The great revival of Rawtenstall
PUBLISHED: 00:00 22 January 2019
Plans are afoot to ensure this historic Rossendale community is a vibrant place to live, work and visit
Don’t be fooled by Rawtenstall. This Rossendale town, once the cradle of the Industrial Revolution, may have suffered in recent years.
But today, it is a thriving place that is trying hard to reinvent itself. With arts, town centre regeneration and shops, some of which that wouldn’t look out of place in central Manchester, it is a community that is going places.
One catalyst for the turnaround came when friends Carl Bell and Jackie and Julian Williams put their faith in the then faltering Whitaker Museum. Once the home of a Victorian industrialist and then a museum earmarked for closure, they saved it in 2013 and reinvigorated it with an exciting programme of culture, music and community events.
They also made it a great place to eat, drink and socialise. ‘When we took it on there were about 7,000 visitors a year,’ said Carl. ‘It just wasn’t being used as it should be. Even those who felt passionately about it still weren’t coming as much as was needed to keep it going. But we just couldn’t resist it. It used to be a bit of a joke when I used to visit with my family because it was never open. I was always intrigued by it and when we first got the keys it was pretty terrifying.
‘We had access to this fabulous collection and we kept thinking someone was going to come and kick us out.
‘It’s been a lot of work but now we get 40,000 people through our doors and we’d like to think we play a positive role in the local community.’
With the support of Rossendale Council, they now hope to bring even more of the site back into use with a Heritage Lottery bid of almost £2 million to renovate a barn, stables and yard next door. It will provide further exhibition space allowing more artists and creatives to show their work as well as room for more of the museum’s collection to be displayed. There will be training space and educational facilities for the community to use, a small cafe and events area.
‘We already have a varied programme from our own cinema that shows fantastic independent films from around the world to one-off events like our recent commemorations for Armistice Day,’ said Carl.
‘It gives us a great chance for us and the whole of Rossendale to create a place that will draw attention to this area of the country. We’d love to be a gateway destination for people exploring Lancashire. We’ve done all we can in the current space and we’ve been working tirelessly for the past year to create the next stage of our future.’
At the other end of the parkland behind The Whitaker is Ski Rossendale, another place that just a few years ago had an uncertain future. But thanks mainly to the dedication and deep pockets of chief executive Sue Foulkes and her team of directors they are ensuring the future of this social enterprise.
Work is currently underway on a new purpose-built ski centre with improved café, changing area and ski hire facilities. The plans are part of an overall £630,000 project funded by Sport England in partnership with Rossendale Council.
The redevelopment began in 2016 with the upgrade of the centre’s beginner and improver slopes which now boasts the latest synthetic surface that more closely resembles snow.
‘I just couldn’t see it closed, it’s too good a place to see it fall into disuse,’ said Sue. ‘I just love skiing and I wanted to be able to share that with people who come here. I’ve invested hundreds of thousands of pounds of my own money. I feel so strongly about it.
‘When we took it on it had been allowed to go into decline. But the work we’ve done over recent years has helped get it up-to-date. We can’t wait for the latest round of renovations to be finished. We want to secure its future.’
You don’t have to be an outdoors sports enthusiast to enjoy what’s thought to be the last remaining Temperance Bar in England – although a warm sarsaparilla would be the ideal drink after an afternoon in the cold. Mr Fitzgerald’s has been going since 1899 and in 2016 was taken over and given a new look by its latest landlord, Ashley Morley-Doidge. She is a member of the family that owns and runs the Haslingden production base of the vintage cordial business of the same name.
‘We still sell the drinks that have been served here since the bar opened and they do you the power of good,’ said Ashley. ‘We have the copper still – no one would have forgiven me if I hadn’t kept that. So many people come in here with stories about this place from years gone by and I have my own from when I was a little girl.
‘I’m proud the business has been such a strong part of Rawtenstall’s past and I’m delighted it will also be a part of its future. Things are changing in the town and it is an exciting time to be here.’
Joining Ashley playing a role in the town’s future success is newcomer, A’Vucciria, a Sicilian tapas restaurant in the old HSBC building in Bank Street. Since opening its doors in 2017 director Michele Pillitteri, dad Ignazio and head chef Katrina Kenny have been determined to contribute to a prosperous outlook for Rawtenstall.
A restaurant you’d be more accustomed to finding in a major city centre, A’Vucciria, which is named after a bustling market in Palermo, has been pulling in diners in their droves and accolades to match.
They were named England’s Best Italian Restaurant in the 2018 English Italian Awards and were recently shortlisted in the Lancashire Tourism Awards.
‘People love what we’re doing which, as I grew up in Rawtenstall, is something that makes me proud,’ said Michele, 29. ‘People love that it’s a different experience to other restaurants. I’m pleased to have somewhere that Rawtenstall enjoys and that we’re a part of the regeneration in the town. We’d love to open more restaurants. It is an exciting time for us.’
Making a Point
A scheme to radically redesign Rawtenstall’s town centre is currently underway. Initial works for the £5.5 million Spinning Point development, which will transform the former Valley Centre, has already been completed. The Town Hall has been renovated and reopened as office space and the town’s former police station has been demolished. Works planned for the future, some dogged by controversy, are a new bus station and a possible new leisure development with a hotel, spa and retail space.
For Alyson Barnes, leader of Rossendale Council, it is an exciting proposal for the town. ‘These are plans that will change and improve Rawtenstall for the future,’ she said. ‘It is an incredibly exciting development that will bring real benefit to the town. We want to create a modern experience for people living, working and visiting the area as well as boost the wider Rossendale area. Rawtenstall is a very special town and I’m thrilled to see these plans coming together.’