Before August 2017, Bolton was a destination I occasionally heard uttered over the train station tannoy. Having previously worked in Manchester city centre, a mere 15 minute walk from home, I took a chance on a new job in a brand new industry, and incidentally, I ended up in Bolton. My initiation into becoming a part-time Boltonian came in the form of 7am rail replacement buses for around 5 weeks whilst settling into a new job at Vernacare within the Marketing Department. Thank you, Northern Rail.
After being in my new role, and in Bolton for just over a week, I read Andy Walton’s article comparing Bolton to a doughnut missing a centre: I’m not a lover of ring doughnuts and I like my doughnuts filled with plenty of strawberry jam. He talked of a dilapidated and sprawling town vying to become a city when all it could realistically offer shoppers was a plethora of pound and pie shops. On a cursory walk around the town centre, I was reluctantly inclined to agree with his observations. I’d never seen so many Greggs’ competing with Pound Store bakeries within a square mile in my life: I’m originally a Londoner used to stumbling across a Starbucks every 4 ½ minutes when I happen to be over and not underground. Was Walton’s piece chronicling the demise of a once industrious and deeply historic town justified?
It definitely doesn’t reflect my new employer, Vernacare. We’ve been here for over 50 years, always in Bolton, and we’re the world’s largest and most innovative medical pulp manufacturer. We might not be glamorous, but we’re not fanciful or fleeting: we’re here to stay and we’ve stood the test of time. We make all our medical pulp products and macerator machines on-site at our factory on Folds Road, with our office next door. I was bemused that I could walk from an office to a factory with such ease when I first joined. I also never thought I’d enjoy walking around a factory, and watching a series of manufacturing processes first-hand. Maybe that says more about me than I like to admit. But the most impressive thing is we’ve grown a business with international reach from our humble beginnings in Bolton. And to me, that’s impressive. It’s Bolton at its very best. But don’t just take my word for it… We even won the Queen’s award for innovation.
What do Sara Cox, Vernon Kay, Amir Khan, and Peter Kay all have in common? They’re all from Bolton. That’s right, they’ve all come from that ‘nothing of a town’. Between them, they’ve managed to wake millions up of a morning, make you laugh until you cry, and entertain you in a way that others couldn’t dream of. They’re all bold, brave and represent the spirit of Bolton, and whilst they may have left, they’ve taken Bolton with them and shown the world the place that made them.
I decided to ask some of my fellow Vernacare colleagues for their views on Bolton. One of our newest recruits, Kerem Ilham, originally from Turkey, assured me that there’s more to Bolton and its surrounding countryside than just pie shops. He picked his top 3 places to visit in Bolton:
- Rivington Pike is about 360m at its peak, and has one of the best viewpoints in the North West of England. By the time you make the steep walk up the hill, you pass beautiful gardens, man-made caves (they were once used as shelter) and some historical sites. Once you reach Pike Tower, you can see as far as Blackpool tower (on a clear day), out to Wales and even the Isle of Man. Rivington Reservoir is a beautiful place in its own right.
- There’s also Jumbles Country Park, located in Bradshaw Valley which is about 3 miles outside of the town centre. It was opened by the Queen back in 1971. It’s a great place for a Sunday walk, and it’s really picturesque with its wild life.
- Moses Gate Country park is again not far outside the town centre, has a huge playground for children and is centred on 3 lakes. There are plenty of swans and ducks by the lake, and if you venture into the forest there are even more birds to discover. It’s the perfect place for a quiet picnic, or even for a spot of fishing.
My immediate manager told me not to forget Fred Dibnah and Warburtons.
“What’s not to love about Bolton? Warburton’s, Fred Dibnah, Smithills Farm and of course Vernacare! To be honest when I think of Bolton my mind does wanders to hot buttered toast, crumpets and tea cakes. What is more Boltonian than Warburton’s? It’s a great story of Northern grit and entrepreneurial spirit: from its humble beginnings in a small grocery shop, opened in 1870, to the £500 million business with 4,500 employees. They even had Sly Stallone appear in their TV adverts so they must be good. As for Fred Dibnah, the fact that there is a statue of him in Bolton town centre means you can’t really get away from him. Fred brought his passion for steam and engineering to a wider audience whilst showcasing his Bolton charm. For me, Smithills Farm is the perfect place to entertain my two young sons, feeding the lambs, climbing on tractors, and generally running riot. And of course Vernacare…leading the way for patient dignity globally.”
Maybe what Bolton really needs is some TLC, some investment, and a commitment to elevate and restore it to its prior glory. That’s exactly what Bolton Council is trying to do with its Cultural Quarter, MarketPlace spruce, the transport exchange, and with the educational allure of The University of Bolton.
Some of the facts Walton put forward can’t exactly be disputed. With 1 in 4 shops vacant and being named as one of the 12 top struggling cities in the UK (despite not having official ‘city’ status), Bolton doesn’t exactly evoke an image of prosperity and progress. At one point or another in the not so distant past, British towns-a-plenty have been eclipsed by the success of online retailers. But after being named Britain’s friendliest town (an accolade I can personally attest to with the number of ladies who randomly strike up conversation with me whilst I get my manicure), I think maybe the future of Bolton truly lies in the tenacity of its people to turn this town around…