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Artz Centre CIC

Artz Centre CIC provides the Skelmersdale community with arts training and life skills through their creative academy.

Mark Ashton

Mark Ashton

My family are all an old Skem family. You know, Mum was born and bred here as my nan was and everyone else. And to be honest, growing up for me, I was more of the football, you know, I suppose it was cheap and you could kick a ball against the wall. You know, we live by the the garages and you'd play football. So in terms of, in terms of theatre my sort of passion for that started in school. We had a really good drama teacher at Lathom High, I was more of a footballer and I had this maybe a bit of a secret kind of interest in it.

But being a football captain didn't really allow you to go and be in the drama shows and all that. So by the time I got to year ten it started to become something I was really interested in. And I've always been a bit of a writer. I've always wrote plays and poetry and stories and that kind of thing. But to be honest, there was nothing really. There was nothing.

And then I left school in 99 and I was approached by someone from the local theatre group who had a role for a teenage boy. And he'd seen me in a show in a play within school. And he asked me to get involved in that. There was a lot of kids who were in the school shows who loved it, they loved it. And for that particular week or two weeks or whatever, all the bad behaviour disappeared, they were all really engaged in what they were doing. And I always thought there's got to be... Imagine being able to pick up all of those kids and that cast and put them into a place and let them carry it on. So, you know, from there it was like it became a bit of a longer ambition really, to have a centre that could house all that creativity.

Leaving school in 99 and then by 2014 we ended up opening this building. The Artz Centre was a bit of an idea that we approached the borough Council with and they had buildings that were up for grabs really, you know, they were under utilised, they were costing the council loads of money and it was like anyone who's got an idea for these buildings, come forward.

So we put to them a proposal to turn it into a centre for the arts, which to them at the time seemed ambitious. It was like, where are you going to get money from? They'd never seen that type of thing done before. We took over the building in 2014 and ever since we've seen thousands, literally thousands of kids come through this facility. And I'd like to think now that there is access to the arts particularly in Skelmersdale.

And people say to me, this is really good for Skem, which is great. But I actually think it sometimes can seem a little bit patronising. And I think what we have here in Skem, this particular facility and other provision for the arts is as good here as it is anywhere because we've kind of made it that way. I've always said my kind of motto is that we the Artz Centre is used in the arts not to build better performers, but to build better people. And I think that's always been the case. You know, art, the arts is the vehicle for that change, the social interaction, the community cohesion, the learning skills, employment, whatever it may be. We're just using the arts as a vehicle. So we've seen so many kids come through here and there has been stories where the quality of the tuition, the quality of the opportunities that they've had has meant that they've gone on to some of the best drama schools in the country. You know, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and some of the big ones in London. They've gone on to those places and are now actively working in the industry. And people are like, Well that's surely the pinnacle for you. And to be honest, that's great. That's great for them. But it was never really the reason we set it up. When I hear people have gone on to, you know, be great teachers or they're working in the health care industry as a nurse or a doctor. And they're using their foundation that they developed here, not only to get them into that industry. So they've learned about creative thinking and problem solving and the hard work and working with all the people and being part of an ensemble and all of that, they're applying that to their own career. And that's great. You know, I think that's probably more important to see that.

We do a lot of things around enterprise as well. So an entrepreneurial kind of mindset in art, it's very much about creating ideas and that's what we do a lot here. So some of our students have gone on to to start their own businesses and, you know, very active in the sort of social, you know, trying to change social stigmas and stuff. We hear it with people from some of the sort of more marginalised areas, maybe the LGBTQ communities or, you know, people like that who've come through our thing, who are now off trying to change the world in that way. And again, they've used the arts as that to give them a bit of a foundation, core skills, basic skills, develop a voice, develop confidence in order to go out into the big wide world and use it.

So I think those those things are great. And because they're still connected to us through our sort of alumni, we get all of that and we see all of that, which is brilliant. And then I guess more from a much more kind of like, you know, sort of family community sense. Last year we hosted a wedding here and it was a wedding from two of our students who had actually met here, grew up, became boyfriend and girlfriend. And then three years later, they got married and they they wanted to have the reception here. And I was asked to speak at the you know, and it was it was like a proud father, you know what I mean? It was a special thing, you know? And then they had a baby to which I was asked to be the godfather of. And, you know, this is really life changing stuff. And then I've got another another couple who I funny story like, I put them in a show… we were doing West Side Story. I put them in a show as Tony and Maria in West Side Story. They're getting married next sorry, this year, 2023. They're getting married and they've had a baby as well. Do you know what I mean? So that is incredible, really, in the sense of like, you're changing people's lives forever and sometimes you have to stop and think about that because you think, wow.

