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Group turns derelict Blackburn mill lodge into nature reserve
Chris Newell and Andy Shuttleworth, team leader of the Blackburn Prince’s Trust and other volunteers
A CENTURY and more ago, it was the power behind 2,000 looms — today the aim is to turn it into a wildlife oasis amid the streets of Blackburn.
The plan for Audley Hall Reservoir, already classified as a bio heritage site, is to create a nature reserve and fishing lake, for anglers, schoolchildren and local residents.
The Environment Agency has promised the freshwater fish, while bird and bat boxes will be provided to attract native species.
It’s all the idea of the South West Blackburn Angling and Sports Association, which has just taken over the lease of the reservoir, known locally as Dickens Street lodge.
Members have already started work to clear the overgrown site and dredge the weed-choked water.
They’ve been helped over the past two weeks by a team of 10 from Blackburn’s Lancashire Fire and Rescue Prince’s Trust and Twin Valley Homes, which provided the equipment to cut down the overhanging shrubbery.
PCSO Andy Shuttleworth, based in Bangor Street community centre for the last six years, is seconded to the trust for 12 months and is team leader.
He said: “It’s been two weeks of hard labour, the reservoir has been badly neglected. We must have collected 100 bags of rubbish, and there’s still lots more to be done.”
The reservoir was built in 1856 as one of a number of water works for the town and then, following the construction of Audley Hall Mill four years later, it powered the steam engines to drive the looms producing shirtings, cambrics and jacquard.
The weaving shed quickly became known by local folk as ‘cat hoyle’, because of the number of felines who perished in the water.
In 1871, it was bought by Chorley-born Eli Heyworth who added a second weaving shed alongside and expanded the number of looms to 2,200.
As one of the founders of the Technical School, Eli took a practical interest in pupils and one of his looms was always available for young inventors to test their new designs or improvements for textile machinery.
It was also due to his initiative that Queen's Park and its boating lake were created — and the statue of Gladstone was erected.
The south West Blackburn Angling and Sports Association see the project as providing a fishing lake for anglers, an educational venue for schools and a wildlife habitat.
The association was formed eight years ago in the Meadowhead area of Blackburn, to rid the streets of escalating anti-social behaviour.
One of its founders, who patrolled the streets to quash trouble, was Adrian Hoole, a self-employed joiner of Mill Hill, who has also been getting his hands dirty, revamping the reservoir.
He said: “We took teenagers off the streets and introduced them to fishing on the canal and the group has grown and grown from there.”
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