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Words: Melanie Burton
Photography: Mick Fox
Featured in the January 2014 issue

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It might be out with the old and in with the new for many towns and cities around the country, but the North East Lincolnshire destinations of Grimsby and Cleethorpes would be quite happy for the ‘old’ to continue into the ‘new’.

Although 2013 got off to a tough start for businesses in the area, there is now an air of positivity and hopes for 2014 are high.

Companies are reporting an increase in staff numbers, visitors came in their thousands for the numerous events that were organised and plans for a Marine Energy Park for the Humber bank have boosted spirits across all sectors of the community.

Northern Lincolnshire Manager of Hull and Humber Chamber of Commerce, Anne Tate said signs are positive for both Cleethorpes and Grimsby.

“Although times remain challenging nationally and we are not out of the woods yet, locally the picture has been very positive during 2013 and 2014 looks good too. It is a positive picture for the area,” she said.

“It has been an extremely good year for the resort of Cleethorpes in terms of the amount of events and tourists coming into the town and the weather was good. The sun shone and even the rail repairs that were threatening to impact on tourist numbers were carried out ahead of schedule. That helped make it a bumper year for the resort.

“Tourism is extremely important for the area, not just for Cleethorpes, with 4,500 people directly employed in this sector.”

It was a mixed picture in Grimsby for 2013, but things picked up during the last quarter of the year.

“Latest figures from the Chamber have shown good news with sixty-three per cent of companies saying they have tried to increase their workforce in the past three months,” said Anne. “The latest quarterly figures also indicated that seventy-five per cent reported an increase in export sales.

“Renewables remains the best sector and Grimsby & Cleethorpes have continued to build, in their own ways, on the renewables business witnessed in reality by the presence in the town of companies such as E-ON, Centrica and Siemens. And we also look very much like becoming a national hub of excellence for renewable training.”

Other sectors, such as retail and food processing, have also continued to go from strength to strength. Grimsby Fish Market underwent a £1.2m upgrade and handled 20,000 tonnes of fresh fish during 2013. Chief executive, Martyn Boyers said the modernisation programme of the market facilities proved to be the foundation for increased supplies of fresh fish to the auction.

“Last year we spent a further £420,000 on the ‘Phase II Modernisation’ which brought the facility bang up to date. We also achieved BRC (British Retail Consortium) Accreditation, which is a benchmark of procedures and diligence, which further demonstrates our commitment to the fish industry.

“The Grimsby Fish Market is a hub of activity providing services and facilities to local fish businesses. It is also home to the largest dedicated fresh fish haulier in the UK.

“The region is the most significant fish processing area in the UK and Grimsby Fish Market plays an important part in the supply of fresh fish to consumers.”

Quotas and discarding fish are always contentious issues and in a difficult climate Grimsby Fish Market provides landing and grading services to support the numerous Grimsby based fishing vessels that still exist.

“In 2013, the volume of fish landed from vessels increased and we expect to continue that trend into 2014. We have, for some years, relied heavily on supplies from Iceland and, again, it was a consistent year,” said Martyn.

“Iceland is a significant trading parter with Grimsby and there is scope to improve supplies during 2014. There have also been increased supplies from Norway and that too is promising for 2014. Our challenge for this year is to balance our history and tradition with the requirements of modern consumers. Overall we are optimistic it will happen.”

In the retail sector, Grimsby’s shopping centre, Freshney Place, is the largest in Lincolnshire with more than 100 shops, cafes and restaurants, including a range of high street brands and small independent boutiques.

Footfall was on target, even before the Christmas period, to reach more than 13 million shoppers in 2013. With a number of new tenants in the centre and several store refits and refurbishments, the signs look good for a successful start to 2014 as well.

A range of free events and campaigns were run during the year to continue to drive footfall, increase sales and support retailers and one of these included monthly kids’ club Snapper Jaxx on the first Sunday of every month, supported by a discounted parking offer (park all day Sunday for just £2.50) and retailer offers/discounts to encourage more families to come along to the centre. Due to its success throughout 2013, Snapper Jaxx will return to Freshney Place in February.

And 2014 will see a full marketing, PR and digital strategy launched which will focus on the centre’s key objectives, driving footfall and retailer sales, whilst also supporting wider town centre activity, along with offering a quality and exciting experience for shoppers and families.

Freshney Place centre director, Amanda Austin said the recovery is slow, but definitely happening.

“Retailers are slowly regaining confidence, which can be seen in the refresh and refitting of several stores at Freshney Place during the year and the new retailers which have opened, and also the exclusive brands and products now being stocked in our stores. It is fantastic that companies are choosing to invest in their stores here at the centre,” she said.

