Pretty in Poulton, Lancashire
PUBLISHED: 11:31 17 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:00 20 February 2013
Emma Mayoh speaks to some of the locals in Poulton, including children's entertainer Keith Harris, about the ancient market town in the Fylde they call home
MARK Riley had been living life in the fast lane. He'd played international hockey, worked in Hong Kong pulling landslide victims from the mud and was responsible for brokering huge deals to help companies win new business. He'd also taken part in a boat race around Hong Kong harbour - the world's busiest port - as a sailing novice.
But when the 40-year-old, who admits he still climbs mountains for fun, decided to slow down he upped sticks from metropolitan Cardiff and headed straight for Wyre's ancient market town of Poulton.
'All I ever did was travel to London and the only people I knew were my family and neighbours,' Mark explained. 'I was working in an aggressive environment and I'd had enough, I wanted to be a part of a community. My wife, Sue, got a job at Rossall School and everyone we spoke to told us Poulton was the place to live.
'Here it's a different story. We've got to know a lot of the locals that live here. We've fallen in love with the place, it's everything we wished for. Our children are really enjoying it too.'
Mark opened delicatessen, coffee shop and wine bar Berits and Brown on Breck Road late last year. It is the only Berits and Brown in England and Mark believes Poulton is the perfect place for it. Wine tasting evenings have been sold out for the past few months and there are plans to extend their opening hours.
Life has certainly changed a lot for the proud family man. He explained: 'At one time my life consisted of flying around Hong Kong in a helicopter or racing around in a car trying to find people that had been caught up in a landslide. I would be pulling them out, dead or alive. As you can imagine there were the low and high points. From that I went to finding new business for big companies travelling all over the world. It's been non-stop.
'I love the fact that in Poulton I can hear about other people's backgrounds and I tell them about mine too. I felt so disconnected before but in Poulton I feel at the centre of it and a real a part of this community. I really want it to stay that way.'
One of Mark's customers who also shares a love of Poulton is former children's television star, Keith Harris. The ventriloquist, most famous for his Orville the Duck days, used to own Club L'Orange in Vicarage Road. The club, now called The Residence is in new hands, but Keith told me it was his move to apply for a licence for the club that prompted the pubs and clubs boom in the town.
'It's all my fault,' he said. 'I was the one that got the licence and after that there were other pubs and clubs and Poulton became a place with a thriving nightlife. Now, it's a great place to be. There are some lovely restaurants, places to enjoy a quiet drink or a full night out.'
When I caught up with Keith he was coming to the end of a run in pantomime and was looking forward to returning home.
He said: 'I love going home to Poulton. It's such a fantastic place and it's been somewhere for me to get away from it all. It's the place where I can really relax and kick back.'
But things in Poulton are changing. There are currently plans to improve the town as part of the Poulton-le-Fylde Market Town Initiative. The aim is to develop and promote the popular tourist spot as a thriving market town. It is hoped that the quality of life for its residents will be
boosted with improvements to shopping, transport and the general look of the area including a possible regeneration of the Teanlowe Centre.
Some local businesses believe pedestrianisation would be a good option to promote more caf culture in the summer months and a friendlier, safer environment to potter around in.
But Elaine Cowap, who set up outdoor pursuits shop Out N About 27 years ago, does not believe this is the right option. 'Pedestrianisation would kill off Breck Road. We need to be able to keep people coming down here, encouraging more independent traders and keeping out the big name stores.
Poulton is such a fantastic place and it's been a pleasure being here for all these years and we need to retain its atmosphere. People feel safe here and I think that's why the nightlife is so popular.
'I've seen things change for the better and for the worse, but it doesn't alter the fact that this is a lovely place. I still think of it as a village rather than a town. The best part of my job is that I've seen families grow up and people that used to come in here as children come in with
their children and grandchildren. I love being here which is why I've never left.'