Lancashire’s ‘forgotten town’ working hard to turn things round

It doesn’t have a railway station, and its swimming pool, named after the founding father of the NHS, is 45 years old. A recent report identified a series of pockets of poverty within its population.

But signs of a real renaissance are finally emerging in the “forgotten town” of Skelmersdale in West Lancashire. And a successful bid for £17m of government Levelling Up cash could deliver a turnaround in its fortunes.

Set off the M58, new homes are springing up, and a new retail centre under construction since January is beginning to take shape. The first of the brand new stores, Lidl, opened its doors last week, while a B&M Bargains store and a third retailer are due to open nearby.

A new high street and children’s play area are also emerging, and there are plans to revamp the second floor of the town’s Concourse Shopping centre with a new leisure complex in the pipeline and proposals for new leisure hubs to replace the swimming baths in Skelmersdale and Ormskirk are also being considered.

With a relatively young population, it is hoped a new dawn is emerging in Skelmersdale. With this in mind, Lancs Live went back there to talk to people and find out what they think of the changing face of the place once dubbed ‘the forgotten town.’

Tawd Valley Centre in Skelmersdale, West Lancashire. Photo by James Maloney/LancsLive

Alison Reece, 57, says the new supermarket is lovely – but points out that Skelmersdale is lacking a train station, a night time economy, shops and facilities and a much needed carers’ centre. She told Lancs Live: “I went in Lidl – it’s lovely, the staff are lovely, the place is bright and airy but at the end of the day, they’ve given us two cheaper end shops.

“It’s beautiful inside, it’s more upmarket than Aldi, and they will give Asda a run for their money and I will certainly use it and it’s lovely to have something new, but we’re the only town in the country without a railway station. Skem is very isolated; I have to get a lift to Ormskirk; it makes going anywhere much, much more difficult. If you want to go to Southport that’s an hour on the bus.”

Skelmersdale resident, Alison Reece.

She also points out that houses are springing up ‘all over the place,’ and questions whether the infrastructure is in place. “There’s too many houses going up and we’ve got no infrastructure. At night time, come six o’clock that’s it. There’s no night time economy; we’ve got a lovely little cinema but it’s inside the concourse so when it shuts, you can’t go in.

“It’s actually embarrassing if you have anyone coming to visit, you’ve got nowhere to go. It’s second hand everything. It’s such a shame, as people want to do a lot here and there’s nothing for them. It’s a start – but we need what everybody else has got.

“Houses are going up everywhere, they’re building houses all over Skem ….There’s too many houses and not enough infrastructure. I used to live in Aintree and I used to come here and spend all day. We could go to the baths and there were lots of things to do, the shops were full and there were lovely things to do and it was a lovely day out.

Taryn, a young mum who is visiting for the day, told Lancs Live: “They needed a park for a long time; there’s one in Ormskirk but there’s nothing around here. Normally, Skem gets not so good parks but this looks good; it looks impressive. It’s nice to see that they’re putting things in and it’s what’s been needed it for a very long time.”

The 29 year old added: “I grew up on Yewdale in Skem, now I live in Burscough; most of the parks in Skem were taken away. Where I live in Burscough, stuff gets fixed straight away but around here now. It’s nice to see that they are putting things into Skem.”

Niall Williamson, 29, also a resident of Skelmersdale, said: “There’s meant to be all these fancy things, I’m sure there was meant to be a Booths or a Waitrose originally instead of Lidl, but it just seems to be all these fancy buildings with shops that aren’t too fancy. They say they are building a new town centre – I remember my mum telling me they’ve been building a new town centre for 50 years. My dad says it as well, and it’s never really got anywhere.

“I’m not too bothered, you see people moaning about kids messing around and they say they’re on the park already and they’re not supposed to be. Apparently, you’re not allowed anywhere near the park as it’s not finished. There was scaffolding; there’s nothing to do in Skem, it’s a bit of a mess. People say they’ve been doing the new town centre for years. “

Lee Sealey, 49, owner of Sealey’s Fruit and Vegetables, in the Sandy Lane shopping centre, is pragmatic about the changes – but thankful that they are happening ‘at the other end of town.’ Of greater concern is the ‘frightening’ skyrocketing cost of food and fuel, in his opinion. “Well, it’s happening – they’ve opened the Lidl. Personally I don’t want big superstores coming in –you’re having to go out of town to go to them, it’s the other side of Skem so it suits me. The new Lidl’s just opened, but in general Sandy Lane’s a steady flow. But it’s all the new town but – all happening down there there’s nothing happening here.”

Lee Sealey, who has a fruit and vegetable business in Sandy Lane, Skelmersdale.

