The growing community of Rainford takes advantage of agricultural landscape
PUBLISHED: 00:00 16 September 2016 | UPDATED: 14:29 16 September 2016
This south Lancashire community is blooming - quite literally, as Martin Pilkington discovers. Photography by John Cocks.
Rainford, five miles north of St Helens, is a naturally creative sort of place. It has a dynamic business community, a lovely village centre and, at a time when traditional farming is struggling to make a profit, it has found some innovative ways to make the most of the fertile lands around it.
West of the village at Fir Tree Farm you can slake your thirst in the cafe housed in an 18th century barn, and 100 yards away satisfy your soul looking over the fields of wildflowers managed by the conservation charity Landlife. ‘We harvest and sell the seed to keep wildflowers in the environment,’ explains project manager Damian Young.
‘It’s sold to individuals, and organisations like wildlife trusts, the woodland trust and local authorities. We have several blocks of wildflowers around this area including teasels this year – last year we had a huge field of poppies.’
The look of those cornflowers at Fir Tree Farm is matched by the scent of Landlife’s lavender growing at Inglenook Farm to the east, though you almost need to nose the purple blooms lest a more exotic perfume, rather lovelier than the old aroma here, overpowers it.
‘This used to be a pig farm before we took it over,’ says farmer Steve Holmes. ‘It took us six months of jet washing to get rid of their smell. Now everything smells of frankincense.’ It’s an arrestingly heady scent that somehow feels like it’s doing you good, as research indicates may actually be the case. ‘The resin contains a compound called boswellic acid. Scientists are investigating its apparent anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties,’ says Steve.
Trees in the Horn of Africa are tapped for resin that dries into the rock-hard ‘tears’ packed into sacks and shipped by the container-load to Inglenook Farm. In their plant, after lab checks for quality, the essential oil is extracted by distillation. They process myrrh in similar fashion, though through different machinery to cope with its higher viscosity: ‘Handling just the organic chamomile and the lavender we grow ourselves – we only grow herb crops now - meant previously the distillery was used for a couple of months then mothballed the rest of the year, so we diversified,’ explains Steve. A major American customer takes most of the frankincense, though it’s stocked alongside their other oils in what must be the most gorgeously aromatic farm shop in the land.
The countryside around Rainford is dotted with old woods, and in the last four years 65 acres south of the village have been turned into a wonderfully peaceful natural burial site called Greenacres. ‘The demand for woodland burials is increasing year on year,’ says the company’s Keely Thompson. ‘We don’t stipulate how you have your funeral, that’s your choice, whether it’s a celebration of life or a religious service. People like this place because it’s so welcoming, - very different from a Victorian cemetery, just a beautiful place to be.’
Part of the site is mature mixed woodland, where paths wander past oak, chestnut, and Scots pine, foxgloves adding colour to the scene. Keely says it’s blanketed with bluebells in spring. Small wooden memorials mark burial sites. An orchard planted by the company will blossom for the first time next year, and the flowing contemporary lines of the wooden hall complete the natural picture. Given its purpose it’s a surprisingly life-enhancing spot, with a host of events arranged through the year with organisations like the RSPB to link it to the community.
You don’t need to go out of the village to enjoy flowers and foliage. In the centre, Rainford in Bloom has filled substantial wooden planters with nicely structural displays that harmonise with trees promising autumn colour. ‘I’m pleased with the planters, we didn’t want them to look “municipal” - we wanted character and individuality,’ says the group’s chairman, Peter Reddington, ‘Last year was our first entry in Britain in Bloom, but we’re more interested in making the village look better, tidier and prettier than in winning competitions. That said, last year we got a silver medal, unusual for a first time entry, and we hope for at least the same in 2016.’
Horticulture and competitiveness appear to be built into the village DNA. On September 3rd the village hall hosted the Rainford Show, a 19th century institution revived in the 1980s. ‘It has been going from strength to strength of late, especially the photography classes,’ says its chairman Kevin Leigh. ‘And this year we had permission to use Paul Hollywood’s soda bread recipe as part of The Great Rainford Baking Competition, though we still had plenty of traditional categories for flowers, crafts, preserves, vegetables and so on.’
For more details go to www.rainfordshow.co.uk
Damian Young at the Wildflower meadow at Fir Tree Farm
Keely Thompson at the Greenacres natural burial site off Blindfoot Road
Wildflower meadow at Fir Tree Farm
Damian Young at the Wildflower meadow at Fir Tree Farm
All Saints Church and Rainford centre
Peter Riddington of Rainford in Bloom
Rainford Hub.....Nathan Blackburn with Lynda Shave and Rupert Nichols
Rainford Show Chairman, Kevin Leigh, by the village hall
Steve Holmes amongst the lavender plants at Inglenook Farm
Steve Holmes testing some Frankincense oil at Inglenook Farm
At the Hub
Everyone you talk to in the village emphasises the strength of the community, and the positive results that brings – a shining example being its brass band whose recent triumph in the Spring Festival Senior Cup in Blackpool sees them ranked 33 in the world.
The same ethos underpins the work of Rainford Hub, a business group that now numbers 63 members. ‘The aim is to promote local businesses, as it’s my belief that as the businesses grow and prosper so will the community,’ says Hub chairman Nathan Blackburn. ‘So, everything we do is geared towards improving the profile of Rainford businesses, and making sure the wider community is aware of what other groups here have going on.’
A recent ‘speed-dating-for-businesses’ event proved a hit, giving smaller and newer traders the opportunity to introduce themselves to potential partners and clients. They’ve run workshops on the use of social media to promote businesses, and on IT. Events are generally held in the pubs which happily still grace the village.
The Hub, like so many others in and around Rainford, plays its part in the local environment, as treasurer Lynda Shave explains: ‘We’ve been very involved with the work that’s gone on in the village centre, the improvements that have made a big difference to the way it looks. That’s important to the feel of the place, and has to be good for business. We’re all part of Rainford in Bloom now!’