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Words: Melanie Burton
Photography: Mick Fox
Featured in the December 2013 issue

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In the easily accessible historical market town of Newark on Trent there is a distinct air of optimism.

With membership of Newark Business Club on the up, a number of initiatives in place to help boost the town’s trade and industry and a campaign being run to improve rail links through the town, there is every reason to be hopeful of an upturn in fortunes. And with independent retailers reporting busy periods of trade, the signs are good for a prosperous New Year.

Business Club chairman, Michelle Allen said its meetings are well attended and there is a “togetherness” amongst the business fraternity.

She said: “We have a membership of around 100 which is always a good sign that business is going well. We have had our fair share of new businesses opening in the area but within the town itself there are still a lot of empty shops and we are trying to work with the council to try and get them filled, or to be used temporarily.

“The club now has a Retail Group that meets regularly to work together to drive more people into Newark. On the back of that, some retailers have got involved in an initiative for independent retailers only called Totally Locally, which is designed to reward their loyal customers and get more people to shop in the town.”

The Totally Locally Newark campaign was launched in September and is aimed at independent businesses pulling together to promote themselves better and encourage people to use individual outlets rather than the national chains.

Newark Business Club is also working towards the Christmas shopping period, with schemes aimed at attracting footfall into the area.

“Retailers are offering a gift wrapping service for a donation to Beaumont House Hospice and that is going quite well. There is a Christmas celebration on 15th December where the business club is working with the local primary schools on a carol concert and with the retailers, to get them to put stalls outside to encourage people to come into Newark and shop on a Sunday,” said Michelle.

Newark and Sherwood District Council is also doing its bit to support business in Newark through its district-wide loans initiative called Think BIG.

Companies which have already benefited from the £2 million scheme include Strata Play of Newark and Inspired Scaffolding of Bilsthorp.

The Think BIG scheme – the business investment for growth fund – helps companies struggling to raise working capital from the banks.

Local groundworks and maintenance services company Strata Play Ltd – which is based in Brunel Drive, Newark but operates nationwide – is an established family run business with more than twenty-five years’ experience in the industry.

Managing director, Paul Chapman said it had tried to get the banks to support the business but they did not want to know.

“This scheme came up and it has enabled us to take the company to the next level, buy more machinery and employ more staff,” he said.

Another council scheme, which is helping businesses thrive and getting youngsters into work, is the 100 Apprenticeships Campaign which reached its target in the summer.Newark and Sherwood District Council, which has led the initiative with the National Apprenticeship Scheme (NAS), has taken on six new apprentice recruits, in addition to extending work for three apprentices who were taken on last year.

A total of fifty-five employers from a range of sectors have supported the campaign, including business services, ICT, retail, construction, automotive, public services, agriculture and engineering. Of these businesses, forty-three employ fewer than fifty staff.

Council business manager for economic growth, Julie Reader-Sullivan, said: “These apprenticeship vacancies have given young people the opportunity to get on the career ladder and gain valuable industry experience while working towards a nationally recognised qualification.

“In return, the enthusiasm they bring to the role will support employers in filling skills gaps, developing specialist skills and possibly even identifying future business leaders.”

Newark has a plethora of independent retailers which have been part of the town’s street scene for years. Jane Young’s fashion outlet in Chain Lane has been established since 1955 and has been in the same location for more than forty years, but it still manages to move with the times and is now using social media to keep ahead of the game.

Trading from two shops across both sides of Chain Lane, it sells high-class and designer fashions, occasion wear and bridal outfits and has become a bit of an institution throughout the East Midlands attracting a wide range of clientele from all over the country helping to put Newark on the shopping destination map.

Joint owner, Janet Wilkinson said the business changes its fashions regularly and it has just launched its Facebook page.

“You have to keep up with technology these days, so we have moved with the times and are making use of social media with our own page on Facebook. We have always got something new and add fashion labels each season,” said Janet.

