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Words: Glyinis Fox
Photography: Mick Fox, Painting by David Work
Featured in the March 2012 issue

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We may be living through a period of ‘austerity’ but don’t be fooled – some destinations remain a magnet for new enterprises and expanding businesses.

So, if you are tired of tales of retail gloom and doom on the UK’s high streets, it could be time to head for Stamford, once dubbed ‘England’s finest stone town’, for a breath of fresh air and a different perspective.

While some shopkeepers have disappeared in today’s tough economic climate, other businesses are celebrating important milestones. ‘Newcomers’ have also moved in, confident that this is the perfect place to make their mark.

Recent arrivals include a shoe shop, a childrenswear specialist and a new antiques/craft centre. All are flying the flag for the independent traders too, which is particularly impressive in the current downturn.

They are also helping Stamford to maintain its reputation as a superb place to enjoy a spot of niche shopping, take a closer look at historic attractions, marvel at some fine architecture, eat out and be entertained.

It is against this backdrop that Stamford Chamber continues to work closely with the Town Council and Stamford Town Partnership, in a drive to maximise efforts to keep the local economy buzzing.

Lively events, giving tourists what they want and environmental improvements are all important factors in ensuring the town remains an attractive destination for all.

Andrew Leech is Stamford Chamber vice president and a partner in Richardson Surveyors, making him uniquely placed to reflect on this market town’s current fortunes.

“People want to come and shop and spend time in Stamford. There are some empty shops, but we still have a good mix of independents and multiples and the nature of the town has safeguarded it a bit in the current climate,” said Mr Leech.

“Recent arrivals include North Shoes and Scarlet Sky. A new noodle bar has opened in Castle Street, a few months ago The Cosy Club opened in Horseshoe Lane and The London Inn also reopened after a major revamp.

“Leisure wise, the eating and drinking side of things has blossomed and the St Mary’s Street and Sheep Market area is becoming the eating out quarter.

“Richardson Surveyors also has a list of people on its books, who want to move into commercial premises in the town, but who are waiting for the ideal size and layout of property to suit their purposes,” added Mr Leech.

Chamber president, Tim Lee said the latest footfall figures (Autumn 2011) reveal that Stamford remains a popular destination for visitors and shoppers.

Figures recorded from counts carried out in the High Street and Broad Street – on Wednesdays and Fridays – reveal a rise on those for the same period in 2010 – with Fridays being the busiest. 

Today, every town is under constant pressure to think up new ways to draw in more people and encourage them to stay for as long as possible, whether that be by laying on events or creating an attractive environment.

“One of the things which we are currently doing is working on installing electric vehicle charging points in two of our hotel car parks,” said Mr Lee.

“Stamford is on the A1 and is therefore an ideal stopping-off place on the way north or south, for travellers (as it used to be in previous centuries). Modern electric vehicles can identify where charge points are on their sat navs and check whether they are available.

“It takes a minimum of two hours for a top-up, or eight hours for a full charge, so there are plenty of opportunities for people to shop, have lunch or even book an overnight stay,” added Mr Lee.

Whatever mode of transport you use to get into the town centre, there’s plenty to keep you occupied once you arrive, including some of Stamford’s newest eateries and its long-standing and new shops and businesses.

Two Market Deeping area couples, Stuart Porter and Maxine Norris and Lynsey and David Fowler, opened the doors on the Stuart Porter Antique and Craft Centre in the run-up to Christmas.

This impressive, four-storey property in Broad Street, is an Aladdin’s cave featuring every imaginable antique (from up to forty dealers). The centre also offers free valuations on Thursdays and is the place to find Paul Mills Picture Framing, Jean’s Tea Room – and is an irresistible treat for stitchers!

Mrs Fowler said the couples had been attracted by Stamford as a business location.

“Stuart has been involved in antiques since he was a boy and has developed his interest over time. He is qualified in dealing with Georgian furniture.

“I enjoy sewing and wanted somewhere to sell fabrics and have an area where people could meet together, like a friendship group, and sew for just £5 a session,” said Mrs Fowler.

The result is Lynsey’s Social Stitching and Haberdashery, which is crammed with metre upon metre of tempting fabrics, brightly coloured buttons and useful sewing notions, and which has its own ‘social stitchery.’ Lynsey also runs fun workshops.

Scarlet Sky in St Mary’s Street also opened its doors in time to catch the pre-Christmas trade.

The business, which is headed by Camilla Golland has made an expansion move three years after Mrs Golland and her husband launched their first shop in nearby Oakham.

“We had been specifically thinking about opening in Stamford for about two years, because it is different to Oakham, but also quite close to it,” said Mrs Golland.

“The town has a buzz about it. It was a case of finding the right premises but we had always wanted to be in St Mary’s Street, where we catch the eye of passing trade. Being opposite a business like Fine Foods is also helpful.” 

