where nothing bad ever happens, but wrong-doing is largely isolated in one or two pockets thanks to effective policing.

People really are proud to live here, said Steve. The perception of kids in hoodies is a negative one, but in this area they are more likely to help you across the road and carry your bags home. Mike was emphatic: Its a brilliant place to live and its also a safe place.

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