New life is coming to the banks of Burnley’s famous ‘Straight Mile’ now that we have completed the £3m restoration of Finsley Gate Wharf. The project, funded in partnership with the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Burnley Council and the European Union, has deliverd an amazing transformation of the site. Come with us as we see the site for ourselves and learn more about the exciting future it promises for local community life along the canal.
You may recall that Waterfront recently shared the history of this important former boatyard on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. Certainly, a strong sense of community spirit was still evident as we drove into bustling Burnley past the tightly packed terraced houses and businesses setting up shop for the day. It immediately came to life when we arrived at Finsley Gate.
Wonderfully framed by green hills below bright blue late-summer skies, the wharf was set out with deck chairs, as if Blackpool had come to Burnley for the day. As visitors began to trickle into the newly opened café-bar for a late breakfast or early lunch, friends, family and neighbours greeted each other warmly, as they took in this wonderful new waterside attraction, now open to all.
That day's event was an open day for the local community, offering boat trips from the wharf, woodturning, a blacksmith's demonstration in the newly renovated forge, willow weaving for kids (of all ages) and open house in the function rooms and learning areas.
But most of all, people were simply enjoying the amazing setting in the sunshine, giving a clear view all the way down the Straight Mile. Here's what some of the people we met on the day thought of this new community hub, right in the heart of their town.
Abigail & Leesha
Abigail and her doggy friend Leesha are regular walkers along the local canal, simply attracted into the Wharf by the chance to enjoy a coffee-break in the sunshine.
“I think, once the word gets out, especially for dog walkers, it's a lovely little spot. This is what we've been missing in Burnley for a long time. Somewhere nice and tranquil to just sit and relax. I am off sick at the moment. I don't mind admitting I had bit of a breakdown, during lockdown. So being able to walk Leesha along the canal is really important. If I didn't, I wouldn't get out of the house.”
Jonty & Sarah
We met this couple, just after they stepped off their boat trip up and down the Straight Mile. How did they get on?
“We really enjoyed it” says Sarah. “I grew up in Burnley, but I didn't know much of the history of the canal. It was so interesting and important. It was good to learn about everything the Canal & River Trust have planned here with canoeing, and paddle boarding and improving the nature along the canal. It's made me want to google what's happening and get involved.
I love coming down to the canal to see the swans and the cygnets, the runners and walkers. During lockdown everyone was so sociable along here, stopping to talk to you. And there's lots of wildlife. Dragonflies, yellow irises. There's so much to see.”
We met Amna enjoying the blacksmithing demonstration, in the smoky forge. It's easy to see how it takes her back over 200 years.
“I'm a local resident, and I just want to support any form of replenishment, refurbishment, or renovation. I've seen the changes you've been making and was interested to see it all finished. The wharf renovation is beautifully framed. Everything is so well placed, and there's clearly a lot of thought gone into it. Personally, I really enjoy heritage crafts and the blacksmithing especially. I love the smells. I love the sounds. There's something so bizarrely primal about it.”
Emma and her daughters were just driving past on their way back from town and thought they should pop-in. The girls really enjoyed making their willow crowns and fishing rods. Emma simply says: “This area of Burnley could really do with some regeneration, so it's wonderful to see somebody doing something with it."
As our local community roots officer, it's Emma's job to encourage people down to the canal and use facilities like Finsley Gate to bring people together to improve their local waterway.
“This new community hub is just the beginning. It's not simply a two-year project but a 10, 15, 20-year project, to bring people together. I'm working with people who have NHS prescriptions and people recovering from time in hospital to help them get more active on the canal. The Trust have young people gaining work experience on the Kickstart scheme. We want to get local schools involved with things like ‘Beat the Street' and with paddleboarding, running, walking and canoeing. And we're looking to improve nature along the Straight Mile, increasing the biodiversity. So, we'll be planting cherry, apple and pear trees and putting in wildflower areas. I know our canal water here looks a bit brown but that's how the town got its name. Brown water coming off the lee of the hills, makes Burn-ley.”
Sarah De Nurtcheylo
At the end of a busy day, we catch up with our energetic community engagement project officer, Sarah who has lived and breathed the renovation of Finsley Gate through lockdown.
“I'm really excited that it's open now, it's just been a long time coming. Now it's about working with the local community to get them involved. I've walked the streets here promoting the wharf as a community venue. This local area of Burnleywood is a ward of very high deprivation and the local community centre closed long ago. But now we can be here for local groups, knitting, art and craft, exhibitions and fitness groups, whatever the community need. The local GP practice is looking at coming in to use it as well. And there are ideas about having an outdoor cinema and Christmas market events. Whatever people want to do. We can make it happen."
Last Edited: 27 October 2021
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