This week, Wigan played host to the architectural expert and first cousin to the Queen, HRH The Duke of Gloucester. In a wide-ranging tour, the Duke saw at first hand some of the major changes to the local landscape across the borough.
The Duke, whose interests include conservation and young peoples’ charities, not only visited the new Life Centre buildings in the town centre, he also met schoolchildren, volunteers and groups responsible for Greenheart, the regional park which includes locations such as Amberswood Common and Leigh’s Pennington Flash.
His Royal Highness was given a detailed tour of the campus of public buildings in Wigan and also asked questions about the surrounding architecture.
Greeted by the Mayor, Cllr Myra Whiteside, the Duke first saw how the old mining college had been transformed into a working town hall. He then called in at the brand new Life Centre south site which houses two pools, a gym and dance studio. There was a very detailed tour of the Life Centre North, which offers a variety of public service facilities in one location. The Duke met staff from Wigan and Leigh Housing, Victim Support, Citizens’ Advice and other partners, as well as council officers and the architectural team behind the multi-award winning buildings.
Officially opening the Life Centre, the Duke said: “You have a great feel for history. For that reason we have a building which is wonderful and historic, offering the best possible facilities the council can provide for the benefit of the community.
“As a trained architect, I can see the architectural role in putting things together in a splendid building and the work is fully justified. I congratulate everyone who played a role in the creation of the Life Centre”
There was also a working lunch with leaders of local organisations including members of the Wigan Forward Board.
His Royal Highness meets customer care staff.
The Mayor said: “I am proud to welcome the Duke of Gloucester to our borough on behalf of the council, partners and all residents.” Leader of the council, Lord Smith said: “I am very pleased to be able to take the Duke around Greenheart and discuss how we have transformed former derelict industrial land into attractive open spaces for people to enjoy.”
The Duke called at Amberswood Common, between Hindley and Platt Bridge. There Hindley schoolchildren helped him plant a tree and Groundwork staff demonstrated outdoor activities including willow weaving, alongside the lake
Visiting the site of the old Bickershaw Colliery in Leigh, the Duke talked to local fishermen and listened to Golborne pupils perform brass band standards before he officially named and declared open the new Diamond Jubilee Marina. The impressive new site has been a £19m project led by the Homes and Communities Agency, and building work for homes and employment land is expected within 12 months.
Deborah McLaughlin, Executive Director North West at the Homes and Communities Agency. said: “Through great collaborative and partnership working, we’ve now reached a fantastic point in the redevelopment of Bickershaw South – today marks a major milestone in progressing our work to make this a place where people choose to live, work and invest. With the new marina, infrastructure and outline planning in place, we are now seeking a partner to develop a mix of housing types and tenures for the local community.”
Oak tree planting with Hindley schoolpupils on Amberswood Common.
After meeting some of the people involved in restoration work and unveiling a new information board illustrating the rich history of the area, His Royal Highness boarded a barge, accompanied by Greenheart experts. This enabled him to see improvements to the canal towpath and the whole vista of Pennington Flash Country Park.
Arriving at Pennington, there was time for a sport of birding for the Duke. Greeted by Leisure and Culture Trust staff, the Duke visited the Horrocks bird hide.
Legendary birdwatcher Frank Horrocks, who would have been 100 this summer, was for many years a member of Leigh Ornithological Society, and the hide offers great views of birdlife and the Flash environment. Current LOS members explained to the Duke the many changes Pennington Flash has seen since it first flooded over a century ago.
The day ended with a final plaque unveiling at Pennington and the Mayor and Lord Smith expressed their delight that the weather had been glorious, allowing the Duke to see improvements that the transformation of Wigan Borough has brought over recent years.
“We are a proud borough,” the Mayor, Cllr Myra Whiteside, told the Duke. “We hope we have demonstrated to you our wealth of natural assets and our ability to innovate and build on our past to create our future.”
Lord Smith with HRH the Duke of Gloucester and Deborah McLaughlin of the HCA.
On the barge from the newly named Diamond Jubilee Marina to Pennington Flash Country Park