‘Spezial’ Darwen street name revealed – the Gary Aspden Way!

Published 10th Jul 2024

A stretch of road in Darwen has been re-named Gary Aspden Way to celebrate the incredible contributions that the adidas designer and Spezial curator has made to the borough he’s so proud to call home.

As well as Gary’s impressive efforts in helping to regenerate Blackburn with Darwen through culture, the naming of the road is also much-deserved recognition of his important charity work, being a loyal supporter of Nightsafe.

Family, friends and special guests were invited to an event at Darwen Library on Tuesday (July 9th) to mark the official unveiling of Gary Aspden Way – formerly a stretch of Knott Street where Darwen Youth Centre is based.

Speaking at the event, Leader of Blackburn with Darwen Council, Councillor Phil Riley, said:

We couldn’t think of a more perfect stretch of road to be naming Gary Aspden Way.

A lot of what Gary does here in Blackburn with Darwen is about inspiring young people and so it feels incredibly fitting that his road should be where the youth centre is.

Gary really does have a fascinating story to tell, a story that should inspire us all – a young lad from Darwen who overcame his struggles and went on to develop his own global adidas line, using his platform for good.

While incredibly modest, Gary has given so much to Blackburn with Darwen over the years – hosting international adidas events here which have brought people from right around the world, helping put the borough on the cultural map.

And, not only have these events had a real positive impact for our towns, they’ve also helped raise valuable funds for Nightsafe, a charity close to all of our hearts, but particularly Gary’s.

Naming this stretch of the road after him is our way of saying thank you for everything he has done, and we are incredibly proud to do so.

In an emotional speech, Jan Larkin, Chief Executive of Nightsafe, fought back tears as she described the difference Gary has helped make to the charity since they first met.

She said:

I can’t tell you how proud I am to be here today.

Whenever I do talks, I tell people about you – you are without a shadow of a doubt the nicest, kindest, most creative, and talented person I have ever met.

The difference you have made to Nightsafe and the young people we help to support is just incredible, it’s hard to put into words.

You have helped Nightsafe grow, you have made such a difference, and I am so lucky to call you my friend and a friend of Nightsafe.

Gary has held three exhibitions in the borough – two with his adidas SPEZIAL brand and one for C.P. Company. The proceeds from all the events were pledged to Nightsafe, a charity supporting young people with homelessness.

In 2022, he also worked with his friend, Liam Gallagher to host an intimate gig at King George’s Hall in its centenary year – again helping to raise vital funds for the Blackburn-based charity.

While much of the new Gary Aspden Way is currently fenced off to allow for the Council’s multi-million-pound regeneration of the youth centre, the event was hosted to ensure Gary’s mum, Lilian, could attend.

Gary said:

There’s a lot of people here today who are incredibly important to me, including my mum and my partner Joanne.

It really does feel fitting that it’s this stretch of Knott Street with the Youth Centre on that should be re-named Gary Aspden Way.

As a teenager in the 80s, I used to go to the youth centre and in 1990, I had a job there as a trainee Youth Worker as part of a government scheme.

Back then I had a lot of personal struggles going on and I lost that job as a result.

Then, a few years ago, I was contacted by the people who facilitated that trainee scheme to say they were celebrating a special anniversary.

They hadn’t had any contact with me in years and were surprised to see what I had gone on to achieve since those difficult times.

I went along to help them mark the occasion and to make amends for messing up what at the time was a great opportunity.

Gary added:

I have a lot of history with that particular stretch and with Darwen.

Anyone who know me, knows just how much I care about Darwen and Blackburn too.

I just wish my dad could have been here to see this, he would have been very proud.

Gary returned to learning as a mature student and graduated from the University of Central Lancashire with first-class honours in Fashion Promotion.

As a student, Gary had a year out and interned at a number of brands, including Giorgio Armani and Diesel Jeans.

He made a contact inside adidas and set-up connections between the brand and well-known musicians in exchange for free trainers.

When his contact left adidas, his name and phone number was found against a number of unfulfilled orders, and the bosses at adidas were shocked to discover the person with all these connections was actually a final year student in Lancashire.

So impressed where they that he was invited to apply for the then vacant role of ‘Entertainment Promotions.’

Gary worked hard to make the best of the opportunity and, after a year, was promoted out of adidas UK to work for the Global Marketing Team before eventually heading up their Entertainment Team globally – managing a team in London, Los Angeles, Tokyo and the adidas HQ in Germany.

After more than 10 years he decided to go self-employed and is now retained as an adidas consultant.

Gary’s most recent event in the borough was DECADE – celebrating 10 years of the adidas SPEZIAL– a premium, archive-inspired range of apparel and shoes.

He could’ve chosen any major city in the world to host the exhibition but was determined to bring it to his hometown of Darwen, with the foundations of the SPEZIAL brand being rooted here.

In an interview at the exhibition, Gary said:

I just can’t put into words my connection with Darwen, it’s completely irrational.

I suppose love is irrational though, isn’t it?

The new Darwen Youth Centre is set to open in 2025 following a £3.3m transformation which will see it double in size.

You can read the full Shuttle interview with Gary at www.theshuttle.org.uk

You can also find out more about Nightsafe and pledge your support by clicking here.


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