Evonne Harwood was a force of nature. As well as being a champion for Accrington, organising hugely successful fundraising and charity events for the town, this fantastic 55-year-old lady ran her own business, was a much-loved partner, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.
At lunchtime on Saturday, April 22nd, as the second edition of LIFE:STYLE magazine was being delivered throughout Hyndburn, our publisher Murray Dawson popped over with a couple of copies to Evonne’s shop, The Pink Magpie Emporium on Warner Street.
Evonne was particularly looking forward to this issue because it features her and best friend Kate Furey, another Warner Street trader, who together organised the town’s hugely popular Dickensian night, among other events, bringing thousands of people flocking to the beautiful Georgian Street where they both have businesses.
Evonne, her partner Guy, Kate and Murray spent the next 40 minutes “putting Accrington to rights” and chatting about the other projects they had planned together at this year’s Accrington Food Festival.
It was with great sadness and shock when later that evening Murray and the LIFE:STYLE team heard about Evonne’s untimely passing on Saturday afternoon.At
At LIFE:STYLE our hearts go out to Evonne’s family including partner Guy Curtis, her close friends including bestie Kate Furey, and all of Evonne’s fellow traders and her many, many ‘face friends’ on social media.
RIP Evonne – you were a true inspiration and will be sorely missed by all.
With its exquisite Georgian architecture, independent shops and olde-worlde elegance, Warner Street in Accrington is experiencing a long-overdue renaissance. This once ‘forgotten gem’ is sparkling again as windows trimmed with bunting and fairy lights showcase a variety of products to entice shoppers back to the street.
On occasional Saturdays live musicians and sketch artists add to the ambiance by taking resident spots in selected shops.
“It’s just as good here as it is in Hebden Bridge,” says trader Evonne Harwood, owner of Pink Magpie Vintage Emporium, and one of the two women behind an extraordinary series of events which has had visitors flocking to the street in their thousands.
Two years ago there were fewer businesses on Warner Street and trade was dwindling.
Kate Furey, aromatherapy and reflexology specialist and owner of The New Freedom Sanctuary, was one of the businesses feeling the hit.
She says: “It was very quiet in my shop– even the locals seemed to have forgotten we were here. At that point in time, I was only really selling my products online.”
Long-term friends Evonne and Kate – who first met as traders on Accrington Market – decided to take matters into their own hands and hit on the idea of a Dickensian night to boost Christmas sales.
With a small grant from the council, the enterprising pair prepared themselves to take a crash course in event management.
Pulling in favours from friends they printed and delivered leaflets, rallied fellow business owners and advertised in the local paper.
Evonne recalls her pure panic that the event would be a flop. “The night before the weather was horrendous,” she says. “Side on gales and lashing rain. Kate and I got up at 6 am and wondered what time to call off the event.”
The ladies held their nerve and by 1 pm the wind dropped and the rain subsided. Says Kate: “By 3 pm it was the start of a perfectly dry, crisp and clear spell which lasted all evening until after we’d packed up at 11 pm. It was a miracle!”
The historic event included street entertainers, candlelight procession, Victorian fairground rides, market stalls, pipe band and a fire dancing fairy.
Traditional children’s games took place at a marquee in St James Church and visitor numbers topped 7,000. “Not bad for our first event,” laughs Kate.
Spurred on by their success the friends decided to organise a summer extravaganza by turning one of the side streets into a beach.
“We got four tons of sand delivered,” says Kate “and held traditional seaside competitions including Knobbly Knees and Bonny Baby.
“Apprentices from the North Lancs Training Group built an oversized deck chair for the kids to play on. There were quite a lot of funfair rides and we even commissioned our own Accrington rock from Blackpool.”
Last year’s Dickensian night saw more than 10,000 people attend with the council deciding to extend the event to Church Street. Says Evonne: “It is amazing to see how well these events have done, especially when you consider there’s just the two of us organising them. But we bounce ideas off each other. That’s not to say it isn’t exhausting!”
So how have the events impacted on sales? Do people attend and disappear again until the next one?
Adds Evonne: “Yes and no. I’ve definitely had people come back, not in their droves, but a few. This is more about raising awareness. Once upon a time if you typed Warner Street into Google, the results came back with the description ‘an almost derelict High Street’. Now it lists all the events throughout the year and people are curious to come and have a look”
Says Kate: “There really are some amazing shops in this town. For goodness sake people, stop posting that there is nothing here on Facebook. Leave the house and come and see for yourself what wonderful independent trade is here and how buzzing the town is.”
Plans are already underway for 2017’s Dickensian Night. Evonne and Kate are in talks with Haworth Art Gallery about introducing a heritage trail where a horse and carriage takes visitors between the gallery and Warner Street.
“We have a historical street here and there really aren’t many in the area like it. Built in 1821 and with a wealth of history, the shops are traditional, the traders independent, and mostly local.
“At one time Warner Street was the centre of the town and Abbey Street would have been the High Street. The cattle market would have been at the top here.”
As if running their businesses and planning major events wasn’t enough to keep the ladies occupied, they are also planning to organise a world record attempt for the most people to compete in the ‘Oops Upside your Head song’ by the Gap Band. This will take place during the Accrington Food Festival and people who take part with pay a small fee and be encouraged to dress up in 80s gear. You can sign up via the Facebook page: https://bit.ly/OopsUp
Slowly Warner Street is starting to buzz again; with traders stocking a variety of vintage furnishings, antique treasures, fine leather goods and quirky gifts to mention just a few.
Hair and beauty salons galore, photography and reflexology studios and dog grooming parlour are just some of the services you’ll find here – along with a sweet little tea shop and other places to enjoy a bite to eat.
Asked if they have any other plans for the year, the ladies reply in unison: “Sleep!”