First, a spectacularly generous donation of £150 from a gentleman from nearby Winmarleigh provided the project with the necessary funding. Second, the Lord of the Manor of Garstang, The Right Honourable Edward Walpole, donated a site.
The venture now tangible, the Boys’ Grammar School was opened and took up residence in a building on the site which had stood as far back as 1690, operating out of the building until 1928, at which point it was closed by the County Education Committee due to educational needs being met by other local denominational schools.
But it continued to be used as a special subjects centre - cookery for girls and woodwork for boys - until 1965.
It was at this point that it became the Garstang Arts Centre, an establishment which engenders a love of all things creative in the local populace to this day, hosting fairs, exhibitions, performances, and a café open to members of the public.
“It’s a really important community resource for Garstang,” explains Hilary Burns, the centre’s curator. “It’s a nice meeting place for people who are on their own and we have a lot of people who come into the café who would otherwise not have many people to chat to.
“We also have a wide variety of groups which allows us to cater for most people’s tastes; whether you want to paint, dance, or sing, we have something for you,” adds Hilary, 74, who has worked at the centre for around 12 years. “I’m involved in the general running of everything. We have about 15 groups which meet up, so part of my job is to keep an eye on the calendar to make sure everyone’s coming and going as well as running the café a couple of days a week.
“We’ve seen the centre grow over the years and, while it’s taken a bit of work to keep it nice, it’s been lovely to see it come together,” adds Hilary, who has lived in the town for 50 years. “Before I became curator, I’d been coming here as a volunteer for a few years and doing the washing up and it all sort of progressed from there really. It’s great.”
Having been founded with the stated objective of ‘promoting an interest in the arts throughout the district’, the centre was initially fronted by Stella Platt and the late Frank Walmsley and funded by the Town Trust, which still owns the property. It flourished and soon became home to a registered charity named The Garstang and District Arts Society which exists to this day.
A host of groups from across the spectrum of interest and hobbies meet at the centre, including a bridge class, a camera club, a floral art group, a folk dancing troupe, various music groups, a painting class, a stitching group, a poetry society, a Scrabble group, a ukulele class, and a wine group.
What’s more, the Arts Centre also hosts exhibitions of members’ work and a regular programme of external artists’ work which changes every four weeks.
“Being able to come along and engage in something artistic is great and I think we do a really good job on that front,” says Hilary. “Covid was hard - we closed because so many people who come here are on the wrong side of 80, to be truthful! My son is a medic and, in March 2020, he rang me up and said ‘mum, you need to shut down’, so we closed for about 18 months.
“We still aren’t quite back to where we were,” she adds. “I’m hoping we will get there, but we have to bide our time because people have lost their confidence in coming out. I think people have missed it but they’ve got out of the habit of coming. It’s not been easy, but we’ve managed and it’s lovely to be back, but we’d love to see more people coming down.
“The people who are back now are very much saying ‘thank goodness that life is getting back to normal a bit’, so all we can do is keep going and hope things keep improving.”