A shadow cabinet member who is being tipped for success in the Labour Party leadership race visited the borough to speak to activists.
Sir Keir Starmer, who was the front-runner to succeed Jeremy Corbyn in a poll released yesterday, travelled to Leigh after getting in contact with the town’s former MP Jo Platt.
Sir Keir, the shadow Brexit secretary, went to Leigh Spinners Mill to see the community groups and businesses transforming the historical landmark into a retail, leisure and culture hub and also visited charity The Bridge, which runs a community cafe, food market and wellness rooms.
Ms Platt’s defeat in the general election by Conservative James Grundy broke a 97-year streak of Labour representation of the constituency in the House of Commons.
She has been vocal about the need to listen to voters in towns such as Leigh which have been Labour heartlands but which opted for politicians wearing the blue rosette last month.
And the residents, activists and those on the front line in the borough did not hold back when Sir Keir asked for their opinions.
Ms Platt said: “I’ve spoken about the reasons we are losing places like Leigh and Keir was interested to hear what the community, businesses and the activists who went out and had thousands of conversations during the six-week campaign have to say.
“It was a mix of going out to see what the problems are and going to places where there is work going on to positively lift the town.
“Keir had a very frank chat at The Bridge, which deals with the effects of austerity. They have a cafe there and places like that are the eyes and ears of the community, they hear what everyone thinks.
“It was a brutally honest discussion and I’m glad he was here to listen.
“He led on Brexit and was in the frontbench negotiations for that so it was important for him to hear people’s views within the community with regards to that. We have a lot to say about the stance we took on Brexit as a party for two and a half years and we talked about what people want out of it.
“We also spoke about changing the narrative in towns where there are Labour councils and people see the Conservative Government as a change.
“We also spoke honestly about leadership. The election came down to a lack of trust with the leadership and the party as a whole.”
Sir Keir was given a tour of the former industrial mill by Peter Rowlinson, chair of the Leigh Building Preservation Trust (LBPT) which has overseen the renovation of the site.
He met some of the businesses working there, with everything from a martial arts club to an award-winning film society now based under its roof.
Ms Platt said Sir Keir was “blown away” by the venue, which was delighted to welcome its high-profile visitor and gave its own assessment of what the future for the area should look like.
Mr Rowlinson said: “We are always happy to host visits whether from individuals or groups wishing to come to view our heritage area or from key individuals who are potentially able to offer assistance to us either now or in the future.
“Sir Keir Starmer appeared to enjoy his visit and it gave the Trust the opportunity to showcase what we have achieved and for us to emphasise the importance of community-led regeneration above government top down actions which have not served Leigh well.”’
Sir Keir also spent time at The Bridge, which combats food waste, food poverty and social isolation.
The charity collects surplus food which would otherwise go to waste and uses it to cook meals in its cafe or put on the shelves of a community food market for Leigh residents struggling financially through debt, illness or just not earning enough to live on.
Ms Platt also suggested other leadership hopefuls should take a leaf from Sir Keir’s book.
She said: “Anyone looking seriously at becoming leader needs to visit places like Leigh. Politics should be about what these places need, it shouldn’t be someone doing things to people.”