“Business has not been easy but it has gone okay. People are still having special occasions and weddings and they are still coming to us for their outfits.”

Ann et Vin is another Newark business whose reputation is known far and wide. The fine wine retailer has been established in Castlegate for nine years and has built up an extensive customer base. Often described as an Aladdin’s cave of wine, it offers a range of more than 500 different wines, spirits and champagne gifts to suit all tastes and budgets. Owner, Ann Hayes said: “It has been hard with the recession and a challenge. But we are hanging in there and we are still doing okay.

“We try to be innovative and have wines of the month, various wine tasting events and we are using social media to try and drive the business. We are always moving things around in the shop too. We like to keep it alive and interesting.”

Ann et Vin doesn’t just sell wines either, it also houses its own Courtyard Wine Bar where you can relax and try any one of the wines or champagnes on sale in the shop and enjoy a light meal, original tapas or mouthwatering cakes.

The wine tasting evenings are so popular they sell out very quickly and following the success of Ann et Vin’s Wine & Spirit Education Trust Level 1 course, Ann is planning to run more courses next year.

The next event being held at Ann et Vin is the Christmas Fair on Sunday, 15th December from 11am to 4pm, when the courtyard car park will be transformed into a mini festive market with craft and food stalls, free mince pies and mulled wine.

Stray’s, on the corner of Boar Lane and Middlegate, is another family owned and run business in the heart of the town and is an award-winning unique coffee bar, eatery, jazz haven and bookshop.

Run by Matt Short, his sister Liz Mack and his mother Jane Oldfield, it is celebrating the 10th anniversary of the opening of its coffee shop this month and business is booming.

Matt said: “It has become an institution. It has been amazing. We have a very loyal customer base and still have customers that came in on the day that we opened.”

DUNCAN AND TOPLIS CONTINUES TO GROW
Duncan & Toplis has recruited four new members of staff in Newark to cope with increased workload and new clients.

Francesca Tricarico, Gareth Williams, Holly Dinsdale and Tom Jalland all joined the firm over the summer, as the Newark office continues to expand.

Francesca (28) and Holly (19) are trainee accountants in the final year of their Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) exams at Newark College, and Francesca is combining her studies with her new job and raising two young children.

“I’ve tried hard before now to get into this company so I’m really pleased to have got this job!” she said.

Holly, who came top of her year at Newark College, said: “I started off studying engineering but I like maths and decided that accounting is more suited to me.”

Tom Jalland (18) had previously spent some time at Duncan & Toplis on work experience and had already begun his AAT training at Nottingham College when he got the job at the start of October.

“This is a good opportunity for me and I’m really enjoying it, particularly because I’ve always been interested in numbers since I was at school,” he said.

Gareth Williams (34) is the most experienced of the four new recruits having become a fully qualified accountant in 2008 with another Newark firm.

“After more than a decade it was time for a change of scene, and Duncan & Toplis has given me a great opportunity to progress within a bigger firm,” he said.

Ian Phillips, deputy managing partner of Duncan & Toplis said: “We’ve taken on these four new recruits because of the continued growth in client numbers and increasing demand for our services from existing clients.

“We’re delighted that they have joined us. We were inundated with responses and it was pleasing to be able to take on four new employees of such high quality.”

RAIL CAMPAIGN
Another big issue that Newark Business Club has taken under its wing is a drive to get better rail services for the town, which would benefit businesses, retailers and visitors alike.

The Club set up its RailFAIR campaign to improve trains between Lincoln, Newark and Nottingham because the frequency of them is less than on some seaside branch lines and it was quicker to travel the line a century ago than it is today.

RailFAIR already has the support of Newark and Sherwood District Council, East Midlands Trains, Experience Nottinghamshire and the Lincoln Business Club but it has also taken its campaign to London and met with MPs from the region, whose constituencies would benefit from the improvements.