But change is afoot, with the arrival of the Tawd Valley Mountain Bike Trail, the new retail park, hopes of attracting further retailers, exciting new events like an artisan market and bold plans to revamp the upper floor of the Concourse Shopping Centre into a new leisure complex. Meanwhile, a Levelling Up bid could be given the green light, which could see £17million making its way to Skelmersdale, and plans to replace the town’s 45-year-old Nye Bevan swimming baths along with Ormskirk’s Park Pool with brand new health and well being hubs.

Councillor Yvonne Gagen, leader of West Lancashire Borough Council, said: “Skem has always been referred to as the forgotten town and with the lack of investment until 2015 with the Tories in control and there was very little investment, and it’s been hard work by our offices to actually engage with retailers to get them interested to come to come into Skelmersdale because the face of shopping is changing completely all the time.

Nye Bevan pool next to the Concourse shopping centre in Skelmersdale. Photo by James Maloney

“We saw through Covid that people were shopping online more for groceries with the likes of Amazon offering that service as well, so to get three major retailers that we’ve got, it’s a momentous day and it’s a day worth celebrating. It’s about connectivity, and the connection with West Lancs College with the Concourse itself opening all that area, and we’ve got the two new health and well being hubs that we’re hoping for to replace our ageing swimming pool with.

“We’ve got a fantastic team working on it, we’re only a small authority and people forget that these are massive plans that we’ve got in the pipeline. Our swimming baths are 45 years old, and dependent on the success of the three retail units, we’re hoping for a phase two, which will be smaller units, and hopefully that will attract other businesses into the area.

Councillor Yvonne Gagen, West Lancashire Borough Council. Picture Robbie MacDonald.

“As far as we’re concerned, the town has been forgotten and I think we’re changing that; you’ve got the new Mountain Bike Trail, this new park that’s going to open and we have a new park in Ashurst which opened a few years ago, you’ve got your Beacon Country Park which is one of the green flag award parks; we’ve got an artisan market on July 17.

“For me Skelmersdale is the jewel in the crown and always will be, especially when it sits on the M58 corridor. The Tawd Valley Park is stunning; we put new footpaths in there, so you can go in wheelchairs, mobility scooters; now Skelmersdale is connected all the way through, so its exciting times. When you throw in the mix of the two leisure hubs you’re talking s significant investment and it’s what we’ve needed for such a long time.

New landscaping at the Tawd Valley Centre in Skelmersdale

“With our Levelling Up bid, should we be successful. We’re hoping for £17 million for Skelmersdale, and if we get that fund, we can crack on with Nye Bevan and we would do Park Pool in Ormskirk. The shopping centre is a huge investment, and is a multi million pound investment. The upper floor of the Concourse has been given planning permission for a themed floor with mini golf, a bowling alley. As far as the levelling up, we expect a decision in October this year, and if we do get it, I’ll be doing cartwheels because that will be massive for Skelmersdale.”

Improvements include a new high street linking West Lancashire College with the rest of the town centre, revamped public areas outside Skelmersdale Library, the impending opening of the B & M Bargains on July 6 and talks with a third retailer. Regeneration plans also include a detailed masterplan for the site of the former Glenburn Sports College, part of which has been set aside for a new railway station.

A new children’s play area under construction near the Tawd Valley Centre in Skelmersdale.

The revamp of the town centre is thanks to a partnership between the Borough Council and developer St. Modwen, supported by the Lancashire Local Enterprise Partnership’s Growth Deal Fund., with construction partners for the project being Caddick Construction. Debbie Francis OBE, Chair of the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership, said: “It’s fantastic to see how £2m of Growth Deal funding from has helped deliver the Skelmersdale Town Centre redevelopment project. It’s also a great example of how strategic LEP investments like these can bring benefits to local businesses while also improving retail, leisure and lifestyle amenities for all residents.”

Minister for Levelling Up, Neil O’Brien MP, said: ”Supported by £2 million from the government’s Growth Deal, Skelmersdale’s new and improved town centre will help deliver opportunity and prosperity for all. With new retailers already opening up, the Tawd Valley Centre will serve as a shining example of levelling up in action in West Lancashire.”

Rosie Cooper, MP for West Lancashire, said: “Skelmersdale has waited a long time, so it’s great to see that a new town centre has finally begun 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 Centre needs!”

A Department for Transport spokesperson confirmed that proposals for a new railway station in Skelmersdale were being looked at, with a decision expected in due course, stating: “We have allocated £500 million for the Restoring Your Railway Fund to reinstate axed local services and restore stations in England and Wales. Proposals for a new rail link and station at Skelmersdale are being considered and a decision will be announced in due course.”


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