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.
Carl Bell and Jackie Williams have overseen the revival of the Whitaker