Famous faces and community leaders have given their full support to the Observer’s new Pride in Leigh campaign designed to talk up the town.
Politicians, sports personalities and the leaders of grass-roots organisations are among those happy to talk about why they feel Leigh is such a special place.
There’s also a real sense of community spirit and solidarity in Leigh which other places have lostAndy Burnham MP
All agreed that the town punches well above its weight on so many different fronts and spoke of the people who do so much to make Leigh what it is.
One of the new drive’s most enthusiastic backers is MP Andy Burnham, who spoke of the amazing changes which have happened in the 16 years he has represented Leigh in the House of Commons.
He also said it is important for a place like Leigh not to hide behind self-deprecating northern humour and not be afraid to shout from the rooftops about its many achievements.
Mr Burnham said: “I think this is an important campaign and I would like to congratulate the paper for launching it.
“It comes at the right time because there’s a growing confidence in the town and it needs to be brought out.
“We can all be prone to negativity, and I include myself in that, and sometimes we can talk our town down but I think there are enough positives happening in Leigh that we can afford to talk the place up a bit more. I do think we could be better at proclaiming our positives.
“Some of things that have happened, such as Elton John playing Leigh, the Manchester football clubs playing on a Monday night with free entry for everyone, the Rugby League World Cup being played here and Leigh beating Saints in Super League, would have been unimaginable 10 or 15 years ago.
“We’ve got a great mix of old and new in Leigh, with our mills heritage being brought back into modern use and developments like the loom and the new hospital. The 5 Boroughs didn’t have to choose Leigh, but they did.
“It’s the people that make the town, though. I count myself incredibly lucky to have had the privilege of representing without doubt the best people in the country in Parliament.
“They are warm, welcoming, decent and they don’t hold back and tell me what they think. There’s also a real sense of community spirit and solidarity in Leigh which other places have lost.
“Charities often tell me they raise huge amounts of money in Leigh and it’s one of the most giving places they know. That’s born out of an understanding that we’ve got to look after each other.”
As the coach who managed to steer Leigh Centurions back into Super League after more than a decade in the lower leagues Neil Jukes has carved himself a special place in the town’s recent folklore.
Originally a native of Ince now happily settled in Lowton for the past 10 years, he spoke of his pride at being in the top job in Leigh and crowning the town’s incredible grass-roots conveyor belt of talent development with a professional club at the top table.
He said: “Year on year we produce international players in Leigh and it’s a real hotbed of rugby. It’s incredible how many players from here are now at other Super League clubs and have gone on to international honours.
“It’s not the biggest town but what we do in terms of progressing young players is as good as anywhere else in the country.
“Coaching the team is brilliant and the fans are incredible. It’s a passionate town and they certainly get behind the team.
“Leigh is a great place, it’s humble and it has a lot of history. People here roll their sleeves up and earn their corn and I’m proud to be part of it.”
Someone else whose name is inextricably linked with the spectacular Leigh Sports Village (LSV) is Trevor Barton MBE, who played an enormous role in getting the stadium and surrounding developments built and now promotes the town’s volunteers as chairman of umbrella organisation Trust in Leigh.
Mr Barton says he has long campaigned for better recognition of all the things which are best about the town.
He said: “All too often we hear there’s nothing in Leigh and other places get everything, which just isn’t true.
“We’ve got great people, great facilities, a lot more green space than people think and the LSV which is the best of its kind in the country and a catalyst for lots of other things.
“You add to that the developments taking place at the marina and the upgraded canal, the building work that’s been going on, the improvements to the town centre and the ambition to build a theatre at the back of the Turnpike, the sports teams which consistently win trophies against bigger towns and cities and everything else.
“This is a very special place. When I walked through Sydney customs someone told me they came from Leigh with a real sense of pride.
“It’s time to break this idea that we have to be negative and whinge and moan, and say this is a great place to live, work and bring your youngsters up.” As well as its better-publicised efforts on the sporting fields Leigh has a fair cultural contribution, with its musical talent alone including rhythm ‘n’ blues legend Georgie Fame, punk-pop pioneers Buzzcocks and now indie-rockers The Lottery Winners who have signed to a major US label.
Hoping to add to that roll call is Helen Stalker, director at The Turnpike which houses the town’s library as well as an art gallery and performance space for everything from dance events to film screenings.
She said: “We want to establish a centre of excellence for the arts in the heart of Leigh, with the community at its core.
“We’re bringing the best of the arts to Leigh and also devising an education programme.
“I think the main potential of Leigh is its location between Manchester and Liverpool. There’s a real opportunity here to be the place which brings together the best of the North West.
“We want to help produce a new generation of Leythers who are creative, inspired and confident.”