Newark Business Club chairman, Michelle Allen said: “The trains between Lincoln, Newark and Nottingham are slower than they were 100 years ago. A petition has been started which people can sign online and we are talking to our local MPs to get a better rail service hopefully by next year. An improved service would benefit Lincoln, Newark and Nottingham.”

RailFAIR’s proposals include restoring the service to two trains per hour on the line as well as re-signalling and improvements to allow trains to travel at up to 90mph – a fifty per cent increase on the current maximum speed of 60mph.

Other proposals include upgrading track and level crossings, and the future electrification of the line. Network Rail is also backing the campaign. A spokesman said: “It is widely recognised that the railway has suffered from historic under-investment. We are already addressing this through our programme of renewals and enhancements, but there is still work to do.

“Current investments in Lincolnshire include the multi-million pound upgrade of the GNGE line which links Peterborough and Doncaster via Lincoln. We are also planning significant investment to re-signal the line between Nottingham and Newark Castle.

“We are committed to continuously improve the railway and are always happy to talk to stakeholders to support plans for further investment,” he added.

STRAY’S OF NEWARK
One of Newark’s most renowned businesses is Stray’s of Newark, which is not just a coffee bar but also a bookshop, a popular jazz venue and a tapas bar too.

Originally a pet and grain store, Stray’s on the corner of Boar Lane and Middlegate has been a well-known site in Newark for a decade and it continues to go from strength to strength.

A family-run business, it has become something of an institution with regular customers who know what they like and it boasts a fanbase which is not just from Newark.

Stray’s ethos is to provide top quality food and drink at fair prices. With enough seating to look after more than 100 people, it is a small business in the heart of the town but it is constantly on the move.

This year sees the end of its first year in the newly refurbished premises at 16 Middlegate. The unique coffee bar, eatery, jazz haven and bookshop is located across numbers 16-20 Middlegate and around the corner into the cottages along Boar Lane. It is constantly expanding and improving for the benefit of its customers.

“Business has been amazing this year, we have been constantly busy” said Matt Short who runs the business with his sister Liz and his mother Mrs Jane Oldfield.

“We are always expanding and the latest moves, a new servery and a new entrance, have enabled us to put in more seating which brings in more customers.

“We have also started to do a jazz gig once a month too and that has taken off very well.”

The coffee shop will have been open for ten years this month, and Stray’s bookshop will follow suit in May 2014, so the family is planning a double celebration next year.

CIVIL WAR CENTRE
Work has started in Newark to develop the first National Civil War Centre and museum, which will help to attract more visitors to the town and boost the local economy.

The £5.4m project, funded through a £3.5m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, will see the restoration and conservation of some of Newark’s most historically significant buildings.

The National Civil War Centre and Newark Museum will showcase significant artefacts from the period and bring to life the story of people living through perilous and challenging times, when Newark was under siege from Parliamentarian forces.

Further exhibition galleries will provide a wider history of Newark and Sherwood from our pre-historic settlements to modern day times.

Newark and Sherwood District Council’s Leisure and Environment Committee chair, Councillor Tony Roberts MBE, said: “Our new museum will become the first National Centre for the British Civil Wars and house a treasure trove of objects and activities which will showcase the District’s history.

“As a former school, the Centre will have vibrant galleries, trails and resources all linking to the national curriculum, providing a thrilling and educational experience for families and school groups.”

Newark and Sherwood District Council has contracted local construction company Robert Woodhead to carry out the restoration and construction work. Simon Butler, from Robert Woodhead, said: “Our head office is based in the district and we strongly believe in employing local people to work on this project. During the works we shall be working with apprentices and work experience students from construction courses to provide learning opportunities in specialist heritage skills.

Archaeologists from Pre-Construct Archaeology will be on site undertaking excavations before the foundations are laid for the new building, which includes an entrance and lift. The Museum will also signpost visitors to other heritage sites and attractions to promote Newark’s wider heritage.

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