Life in ‘forgotten’ and ‘neglected’ town where Lidl and B&M have just opened

A town many people felt had been “forgotten” now has hope for new beginnings.

Skelmersdale was the pioneering “new town” and was given this status in 1961. It was built to offer people new life away from Liverpool’s post-war slums, but its history dates back even further with its name recorded in the Domesday Book.

Modern Skelmersdale is split in two with the new town dominating the landscape to the east and “Old Skem” representing a smaller portion to the west. Like many towns, Skem’s town center has been struggling for the past two decades, with the Concourse shopping center, known locally as the Conny, being the focal point of the town.

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But a new development, now crowned Tawd Valley Center, hopes to bring a “bright future” with major retailers moving into units, including Lidl which opened on June 9 and B&M which opens on July 6. The ECHO visited Skem to speak to residents about what they hope the development brings and whether it puts the town back on the map.

‘Skem has been neglected for a long, long time’

Driving through Skem and up to the new supermarket which opened on June 9, a number of signs around the town direct you to the discount retailer chain. One reads “just a Lidl further.” Arriving at the car park a bigger sign outside the store reads “Skelmersdale just got a Lidl brighter.”

Parking up, I get out and chat to mother and daughter-in-law Jean and Leanne Downes who are just putting shopping into their car boot. When asked whether the new shops puts Skem on the map, Leanne told the ECHO not quite, but it does bring hope for the future.

The site of a new shopping park in Skelmersdale
The site of a new shopping park in Skelmersdale

The 38-year-old told the ECHO: “I do not think it necessarily puts us on the map, but definitely it’s good for the future. Skem has been neglected for a long, long time. Not just in terms of shops but in terms of usage of children’s services and that sort of stuff, I myself work in children’s services.

“I think it is good for the town and good for morale and to see we have been finally allocated some money. It’s good for the economy and good for the people. I mean we have got all these new houses being built and we needed something like this for a long term.

“We just need something now in the way of doctors and dentists and all that kind of stuff but every little bit.” Jean, 76, who has lived in the town for 41 years said the town “does need it”, however believes in time the buzz for the new stores will start to filter out.

She told the ECHO: “The thing is at the moment it is a bit of a novelty and so everybody is piling in and we came on Saturday [June 11] and there were just hundreds of people queuing up the aisles and I think that will start to pan out and people will think will I want to shop here or do I want to go back to Aldi. “

The 76-year-old added similar store Aldi, which is in The Concourse, is not very big and only open when the shopping center is. She said: “The trouble with Aldi is it is in the Concourse. So it is only open on Concourse hours, it is a long way in, it’s not very big. I have always liked it but I like the wide aisles.”

Leanne and Jean both agreed this gives more people choice and “value for money” but would like to see other stores come to Skem such as Marks and Spencer.

But more is needed, some say

Another customer, who was sorting her shopping just outside Lidl, said “it was about time” Skem got a retail park. The resident, who has lived in the town for 53 years said: “It’s about time we got a retail park because it’s either into Burscough or Wigan or something like that.”

Speaking to taxi drivers Brian Smith and Barry Smith, who aren’t related, they told the ECHO they think the new stores will bring “competition”. However they both agreed Skelmersdale needs more, such as a clothes shop.

Brian said: “What we need is a clothes shop. If you go over to the Concourse it is full of cafes and things like that. No clothes shops, nothing.” Barry, who has lived in Skem for around 30 years, agreed and said: “No men’s clothes shops. Dunnes is that still open?

“There are so many shops being shut in the Conner [Concourse]. Primark we have harped on about it for years. We could do with a Primark, saves people going to Wigan. We haven’t got a Primark or Matalan. “

Skelmersdale town center
Skelmersdale town center

The men also said Lidl, B&M and the town center development will also bring more people to the area and also brings business for the likes of taxi drivers. Brian, who has lived in Skem for 26 years, told the ECHO: “It brings more people here as well. We have picked up people from Burscough. “

Barry added: “Since Thursday, the car park has been pretty full. A lot of Skem people who normally shop at Asda or the Conner [have come to Lidl], but we have seen a lot of new faces. Thursday when it opened people were queuing up for 40 minutes. “

‘It will open it up’

Margaret Donnelly, who had just finished shopping with her partner, said she thinks the development “will open” Skem up. Like others the ECHO spoke to, the 73-year-old said there is a lack of range at the moment.

She said: “I mean this will open it up and I like the area for sitting when the weather gets nice and it will do for the students as well.

“We have got nothing here. We go to Aintree for Marks and Next, but there’s not much there because everyone is shopping online and we do not have apps or anything like that, so I can not really do anything online. ”

‘Many residents thought it would not happen’

Rosie Cooper, MP for West Lancashire, was one of those to open Tawd Valley Center in a formal ceremony. She said the opening of this development will hopefully lead to new leisure and wellbeing hub.

She said “” Skelmersdale has waited a long time, so it’s great to see that a new town center has finally started to appear. Many residents thought it would never happen but here it is, the first part – soon hopefully to be followed by a new leisure and wellbeing Hub.

“I will continue to push for more retail, family restaurants and everything else that new Skelmersdale Town Center needs.”

Councilor Yvonne Gagen, Leader of West Lancashire Borough Council, added: “This is a very important day, not just for the people of Skelmersdale, but West Lancashire as a whole. The new town center development will bring economic and social benefits for the borough’s communities long into the future and will greatly enhance Borough’s appeal as a great place to live, work and invest, providing increased opportunities for many. “

The site of a new shopping park in Skelmersdale
The site of a new shopping park in Skelmersdale

“This development is a significant step towards a future where everyone in West Lancashire will be able to take advantage of a positive economic outlook and vastly improved health and wellbeing outcomes. The people of West Lancashire deserve this and I’m delighted we have delivered it . “

West Lancashire Council said talks with a third retailer are in the final stages and the area opposite the retail park has been upgraded to include a new play area in Tawd Valley Park for families to explore. It added a new high street now links West Lancashire College with the rest of the town center.

Improvements will also be made to the public areas outside Skelmersdale Library to make them more attractive spaces for people to enjoy, the council said. Minister for Leveling Up, Neil O’Brien MP, said: ” Supported by £ 2 million from the government Growth Deal, Skelmersdale’s new and improved town center will help deliver opportunity and prosperity for all.

“With new retailers already opening up, the Tawd Valley Center will serve as a shining example of leveling up in action in West Lancashire.”

The town center redevelopment scheme has been a partnership between the Borough Council and developer St. Modwen, supported by the Lancashire Local Enterprise Partnership’s Growth Deal Fund. Construction partners for the project have been Caddick Construction.

The new town center complex is part of the regeneration plan for Skelmersdale. This also includes drawing up a detailed masterplan for the site of the former Glenburn Sports College, part of which has been set aside for a new railway station, the council also said.


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