Occupancy rates for the centre are well below the national average of sixteen to twenty per cent for vacant units. Freshney Place boasts a healthy four per cent and looks poised to continue this success in the coming months.

“The sale of Freshney Place earlier in the year was extremely positive not only for the centre but for Grimsby town centre as well. The new owners are continuously looking at ways to invest in improvements in the short, medium and long term. The only way is up,” said Amanda.

News from the area’s small traders paints a similar picture with new life being breathed into old streets.

The Grimsby & Cleethorpes branch of the Federation of Small Businesses’ newly-appointed chairman Laura Fowler, said: “Despite the current climate Grimsby is doing well with a lot of shops opening in the secondhand market and a few others elsewhere too.”

Laura, who took over Victor Aquatics pet fish shop in 2008 when she was just twenty-two years old, was last year voted East Midlands Young Entrepreneur of the Year by the Federation of Small Businesses after doubling turnover.

“It’s pleasing to see that the Riverhead is improving and restaurants/bars are re-opening and it will be interesting to see if the improvements to Freeman Street will make a difference to the footfall overall,” she said.

“As chairman of the FSB, I hope to inspire other businesses in Grimsby and Cleethorpes this year and I am definitely looking forward to a positive 2014.”

TWINKLES
An iconic building in Cleethorpes is helping to attract visitors to the town, as much as the stock that it offers. Twinkles Fancy Dress shop, owned and run by Kath Summers and her family, is located in the former Yorkshire Electricity Board (YEB) shop at the foot of Isaac’s Hill on Grimsby Road, which was built in 1937.

Completely run down when Kath obtained it fifteen years ago, her restoration of the elaborate premises earned her a much-respected best building award and the honour of winning the popular television programme May the Best House Win.

“It was derelict when I took it on but I restored it and it is a beautiful art deco building. It is now a Grade II listed building and the first thing you see when you come into Cleethorpes,” said Kath.

The building still has its original lead glass windows but Kath painted the outside and revamped it inside as well. There are lots of features in the building, including an old walk-in safe which is now a storage cupboard, a beautiful ballroom where the YEB used to stage cookery demonstrations to promote the new cookers and a very elaborate balcony, which goes all the way around the ballroom.

Twinkles Fancy Dress started as an agency in 1993, then a 1960s and 1970s department was opened. It became so popular, larger premises were needed. More departments followed, including medieval, 1980s and children’s costumes, meaning more space was soon required.

The current premises were secured and the shop has gone from strength to strength becoming the largest fancy dress shop in the area.

Kath’s daughter Melanie, granddaughter Tiffany, grandson Marsellus, and her daughter’s partner Carl all work in the shop.

HEWITT’S AND LEES
One of Grimsby’s longest established retailers is George Hewitt and Son, in Victoria Street. Jewellers since 1871, it claims to be Lincolnshire’s only official Rolex retailer and although it has been selling Rolex watches for more than ninety years, the business boasts a special Rolex showroom which opened just two years ago.

It offers the finest selection of exclusive designer branded jewellery and fine quality diamond rings in the county and upstairs there is a dedicated showroom for luxury gifts.

In 2002, Hewitt’s became only the eighth stockist in the UK of award-winning Stephen Webster jewellery, so it is now more than just a county jeweller. It has become a destination store.

Stephen Webster is one of the most prominent jewellery designers of his generation. Over the past few years he has designed one-of-a-kind pieces for the likes of Madonna, Kate Moss, Elton John, Jay Z and Russell Brand, to name but a few celebrities.

Owner, Jonathan Hewitt said: “As our business has evolved from county jeweller to destination store, we are noticing customers are coming to us for their presents, from across Lincolnshire.

“Our designated Rolex Showroom which opened two years ago has been a great success, as are the other watch and jewellery brands that we have, exclusively for Lincolnshire.”

Another long-established shop in Grimsby is Lees of Grimsby (Furnishers) Ltd which was established in 1901 when Arthur Lee set up his business in modest premises in Victoria Street, offering shoppers a selection of carpets, linoleum, beds and bedsteads.

More than 100 years later the fourth generation of the Lee family is in charge of a company which is renowned for offering quality home furnishings and tip-top customer service.

A pick-up in the housing market is among factors which are helping to feed the success of the business, along with investment which the company has ploughed into its store.

Managing director, Graham Lee said: “Things have been looking brighter and we look forward to that trend continuing during 2014. We always aim to offer people fresh products and ideas.

“We carried out a major refurbishment on our ground floor two years ago and the first floor was revamped during 2013, so the store looks completely different to what it once did, so we would encourage anyone who hasn’t been in for some months to revisit us,” added Graham.

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