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What the locals really think of Longridge

PUBLISHED: 18:00 19 April 2016

Berry Lane

Berry Lane

Archant

There's a lot of woolly thinking in this lovely Ribble Valley town, as Mairead Mahon discovers

Andy White (Secretary) outside Longridge Heritage CentreAndy White (Secretary) outside Longridge Heritage Centre

Longridge is a pretty town in the Ribble Valley, the sort of place where you might expect to see hanging baskets and pots of flowers in springtime. You wouldn’t be disappointed but look a little closer and you will see that all is not quite as it seems - several of them are made of yarn.

That’s because the town is home to a group of ‘yarnbombers’ who operate under the cover of darkness to decorate the town in colourful, woolly creations. No-one admits knowing who they are, except maybe the Mayor and she is sworn to secrecy.

Their base is a shop called Oh Sew Crafty and it doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to deduce owner Catherine Reid has a hand in this clandestine operation. She confesses that the ‘yarnbombers’ gather here to make their flowers before placing them around the town.

‘At Christmas, they gave the trees Christmas jumpers and there is a permanent display of poppies at the War Memorial. Everyone looks forward to our yarnbombing projects - there are several of us aged from 10 to 80 but I’m afraid it’s no names, no pack drill,’ laughs Catherine.

Aoife and Sharon Loving of The Ginger BakerAoife and Sharon Loving of The Ginger Baker

Catherine is a Longridge girl, born and bred with a mission to get the town crafting - everything from stitching to knitting.

‘Longridge is the place for me. We have a tremendous sense of community - most people know each other and we have pride in our history,’ she says.

They certainly do - there can’t be many towns that have a fully staffed busy heritage centre run entirely by volunteers. It is based in the old railway station, beside what used to be the platform before Dr Beeching closed it in 1967.

‘As well as people, the line carried stone from the quarry. Lots of buildings in Liverpool are made from Longridge stone, as is The Harris Museum in Preston. Today, we have thousands of photographs and documents relating to our town that accessed either here or online from people all over the world. It seems that there isn’t a corner of the world that doesn’t house someone with a Longridge connection,’ says Andy White, the secretary.

Of course, when Longridge industries like quarrying and cotton dried up, the town had to reinvent itself and today it’s a thriving home to a wide range of independently owned shops that draw shoppers in from all over the north.

Alistair Sheret owns the Longridge Gallery in which acclaimed artists are only too glad to display their works. Fear not if you don’t know a oil from a watercolour, help in the shape of Alistair will be on hand whether you want to know more about an artist or find a better frame for that painting you inherited. Don’t do a double take if you later see him in the town’s shoe shop - he owns that too!

‘It does sound a bit quirky but that’s Longridge for you and that’s what’s made it such a magnet for shoppers who are fed up with the same old homogenous high streets,’ he says.

Ellie Halsall, from Berry Antiques, agrees that it’s the individual style of shops that has made this corner of Lancashire such a success.

‘People like to see things that are unusual and they like to talk with proprietors that have time for them. I’ve spent a lot of time with people who are looking for just the right small antique and I’ve enjoyed it as much as them. Lancashire people like to know exactly what it is they’re buying,’ says Ellie.

One of the oldest shops in Longridge, Swift’s Hardware, has certainly had to adapt to changing demands over the half century that it has occupied a prime position on Berry Lane. Arnold Swift began by selling ironmongery and farming supplies but it has now expanded to include a colourful range of designer pottery, up market cookware and a garden section with barbecues for those days when sunshine falls on Longridge. We don’t know what Arnold would have made of it but as the shop thrives, his practical Lancashire soul would surely have approved, especially as you can still buy those essentials such as nails and seed potatoes.

Just a couple of doors down is one of the town’s newer ventures - My Chocolate Heaven, owned and run by Tracey Roberts. She makes chocolates on the premises which goes a long way to explain why so many press their noses against her window! Tracy, a mum of four who is originally from Manchester, quite often bumps into Mancunians who come to Longridge to shop.

The Ginger Baker, aka Sharon Loving, hails from Ireland but would never leave Longridge. She specialises in gluten free cakes which explains the ‘baker’ bit of her title and a glance at her glorious red hair explains the rest.

‘You would think that I would have been able to come up with that name myself but it didn’t occur to me. It came about that’s the name Longridge folk referred to me by and it stuck.’

It could easily have been the Ginger Gardener, as Sharon trained as an organic gardener but she is not the only one to find that the friendly town encourages those who are having a go at something new.

Julie Rainford of Moss, was always interested in textiles and paintings but she was also a farmer’s wife to David with three children. As her work had garnered so much praise, she and David bought an old garage opposite St Laurence’s Church and work began to create an interiors shop specialising in her textiles and artwork.

‘The garage was found to have two huge petrol tanks beneath its floor and the only way we could raise the money to deal with it was to re-mortgage our home,’ she recalls.

‘It was terrifying but people were so supportive towards us, it stopped me from giving in to despair. The sense of community here in Longridge is overwhelming. People enjoy seeing each other being happy and successful. Now, I make and display textiles and paintings here and my daughter runs a relaxing spa upstairs - something I could have done with during the Incident of The Petrol Tanks!’ says Julie

Longridge has transformed itself into an independent shopping town, all the while keeping history and community at its heart - and where else would you find guerrilla groups planting woollen flowers?

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