About two years ago I was appointed as a member of a House of Lords Select Committee to examine how the changes in social and economic circumstances in recent years had impacted on our seaside towns. Select committees are small, cross party groups of Peers who study and take evidence on a particular topic and then, within a year report their findings to Parliament and the Government.
There is then an opportunity to discuss the findings and government response in a debate in the Lords. The exercise is a useful way of scrutinising government policies and promoting new ideas.
I was pleased to be able to serve on the committee. I was born on the Fylde Coast in 1943, in Thornton on the housing estate which abutted the massive ICI chemical works sprawling along the banks of the River Wyre.
My work on the committee had an unexpected spin-off. I was approached to see if I would be willing to act as Chair of the Fleetwood Trust. The Trust was an ad hoc grouping of residents, clergy and business leaders who had come together to revive the part-derelict Fleetwood Hospital, located in the very heart of the town, as a Community Hub which would provide advice and services across a range of needs and age groups. I was reluctant at first to accept as one of the key recommendations of the Lords Select Committee was that any regeneration project should have its roots in the community it seeks to serve. An elderly Peer living over 200 miles away hardly fitted that description however I was aware that there were areas I might be able to help.
Although two very generous anonymous donations from the local community had provided the money to make the purchase of the hospital from the NHS, it was likely to cost a further £2 million to refurbish and equip the building to Twenty First century standards. I know my way round Whitehall and Westminster so I might be of help in that direction.
The final clincher for me was that although Fleetwood has faced a series of blows, like those amazing little trawlers of its glory days, it has come through the storms with spirit intact and head unbowed.
Since I left the area in the mid-sixties Fleetwood had lost its rail link following the Beeching rationalisation, the ‘Cod Wars’ of the 1970s had decimated the deep sea fishing industry, the giant ICI complex where my father had worked for forty seven years had gone, as had the ferry and container service links to the Isle of Man and Ireland, and the old ‘bucket and spade’ family holidays largely been replaced by package holidays abroad.
Now not only Fleetwood but the whole country has to take stock of its future, as we assess how the Coronavirus Pandemic has impacted on our society and our economy. I have never seen the community hub project around the rehabilitation of the hospital building as a stand-alone project, it must draw its strengths from the local community.
Fortunately we have some excellent pathfinders and pioneers to set us on the right track. Among our first projects to open will be the Community Kitchen and Food Bank delivered by ‘Faith in the Community’, a coming together of the town’s Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches’ food banks led by Canon John Hall and Canon Alf Hayes who are both members of the Fleetwood Trust Board.
Local GP Mark Spencer is also a trustee and the inspiration behind Healthier Fleetwood, an initiative which has already gained national attention by networking in the most deprived communities to encourage better diet and increased activity of all kinds. We are in talks with several local organisations to come into the hub and intend it to be a location and focal point for local providers both large and small. We have also in discussions with the NHS to provide a home for a step-down ward to serve the locality.
The Trust is also giving our full support to the wider regeneration plans of the local authority aimed at transformational changes in Fleetwood’s Town Centre, including an application to the Government’s Future High Street Fund and projects around the Market, the Docks, the Museum and reconnection of the old rail link.
Fleetwood is not without its success stories. The world famous Fisherman’s Friend cough lozenge is manufactured in Fleetwood; the old ICI site on the town border is beginning to grow again as a centre for high quality chemical production; the Fleetwood Nautical Campus, part of Blackpool Fylde College, has an international reputation as a trainer of the mariners of the future.
The efforts of the Fleetwood Trust has been given royal patronage as one of the “Seven for Seventy” community projects being given technical and project support by The Prince’s Foundation which marked the seventieth birthday of HRH Prince Charles and, of course, the sunset across Morecambe Bay lifts the spirit and inspires the soul.
I had a very happy childhood and youth on the Fylde Coast. Our first holiday after the War was to the Isle of Man on “Mona’s Isle”. I learnt to swim in Fleetwood’s then open-air baths. I watched Fleetwood play in the lowly Lancashire Combination, long before it reached the dizzy heights of League One. Sadly, my parents and my eldest sister lie at rest in Fleetwood Cemetery. So, I have many links which pull me back to this tough little town.
I hope to see the Fleetwood community hub delivered, as a key part of the of a wider regeneration of the town and its community.
It may no-longer be a community which goes down to the sea in ships. But it retains both the resilience and fortitude of that maritime heritage and being part of this next chapter of the Fleetwood story has been among the most rewarding and fulfilling of my life.
Rt. Hon. Lord McNally, Chair of the Fleetwood Trust - May 2020
This content also appears in the June edition of Lancashire Magazine