BOSSES behind the world’s first international Fairtrade visitor centre have finally unveiled an official opening date for the ambitious tourist venture in Garstang.
But they also revealed that Garstang nearly lost the FIG Tree centre to Lancaster, Preston or Manchester - as ongoing wrangles over the building lease threatened to scupper the chances of it ever opening in the world’s first Fairtrade town.
The FIG Tree will open its doors for business in the old Discovery Centre on High Street in the same week in November that Garstang’s fairtraders celebrate the 10th anniversary of the town being awarded the first ever Fairtrade town certificate.
The opening has been described as a ‘monumental occasion’ by supporters of the project, after months of negotiations to secure the lease, which until even last week were still unresolved.
Garstang Fairtrade pioneer and executive director of the FIG Tree, Bruce Crowther, admitted he had been forced to look into the possibility of re-locating the centre to Lancaster, Preston or even Manchester after saying negotiations to secure the premises with owners Wyre Borough Council were on their ‘last legs’.
But a deal struck in the past few days now means the Fairtrade inspired information centre, community hub and cafe will open on Monday, November 21.
Blackadder actor Tony Robinson and the director of the Fairtrade Foundation Harriet Lamb, will be special guests at the opening and will unveil a commemorative plaque.
Mr Crowther said: “We are delighted to finally secure a lease with Wyre Borough Council to enable the FIG Tree to be sited in Garstang where it all began, but we appreciate this is just the beginning and we have so much further to go.
“It has been a long haul to get where we are now, fraught with difficulties, but we have kept going due to the enormous amount of support we have locally, nationally and internationally and this support must continue if the FIG Tree is to succeed.”
He said a great deal of time and money had been invested in the project and Garstang was its rightful home.
Graham Hulme, Voluntary Director for the FIG Tree and Chair of the Garstang Oxfam Group said: “There is much talk at present about the ‘Big Society’ and how community leaders will get us out of this recession, but from our recent experience there needs to be a fundamental change in the way local government deals with social enterprises like the FIG Tree if this is to be a reality.”
Since Garstang voted to become a Fairtrade town in 2000, a further 1,000 towns in 23 countries across all continents have followed in its footsteps.
The FIG Tree centre - which will also host chocolate making workshops in recognition of the town’s links with the cocoa farming community - has been described as a ‘community interest company’ and it is hoped it will attract tourists from home and abroad.
The former Discovery Centre will be transformed to home a Fairtrade exhibition, a café using exclusively local and Fairtrade ingredients in all products where possible, a small gift shop selling Fairtrade items and musical instruments from Ghana, including custom made Djembi drums and an educational outreach and learning centre for all ages with live video links.
The FIG Tree will also provide refreshments, souvenirs and information for ramblers at the start of the Fairtrade Way; the world’s first long-distance Fairtrade heritage trail that links Fairtrade towns between Garstang and Keswick.
Mr Crowther added: “We would like to take this opportunity to thank Wyre Borough officers David Shepherd in Planning, Steve Mawby in Building Regulations and David Kessack in Environmental Health as well as Ben Wallace MP for all their support and assistance throughout this 12 month ordeal.”
The centre had originally been scheduled to open in May to coincide with World Fairtrade Day and this year’s Garstang Walking Festival. That was then put back to August, but further problems with funding and delays caused by the granting of the lease pushed this back again.
For more information on the FIG Tree visit the website www.fairtradecentre.org