Lauren Molyneux pays a visit to the foursome who have taken over the iconic building of Maureen Cookson in Whalley. Photography: Robin Lyndon
The pressure is on and the stakes are high for Mark, Sean, Rachael and Celia, the young group of entrepreneurs who have decided to take on the exciting new project of turning what once was the well-known home of luxury ladieswear, Maureen Cookson, into a business opportunity.
With a successful insulation business already under their belts, operating with 38 vans on the road and approximately 100 members of staff, Mark Friend and Sean Ronnan have developed their entrepreneurial edge from a young age. Now teamed up with Sean’s sister, Rachael, and his partner, Celia, the four have set themselves the task of converting the iconic building on George Street to welcome a number of new businesses, including Luxe Clothing and Kindle & Stove.
Seeing the potential in the building, Mark explains how the group knew to snap up the opportunity whilst it was still on offer. “When the building came up on the market, we all knew that this would be a great opportunity for us. We were delighted to begin work back in October 2018. Since then, the people of Whalley and visitors to the village have shown a real interest in the work we have been doing, which is great.
“The more time we spend here, the more we love it. Taking on this project has been really exciting. We’ve changed around the layout and removed the suspended ceilings, which has really opened up the space – the ceiling height has been extended by about 3ft! We’ve uncovered some fantastic original features, such as the original signage on the exterior of the building.”
“As it turns out, the space that is now Kindle & Stove did actually used to supply coal to the village, and the shop that is set up as Luxe Clothing was known as The Drapery, bearing the original sign saying ‘Boots & Shoes’. There’s something nice about knowing that it’s now come full-circle and is somewhat returning to its origins. We like to think it’s a good sign!”
Sean adds: “Working together has been great, and we’re excited to see what this year will bring for us. It’s been a collaborative project, with each of us providing input on the design and layout of the interior. Having such a huge space to work with, it’s been great to brainstorm ideas and all come together at the end to make it happen.”
Celia explains: “Luxe Clothing is a business that myself and Rachael have decided to set up, and we think this is the perfect location for it. My background in fashion marketing and corporate sales, coupled with Rachael’s skills in e-commerce, have meant that we both have lots of great ideas and a clear vision of what we want our shop to be.”
“We’re keen to build on the work of Hillary from Maureen Cookson,” explains Rachael. “What she had here wasn’t just a clothing shop. She managed to create something that was almost an attraction, a destination of sorts. Customers would travel from all over and they’d make a day of it. They’d pop in for a coffee or come and spend the day trying on occasion dresses with their friends. This is something we are hoping Luxe Clothing can become. As well as stocking ladies’ clothing and occasion wear, we’ve built in dedicated spaces for bridesmaids and prom dresses, which can be booked out for private fitting sessions. We want to make the experience special.”
“Our ultimate aim with the building is to create a sort of hub for the community,” adds Celia. “We’re looking forward to welcoming a few different businesses, as there are still two upstairs spaces available. We want the building to provide a shopping and lifestyle experience for visitors, and we hope to attract business more generally to the local area.”
The group are also keeping their fingers crossed that their planning application for a restaurant/brasserie in the enormous upstairs space will be approved. “We removed the suspended ceilings upstairs and couldn’t believe it when the huge domed ceiling was revealed,” says Mark. “It really is a lovely space, and we think it could work really well as a luxury dining spot.”
“We know how important this building is to the local community,” says Rachael. “This is why we’re keen to make sure that it is used to serve the community in the best way possible. My family have known Hillary for a long time. She was very enthusiastic to have the building passed along to local people, which we all are. I think it’s great that we got the chance to build our business here. It makes this journey all the more meaningful.”