Scarlet Sky, which has created four jobs, sells clothing for children and teenagers up to sixteen years old, stocks a range of toys and has an upstairs sports equipment section.

Another independent which has brought its name to Stamford as part of an expansion move is North Shoes, which arrived in Red Lion Square about eight months ago, which also has branches in Bourne (where it started out) and Peterborough.

But not everyone is a ‘newbie’. Colemans is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its stationery outlet in the town and the family-run business is also known for its separate art and crafts shop.

STAMFORD TOWN PARTNERSHIP
Stamford Town Partnership is a Community Interest Company made up of representatives from the local community, businesses and elected councillors.

The group has interests in tourism, business and environmental issues in relation to the town’s vitality and, recognising the growing importance of events in bringing in more people and boosting the economy, Partnership manager, Ali Hawley-Smith masterminded two major events in 2011.

Both the Stamford Feast, which took place on 29th May, and the town’s Christmas Festival proved highly successful and a great platform on which to build for the future.

Stamford Feast, which was staged on The Meadows, had a heathy eating theme. The event, which featured sixty-two stalls, cookery demonstrations, and involved young people from fifty schools, attracted a mammoth 8,000 visitors.

The town’s Christmas Festival attracted 200 trade stands (compared with 131 in 2010). A real crowd-puller, it created a wonderful festive ambience for locals and visitors, allowing them to browse and buy gifts, be entertained by jugglers and puppeteers and tuck into traditional, favourite foods.

As project manager for the Feast and Christmas Festival events, Ali Hawley-Smith is encouraging everyone to get this year’s important dates into their diaries.

“Stamford Feast – The Big Lunch is being held on Monday 4th June on Stamford Meadows.  Again, this event encompasses culture, cuisine and community.

“We will be working in association with an Eden Project called The Big Lunch and bringing the many community groups in Stamford together for one day, focusing on the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee as our theme this year.

“Stamford Christmas Festival is earmarked for Sunday, 9th December and booking Packs for traders to attend this event – as well as Stamford Feast – The Big Lunch – can be obtained by emailing me directly at: alihs@stamfordtownpartnership.co.uk ,” she added.

COLEMAN’S SUCCESS
One of Stamford’s best-known independent businesses is celebrating a special milestone: the 25th anniversary of taking its name to the town.

Colemans stationery shop in St Paul’s Lane has more than proved itself when it comes to meeting the needs of local shoppers and businesses, and providing a quality service that keep them coming back for more.

A few years ago the family at the helm also added a popular arts and crafts shop – a few doors away from the stationers – to its portfolio, underlining its success in trading in an area which is home to many national names

Colemans’ managing director, Joanna Patterson-Gordon said it is a proud moment for the business, which her father John started in Higham Ferrers (Northants)  and which now boasts fifteen outlets across the East and West Midlands.

“I started our stationery business in the town, which was our company’s seventh branch, from scratch in 1987. We are mainly a retailer supplying individuals and families, but we also have a business-to-business side and act as a commercial stationer to local businesses,” said Mrs Patterson-Gordon.

She said the family had always thought Stamford was an attractive market town and the business has continued to thrive through changes which have included pedestrianisation and other work to enhance the High Street area.

“There are some very good covenants here, with national names such as Fat Face now on the High Street, but I think we are virtually the last independent
where we are,” she said.

Colemans employs about ten people across its two shops and staff celebrated with an anniversary meal at The George Hotel.

“We are upbeat about our future trading prospects. In addition to our shop we also offer customers the chance to browse and buy online and we have just enhanced our website www.colemans-online.co.uk,” added Mrs Patterson-Gordon.

THE ROBERT FOGELL GALLERY
The Robert Fogell Gallery was established in 2006 and exhibits art in a beautiful period town house in the historic heart of Stamford.

The gallery features contemporary and British modern art and crafts, from leading and emerging artists.

They are committed to showcasing high quality art in a wide context, with the emphasis on Modernism and the abstract. A consistently high standard is paramount, coupled with creative content. A series of exhibitions feature throughout the year, each with two artists in different media exhibited together in the main gallery.

Visitors are welcome to experience the friendly ambience and enjoy the work of painters, sculptors, printmakers, ceramicists, jewellers and mixed media artists with established reputations alongside emerging artists, with equal commitment to both. 

The gallery has built its reputation on celebrating emerging artists and can offer a commissioning service for most of the selected artist, as well as a purchase scheme, details of which can be obtained from the gallery.

Robert Fogell Gallery, 23 High Street St Martins, Stamford, Lincolnshire PE9 2LF, Tel: 01780 762099, Email: info@robfogell.co.uk, Gallery Open: Wed - Sat 10.30am - 5.00pm or by appointment.

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