It is over 700 years since Ulverston was first made a market town by Royal Charter from King Edward I in 1280.

However, its status as a great place to buy and trade endures to this day, with an array of independent shops, cafes and pubs lining its cobbled streets.

But the olde world feel of Ulverston belies the presence of advanced manufacturing and tech businesses which also call it their home, leading the way in fields from aerospace to LEDs.

And then, of course, there are the festivals, from street theatre and music at Another Fine Fest in the summer to Victorian garb and festive vibes at Ulverston Dickensian Festival in late November.

"Ulverston seems to fare better than many high streets at the minute just because there's so many independent retailers," says Michelle Scrogham, owner of independent fashion boutique Pure on Market Street and chair of the town’s Business Improvement District.

"We didn't get hit quite as hard as others when some of the big multinationals all disappeared from the high street and I think a lot of high streets were impacted because of those big gaps. They all started looking exactly the same.

“It was the same big multinational businesses and when they went they all looked the same and they all looked empty.

“It’s quite rare to see an empty unit in Ulverston. If somebody closes there’s usually someone who takes up the lease even before they’ve gone.

“I think it’s because of the way we are as a town, there are an awful lot of festivals, it’s got that really chocolate box look to it and we’ve got a conservation area to make sure it looks a certain way and it’s important not to lose that because it’s quite rare in the UK.”

The local owners of the independent businesses are also highly motivated to put their weight behind organising and volunteering for the many festivals that take place throughout the year, improving the town’s reputation as a destination and, in turn, making it more attractive as a place to trade.

Local traders also make up the board of the Business Improvement District, which was first set up in 2015.

Businesses within the BID area pay an annual levy, with the total proceeds then put towards schemes to make the town more prosperous.

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"It's run by the levy payers and the levy payers decide what they want that money to be spent on so it's very much targeted to the town," says Michelle.

"We're always looking for new volunteers to join the board for fresh ideas and to get involved. It definitely has an impact on how the town looks and how it runs."

Current BID initiatives include facilitating the free wi-fi which is available in the town and operating the Choose Ulverston website and social media accounts, which list every business within the BID area as well as promoting events.

"They advertise everything that's going on in the town, do spot promotions on particular businesses or if a new business arrives and it just keeps it really fresh and active,” says Michelle.

In addition, the BID has developed a Choose Ulverston app featuring what’s on guides, trails through the town and loyalty card schemes for different businesses.

Michelle says Ulverston’s popularity was given a boost during the pandemic, when staycationers were inspired to explore beyond the central Lake District holiday spots.

“There was a lot of people who said they had never been before but they couldn’t believe they had missed it and now they come back every year,” she says.

One of the many independent traders is fishmonger Chris Sanders, who runs Lake District Lobster and Seafood on Market Street.

Chris, from Barrow, started work straight from school working on fishing boats heading out from Walney Island, as well as in locations including the River Clyde and Oban.

He bought his own boat and opened a shop nine years ago to sell the fish and seafood he caught directly to wholesale and retail customers.

Low prices and poor catches prompted Chris to sell his boat about three years ago to concentrate on the shop, sourcing his catch from fishers up and down the Cumbrian coast.

However, he is now considering buying another boat as he says stocks have rebounded due to less fishing during the pandemic.

“We wanted to increase the price of our catch and so instead of sending it straight to market we decided to cut out the middleman and open our own shop,” he says.

Chris says the waters off Cumbria are full of a wide range of delicious fish.

“Anything from lobsters, to crab, to sea bass, plaice, skate, lemon sole and Dover sole, there's a really good wide range of fish on our shores. We tend to buy as much as we can locally straight off the boats.”

A driver collects fish from boats at the crack of dawn before delivering it to the shop.

The business also supplies fish such as sea bass, which is not as plentiful on the east coast, to buyers in Grimsby.

About 30 per cent of Chris’ business is made up of wholesale, as well as supplying restaurants around the county.

Fish which are not locally plentiful in Cumbria, such as salmon, cod or haddock, are delivered fresh each day from Fleetwood.

"Things are quite hard at the moment, with the price of electric and wages, but our job is to basically just to keep our quality up and keep the game on,” says Chris.

“These days people want to eat fresh and they want to eat local and they want to eat healthy. People in Ulverston still want to come into town and buy local produce from local people.”

Around the corner, in Queen Street, it is the smell of fresh flowers, rather than fish, which emanate from florist Bluebell and Ivy, run by Lauren Hart.

Lauren started Bluebell and Ivy in 2016 and it now employs four people, selling flowers from her shop, making deliveries and supplying bouquets for around 60 weddings a year, as well as other events.

Lauren worked at a local florist as a teenager before doing a degree in wool and textiles and getting a job in Kent with well-known designer Margo Selby.

However, she was soon hankering to return home and start her own business.

As well as selling directly from the shop, the business delivers locally with Lauren considering the possibility of national deliveries in the future.

The delivery service became particularly popular during the pandemic and has remained so ever since.

“One of the main things for us is just keeping on top of all of the trends and making sure we are watching what people want and being the place that everyone wants to shop,” says Lauren.

“Our brand is very important to us and it’s a big part of it that people can recognise our logo and sign and the signature colours.”

Bluebell and Ivy’s popularity has been helped in no small way by the draw of Ulverston as a shopping destination.

“Ulverston is well known for its independent shops and the variety of food and drink places available and it creates a shopping experience itself,” says Lauren.
South of the town centre, the historical gives way to the high tech in the form of leading manufacturers such as pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, Siemens Energy - which makes subsea connectors and measurement technology - and critical electrical system manufacturer BenderUK.

Although GlaxoSmithKline is winding down operations at its factory ahead of a closure in 2025, an initiative is under way to bring a new life science and advanced manufacturing park to the town, attracting up to 1,000 jobs.

Other major operators include companies such as electronics manufacturer MARL International and Oxley Developments, which has been based in the town since the 1940s, making a wide range of electronic components for sectors from defence to aerospace.

Jayne Moorby, head of marketing at Oxley, says it is committed to undertaking end to end design and manufacture in the town, employing and upskilling local people and investing in the local community.

The company employs a total of 200 people, 154 of whom are based in Ulverston.

“Place is a critical factor in recruiting and retaining a highly skilled team, that’s why Oxley is committed to ensuring that Ulverston is a great place to live and a great place to work,” says Jayne.

“Ulverston has a long heritage of advanced manufacturing balanced with an independent and vibrant spirit. The town is famous for creativity and full of innovative thinkers. It has a great cultural offer with its famous festival programme, matched with a warm community spirit and is uniquely placed with easy access to both the coast and the lakes.
“Oxley has a secure order book stretching into the 2040s and like many other Ulverston businesses is investing in recruiting and training young people to fulfil the highly skilled and well-paid roles needed for the future. With more planned investment in the cultural offer and the potential presented by the life sciences and advanced manufacturing park, the future of the town has never looked brighter.”