Preston - Success in the city

PUBLISHED: 22:43 12 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:48 20 February 2013

Boats in Preston Marina

Boats in Preston Marina

Preston is poised for big changes which could transform it into a retailing powerhouse beyond Lancashire. But for now, there's plenty to enjoy

PRESTON is a place on the brink of great things. It has tremendous history, but will its future match up to the high expectations of the people who inhabit Britain's newest city?

The Tithebarn project, designed to transform the centre into a 21st century superstar of the north west retailing and leisure scene, is on the horizon and the arrival of John Lewis is greatly anticipated. There are plans to revamp the wonderful Flag Market and the city council is urging the Government to electrify the rail line between Blackpool, Preston and Manchester to provide a fast, clean and quieter service.

Add a burgeoning university into the mix and you have a city with a potent cocktail for future development . But until then, we'll just have to appreciate what we've already got. And that's plenty.

It's particularly surprising what you stumble over when you leave the main drag and explore the side streets. For instance, did you know you can obtain a Peruvian Sunday roast in a vaulted cellar once used by priests and now home to a small but very successful Preston restaurant?

No, neither did I. But in Lancaster Street, near the architecturally glorious if under-exploited Miller Arcade, is Duk. This is a place charged with atmosphere, an exciting cavern presided over by chef Andrea Mellon providing the spark that makes it a fun place to eat.

Andrea, who runs Duk with partner Nick Worrall, spent 20 years going around the world as a travel industry training manager. During this time she soaked up the cuisine of the countries she visited and her menu is a culinary route map of Andrea's travels.

It's tapas-style with heavy influences from South America and Asia, cleverly appealing to carnivores while providing plenty of choice for vegans. 'The menu is unusual,' confesses Andrea, a woman who enjoys her job. 'When we first opened people asked where the chips were. But I stuck to my guns.'

And it worked. Duk (it means many different things in many languages but all refer to food) has a ten week waiting list for a weekend table - that's like The Ivy! Andrea and Nick have expanded with a new restaurant, Pond, in nearby Cannon Street.

She spotted a gap in the market when she and Nick had a day out from their Bolton home to visit Preston. 'We wanted some lunch but all we could find was a cheese and onion butty,' she said.

Back in the daylight and just off Fishergate is Lune Street, packed with individual independent businesses with tremendous histories (and a brilliant cobbler's shop). Helliwells Menswear has been going since 1905. 'The business was started by Herbert Helliwell,' says managing director David Seed. 'My grandfather, Leslie, worked for him and when he retired he and another man who worked there took it over. Now, I'm the third generation to run the business.'

Helliwells could be mistaken for the sort of place which caters soley for the, shall we say, more mature gent. But while quality is the cornerstone of the business, there is a lot of contemporary clothing on offer. 'We have changed in recent years and we now catering for men in their 30s and upward,' said David.

'While the times can be challenging, there are plenty of positives about the retailing situation in Preston and it's particularly good to see so many independent traders in this part of town. They can be few and far between.'

He has three daughters and none has shown a desire to take over the family firm so there are no Seedlings ready to eventually take over from dad.

Next door is Hackler's, a jeweller's which has been going since the 1850s. It is run by 72-year-old Norman Oldfield, who has been involved in the business for 50 years.

It was originally set up by a family of German migrs and it is one of the few places in the region with its own workshop for repairing watches and antique clocks.

While the small retailers make a fist of fighting the recession, there was little sign of economic gloom in modern shopping centre called The Mall. At the time of Lancashire Life's visit the only casualty was The Pier, a national chain store.

Ken Williams, the general manager, had spent the last few days fielding inquiries from businesses interested in moving in. There were few vacant sites and Ken revealed they were looking at ways of utilising unused space within the complex to provide more retail units.

He said: 'The centre is doing exceptionally well and we are still very business with inquires from people interested in moving in. The Mall as a business is still relatively young and we are involved in 20 centres around the country. We don't go for out of town shopping locations but community-focused, inner city areas with high levels of local loyalty and regeneration potential.

'Preston is seen as a place which further opportunities through the Tithebarn Project which will be coming in the next few year. The fact there is a development like that on the horizon shows Preston has the opportunity for an increased retail opportunity. It has a good core already and the new development will give it that extra sparkle that makes it a must visit location for people from outside Preston.'

Dealing with the economic downturn will be the focus of attention for some time to come, but the bigger picture for the Preston of tomorrow is full of promise.

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