The reason I think that's happened is because we've been doing this now… I've been doing this job 20 years. We've been doing it here for just over 12. So people who started when they were ten are now 22, people who started when they were 15 are now 27, you know, and then I've got people who were students of mine who'd gone on to university and they've come back to work. So they're actually members of staff. So all of my staff are homegrown ex students. I think with us being here for so long, we're just now starting to see the fruits of that labour.


Christine Ashton

Christine Ashton

We lived in Field Street, which is now by where Brookfield School is. And we've always lived in a mile radius in Skem in the old part of Skem. But my earliest memories in Field Street was so much fun you wouldn't believe. We had, there was no traffic through there then and we were on the edge of the farms and the farm industry and all that, so there was no traffic. And we travelled to which I'm assuming must have been the Tawd Valley Park. I'm assuming it must have been there. We went fishing with a neighbour, about seven children, some in the car and some in the boot, and I was one of them in the boot! But he lifted the boot open a little bit, so we could sort of breathe, but it was so exciting. We were supposed to be going fishing. We come back with tadpoles, but, you know, it was hilarious.

Playing near the brickworks. This was all before I was ten, playing near the brickworks. I often wondered later on what the workers used to think because they'd come into work on a Monday morning and we'd have made houses out of the bricks, you know, with a three foot high wall all the way around and chairs in there and tables. So that was that was really good memories. And then, of course, we had the cornfields, hide and seek, leapfrog, of the bit, you name it, and we was doing it. Yeah, we lived in Field Street and in every other house was the elders. And they used to sit on the front to watch the children play. And another particular instance, a story of my mum's. I was probably too young to remember, but apparently I was involved. I don't actually, I do... I do have a vague memory of it, but not a great deal. But my brother, yeah, he was friends with a family on the corner and the parents had gone out somewhere. But in those days you left your doors open. It wasn't an issue. But the children decided it would be fun to actually play around the house. And they were in the yard as it was then. You were playing in the yard and and you realised the door was open. So somebody went in for a drink of water. But then the play went into the house and apparently my brother is a bit older than me. He was my mum said, stood on a chair, someone was throwing cups at him and he was hitting them with a bat. So the crockery of the house was obliterated, basically!

So the elders said to my mum, "Are you aware of what the children are doing?" all the different elders from up the street. "Are you aware where the children are?" "Why? Where are they?" Because they always thought they're being watched. "They're not coming to any harm. They're fine. Said they're all in..." Can't remember the name of the lady in the house, "but they're all in suchabodies.. The Williams. They're all in Williams's playing in the house." "Well where is she?" "Well she's not in." So Mum said when they went well, most of the parents gathered there. She said the crockery there was like nothing left. And obviously they all got reprimanded. The kids all had to go home. “All right. You're not going out any more today”. All that caper. And yeah, around the street they gathered up some plates and cups for them. They didn't have much then, you know what I mean? But they gathered enough up for them as a family and face the consequences. But fun. Everything was fun.

There was a coffee bar at the bottom, which was owned by the lady that owned the Pictures, well her dad owned the Pictures and her name was Noreen Shaw. I don't know if you've heard of her? And she run this coffee bar. I don't know if they called it a coffee bar. And it was just a little counter going in there, getting a drink, soft drink or a hot drink and a jukebox. It was great. I was probably well, I was driving about 18 and 19, so we were moving out of Skem then. So a young, young teenager. Um, and it was great. I used to go there, put the sounds on the jukebox just to have a drink. I love the 60s because there's loads of happy memories, there's loads of happy memories with them.

And we was brought up. My dad would always say, If you're going into a job, we didn't have colleges and well, they probably did, but they didn't have that sort of thing then were children go in and choose what it is they want to do. They didn't have that. But we were brought up to say, choose something that will make you money even if you can't work. So for me, it was dress making. It was. Although, you know, cook, all those sorts of things were if you were at home with children, you could still make a bit of money. So I was already into the dressmaking from 11. I was interested into making, but it's mainly with dolls. I was dressing dolls on a daily basis, you know what I mean? So I thought, Yeah, yeah, I might go into that.

And we had Peter Blondes there at that time, which was a big factory for sewing. But my friend who was finishing school in the Easter, bearing in mind I started work on the day I turned 15. So my friend, she finished, I finished in the summer and she finished in the Easter. And she said to me, "Will you come with me to Peter Blondes?" She said, "I'm going to see if I can get a job when I leave school". So I said, "Yeah, yeah, I'll come with you". Anyway, we went and she got got a job. It was no interview.

