Ulverston gets ready for major investment
PUBLISHED: 00:00 02 September 2015 | UPDATED: 17:48 10 May 2016
Changes are underway in Ulverston which will give locals more say in their town's future, as Mike Glover reports
Ulverston is gearing up for a busy month, with beer, medieval markets, lanterns, cyclists, walking and apples all lined up to be celebrated in festivals. The town will welcome thousands of tourists, attracted by its independent shops, cobbled streets and a devotion to food and drink, as well as the spectacle of its programme of events. But what the casual visitors won’t see is the hard work being put in behind the scenes to make sure the second largest town in South Lakeland continues to thrive into a new era.
The town is gearing up for a real boom. Glaxo Smith Kline has embarked on a major expansion using its Ulverston factory as the base for an experiment in developing drugs from plant materials. The Bio-Pharm is due to attract £1billion of investment and create 600 jobs over the next 15 years.
The Siemens plant in the town is also expanding, as are several other firms making everything from LED lighting to the latest in underwater technology. And down the road at Barrow and beyond, BAE Systems is already preparing for the next generation of nuclear submarines and the new nuclear facility at Moorside near Sellafield will add to the demand for highly-paid workers.
This is all going to put a big strain on Ulverston’s infrastructure. There are 1400 homes envisaged in the South Lakeland District Council’s (SLDC) local plan. Education will be a challenge, particularly due to the number of highly skilled workers needed.
What local people don’t want is to lose the town’s unique flavour, as evidenced by the existence of pressure groups like Keep Ulverston Special. Fortunately there is a dedicated core of public and private sector activists who are tackling these challenges, aware as they are of the decline in local government resources.
Earlier this year Ulverston voted to become a Business Improvement District, which means local firms have committed to pay a supplement to promote and improve the town. And one of the most innovative and interesting developments has been the response to attempts by SLDC to cut the cost of public buildings in Ulverston, with the town hall in Theatre Street and the iconic, but heavily subsidised Coronation Hall, in County Road vying for survival.
SLDC leader Peter Thornton said with Coronation Hall costing £1,000 a day to keep open it had to be considered for a sell-off. But the venue is an important place for people to meet, for concerts, theatre, dance, coffee mornings, charity events, job fairs, talks and festivals. And the cultural offer would also be important to the residents attracted to the town by the new jobs.
So the people of Ulverston were asked what they thought, and decided instead to get rid of their town hall.
Details were still being finalised as Lake District Life went to press, but the plan is to move the actual offices and reception into the refurbished Coronation Hall toilet block, and to hold meetings in rooms in the main building.
A new experienced manager, Charlie Rowley, has been employed, tasked with expanding the services and making the ‘Coro’ more commercially viable. Catering and a bar may be introduced and outsourced to one of the town’s thriving food and drink outlets.
But that is not all. SLDC is also giving Ulverston Town council power and responsibility for running the markets and at least some of the car parking in the town.
The chairman of Ulverston Community Enterprise, a Trust made up of councillors and local business people to manage Coronation Hall, is Councillor Judith Pickthall who said in the past Ulverston had a propensity to blame other levels of government for what is happening in the town ‘This makes them take responsibility instead of the easy option of saying it is other people’s fault.’
This commitment to localism fits the Government agenda and the Enterprise is building up to apply for a Power to Change grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The whole deal should be sorted before the end of this year.
One of the 13 trustees recruited to the Enterprise, representing young people in the town, is talented 17-year-old saxophonist Jess Gillam.
She is the elder daughter of Doug and Shirley Gillam. Doug’s great, great, great grandfather set up Gillam’s grocery and teashop in Market Street in 1892. Its toffee was missed by Stan Laurel, born in Ulverston, when he moved to Hollywood. And you can still buy tea and coffee measured out on the original scales. Gillam’s is also a popular and award-winning vegetarian restaurant.
Other businesses continue to do well. Next door to Gillam’s, fisherman Chris Sanders this summer opened a fresh fish shop, Lake District Lobster Seafood Company, with sea bass, grey mullet and lobsters caught by him or his five partners, from off Walney Island. They also feature cockles and other seafood caught in Morecambe Bay.
And opposite, the old Grapes Pub has been bought by local businesswoman Katie Holmes who has turned it into the Squirrel, a shop promoting her own Sting in the Tail range and other luxury products.