City church to become world Fairtrade hub

Bruce Crowther at St John's Church in Lancaster where he is setting up the Fig Tree, formally situated in Garstang
Bruce Crowther at St John's Church in Lancaster where he is setting up the Fig Tree, formally situated in Garstang

A Lancaster landmark with strong links to the city’s slave trade past is set to become a new hub for the international Fairtrade movement.

In a bizarre twist of fate, St John’s Church in North Road – which was built using wealth made in slave trafficking in the 18th century – will be turned into a community hub, museum, and focal point for both Lancastrians and Fairtrade visitors from all over the world.

The Fig Tree, formerly based in Garstang – the world’s first Fairtrade town – has taken up residency at the church, and is due to hold its first open day on March 8.

Bruce Crowther MBE, director of the Fig Tree, a not for profit social enterprise, said he had major plans for the Grade II Listed building, but did not want to step on the toes of those that still attend church services there.

The church, built in 1754, is under the care of the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT), which also said it had plans for significant investment in the building.

Mr Crowther said: “Coming to Lancaster was forced upon us as we could no longer guarantee our future in Garstang.

“We initially looked at the Assembly Rooms, and when it came to the crunch the traders there wanted to make it work, and the council gave them another shot at it.

“The same week, someone from the university put me in touch with the Churches Conservation Trust, who were looking for a use for St John’s.

“At first I thought no way! But now I’ve got a vision for the place. Of course we have to do what people want and what CCT and English Heritage allow.

“But the plan is for a community cafe, selling purely Fairtrade and local produce, an exhibition – which is currently at Keswick Museum – events spaces and a children’s area. We want the people of Lancaster to be a part of this centre.”

Mr Crowther, who as well as receiving an MBE for his Fairtrade work is also considered a chief in Ghana, where he works with communities to ensure they get a fair deal.

Rachael Baldwin, operations manager north for the CCT, said: “It’s brilliant having Bruce and The Fig Tree on board.

It will bring a new lease of life to St John’s and it’s very exciting but there will be limitations. We will now carry out a full assessment on the building, with plans to return it to its former glory.

“It will be a beacon for that side of the city.”

The building is due to open on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdaysj in February, with an official open day on March 8.