It was like, "Can I put my name down?" It was as easy as that. All the factories in Skem was as easy as that. "Can I put my name down?"  And they said, "Yeah, name, address", what have you. And then they turned to me and they said, "Do you want me to put your name down as well?" "I don't. I don't finish till summer." "Well, it doesn't matter if you can put your name down". I said, "Really?" And she said, "Yeah, yeah you can. If you change your mind, you can always let us know". And it was as easy as that. And I went in to Peter Blondes the day I turned 15. The reason being my birthday's on the 21st. School broke up on the 19th, and I was in what you call four year leaving girls because I'm from a big family. So it was like soon, as soon as you can go to school and start work, the better, you know what I mean? And so, yeah, 15 I was, I worked there for 13 years.

When I had my first child. I left there and worked for myself for ten years. Sewing. And from there I went to Sarah Louis for another 25 years. Sewing. So my whole life has been that. I'm now retired. Thankfully!

We'd been brought up in really old houses, coal fire houses or cold and damp houses or what have you. And there was this bright New Church Farm was near us then. Well, it still is, but there was this bright new brand new estate going up which looked bright and summery and clean flags. There was a little bit of a buzz about it for the children, I think more so than a bad impact. And then working as I was then you got to meet some of these people off their estates. And I made a couple of good friends on there. And the inside houses wasn't as big or as planned out, as nice as our houses were, if you know what I mean. It looked nice on the outside, but perhaps not as much... Perhaps not as much on the inside. And that was no detriment to the people. It was just the layouts were a bit strange the way they did the layouts. So. Yeah, but I can't say a bad impact for me. I honestly can't. Maybe I'm that sort of person that accepts most things. But yeah, we certainly lost our countryside. And if there is an impact for me, I love the countryside. I've always lived in it and I love it. And now things are getting more built up.

And as I'm older, I love my garden. I can't wait to get in it and I'm pottering or I'm doing or I'm changing the landscape. It's not a big one, thankfully, but yeah. So if anything, it's losing the countryside for me. Within five minutes we're in another world within five minutes of just walking down the path onto the subway and voila. We're in... We're in the countryside and I've been walking down there with a trip with my grandchildren and taking photos and put them on social media. And people say, Where are you? Off across the road from mine, literally. You know what I mean? Because they don’t see it. They don't go there. They don't appreciate what's on the doorstep.

Somebody was talking, I put some pictures on from Tawd Valley Park, as they call it now. I put some pictures on and it was stunning. And I was saying, you know, in my element type of thing, somebody else commented, somebody else commented and somebody commented about Skem having nothing, nowhere to go, nothing to do. "I moved out of there, couldn't wait to get out, blah, blah, blah." Now I'm not normally one for, you know, putting me motty in and having a go back. But I said, Excuse me? I said, I've lived in Skem all my life and I don't appreciate what's being said because it is nothing like that. It is nothing like what you're describing. I said there's loads of places to go, loads of activities for the children. I said, Countryside on your doorstep, beautiful walks. I said, I just don't know where you're looking. And you know what she said? Well, to be honest with you, I've not lived there for a few years. So I said, Well, this countryside has been here all my life all my life. I said, So to me, there's nothing not to like about Skem.

Nothing would entice me to leave it. It has completely changed and there's more properties going up and it'll become more city-like. And I realised to a point you can't have these big shops without having the number of marks that you've got to a certain… I don't know what the word is but a certain amount of people to warrant these big shops coming in. So you know are we going to... I don't think we'll lose all our walks because I don't think we can because of the mining and the mine shafts and the mine. So many mines in Skem, so many... Before my time. In my memories, my granddad had to move to St Helens because the mines in Skem had shut. So he was at the clock face in St Helens. And that's my earliest memory of the mines.

But I know before that there must have been 40 mines in Skem. They were everywhere. So there's certain greenery and countryside. We will not lose no matter what. I mean, we used to go as children as well. That's another early memory. We used to go to BlueBell at Dingle, which was through Stormy Corner and that way and have picnics there. And we went only last year my brother was home from Australia and we went to look up where BlueBell Dingle might be. And it's changed so much. There was a 1 or 2 bluebells, but nothing like it was. It's just like a field of bluebells. And we used to to go like, say as children or with a picnic. The picnic was a bottle of water between six of us. There were six, six siblings, bottle of water and some jam butties. That was our picnic. So we're all swigging out the same bottle, crumbs in the water, you know. But yeah, I've got to say, I don't have any bad memories of growing up. I don't.. I mean, you got the bullying in school and stuff like that. And I was, I was sickly as a child going from 11 to, well, let's say 11 change my lifestyle after that. But, um, but my memories of growing up are happy ones.


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