Thursday, 9 June 2016

My LT Column: Love Haslingden

In 2009, I rocked up at a place that had fallen out of love with itself. I’d been selected as the parliamentary candidate for Haslingden and Hyndburn.

Knocking on doors in Haslingden it became evident that community confidence had collapsed. No British Legion. No town centre forum or Chambers of Commerce. No local council meetings. In short, there was little civic society. Door and after door residents told me of their despair at the fall of their once proud town.

Something had to change.

Roll forward to 2015. I fall to my knees metaphorically speaking. I look to the skies and thank someone. Anyone. Shangri-La. A moment when hard work was making a difference. A letter had appeared in the local press signed “Disgruntled from Bacup”. Its content was simple: “It’s not fair, Haslingden gets all the attention”. True or not, such a comment is a reflection of how the community in Haslingden has changed their home. It wasn’t just the letters page. An objective comment in another article went on to say that Haslingden is a place on the up. And it is.

What was it that has created this metamorphosis?

The genesis: a decision to rebuild civic society by the new Council Leader Alyson Barnes and I. Things had to change.

An incredible campaign by Haslingden residents and I to recapture ownership of the historic Mary Hindle centre succeeded against the odds. It generated significant good will.

A town centre forum was set up to deal with some of the more pressing issues. It was amazing just how much untapped community interest this generated. People came to meetings crying out for a vehicle that offered a positive and more vibrant Haslingden.

The town centre forum regenerated civic activism. A new Chamber of Commerce has ben established. Helped by local councillors the local Royal British Legion and the remembrance Sunday parade have been revived. It spawned HAPPI, a dedicated bunch of hundreds of volunteers who are raising money to refurbish and reopen our much-loved baths.

The forum also spawned a social media explosion under the brand ‘Love Haslingden’. It created an online Facebook and Twitter forum for everything that is brilliant about an old historic town. There’s been community clean up days and other spin off groups have got involved. The Haslingden Fair run by volunteers and councillors is now a firmly established annual event.

It’s not just the local media who recognise that Haslingden is on the up. The upmarket Lancashire Life turned up to do a full feature last month on the town and Leesa Amin, one of many Haslingden heroes, was awarded the title of Rossendale Woman of the Year.

Haslingden is a town on the up.