It's 'Yes On The High Street' as new pop-up shop run by WI opens in Longridge to showcase local art and craft work
How a local branch of the WI, with the kind support of a local business, is finding a solution to the business blows which have hit creative makers during this year's Coronavirus lockdowns.
The Coronavirus pandemic has tested health and enterprise in all sorts of ways this year.
But now Ribchester and district WI, with the support of a local business, has created a new pop-up shop for local creative makers to sell their wares before Christmas.
A wide range of hand made art and craft work will be on show and so far 40 creators have come forward to sell their work.
Catherine Keane, President of the Ribchester and District WI, explained how the new Yes On The High Street shop, to be found at 75, Berry Lane, Longridge, was born.
She said: "The shop became vacant and we just managed to get it until Christmas as a pop-up shop."
She recalled how Vice President Maria Gee was walking past the shop recently, saw it was vacant and wondered about the possibility of opening such a shop.
The next challenge was to find who owned it with a query to the WI WhatsApp group.
By chance WI member Janet Swift and her husband John own it - the Swift family have run the local hardware shop for more than 65 years and number 75 forms part of the site of their former bathroom showroom. It proved to be a meeting of like minds.
Janet had long nurtured the idea of the town having a showcase for creative work made by local people.
She said: "I said I would like to do something for the community. It would be a wonderful opportunity. We were offering it for them to use and become an outlet for local creative people. It was a catalyst to help people who are struggling in these Covid times. People have lost the markets they could go to. They have lost an income stream."
The WI used social media to promote their project and many would-be sellers came forward. Janet and John also shared retail know-how.
Catherine said: "It's very much a community project. It's not just the WI, it's the local community. We had nigh on 40 responses from crafters young and old. The youngest is 19 and the oldest is 80. It's a wide range of people who have responded. We've got wooden decorations, cushions, jewellery, things for the pantry, lovely wool scarves and shawls, macrame, ironmongery, nursery prints ... and recycling."
But an unexpected obstacle to their retail ambitions came in the form of the second Coronavirus lockdown. It meant they rushed to open for a few hours on just one day before having to shut up shop for a month. Catherine said: "We were going to do Wednesday to Saturday. Now we're hoping, the minute we're allowed, to open Monday to Saturday from 9am to 5pm."
She stressed: "We're here not to compete with high street stores but very much to support and complement them. We'd like people to see the WI is proactive. We are committed to our community and that's the importance of the WI."
Vice President Maria Gee said: "When times are difficult we are the girls who step up. I think it's fab. We can't believe the response we've had from the local areas from crafters and makers. There's so much talent within four miles of Longridge.
"We're absolutely thrilled and delighted to offer them a showcase and put them in contact with the public. I think the public are hungry to support local this year. I think there's a lot of good will out there and we are able to put local artists, crafters and makers in touch with the public."
The shop at 75 Berry Lane will be available to let from the new year. But this pre-Christmas enterprise may yet have a longer life. Janet said: "We're hoping we can have a monthly craft market in a studio space we have down Stanley Street. Moving forward that's what we're hoping - to keep this alive and going."
* photos and video: Kelvin Stuttard
* The Lancashire Post is more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription to support our journalism. For unlimited access to Lancashire news and information online, you can subscribe here