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

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The future looks bright for the historic market town of Newark on Trent, with much work being done behind the scenes to promote its name nationwide.

With the UK’s first Civil War Museum being built there and expected to attract 60,000 visitors to the area, coupled with its business club going from strength to strength showing that confidence in the town is still high, Newark has plenty to be pleased about and lots to look forward to.

Situated on the banks of the River Trent, Newark is a picturesque town steeped in history with a dramatic castle and two museums. But its location on the East Coast Main Line rail network means it is becoming more of a forward-thinking commuter town.

Steps are being taken to improve its other rail link, the Lincoln-Newark-Nottingham line which will benefit businesses, residents and visitors alike and should help attract new blood to the town forming the basis of a thriving future.

Dating back to the Roman times, Newark has always played an important part in the history of the nation, particularly in the days of the Civil War. Oliver Cromwell fought battles against the Royalists just outside the town and King John was poisoned and died at the Castle.

It is fitting, then, that it should be chosen as the home of the country’s first-ever dedicated Civil War Centre.

Guaranteed to bring visitors to the area in their droves, the museum is being built by Newark & Sherwood District Council and aims to tell the story of the brutal seventeenth-century clash between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians in compelling new detail.

The £5.4m centre, backed by a £3.5m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, will be based in Newark’s Grade II Old Magnus Building which began life as a Tudor grammar school and also has a Georgian townhouse extension and Victorian school hall.

Expected to attract more than 60,000 visitors a year to Newark, it is on track to open in 2015 and should be a major boost to the town, not only through the added footfall but also as an incentive for new businesses to set up shop in the area.

Richard Darn, external communications consultant for the project, said the museum had already provided a boost to the local community.

“Newark will get a big tourism boost through the museum, which will be a benefit to the area. There are business opportunities there with the opening of the museum; even during the construction phase, money has been going back into the local economy because the contractor has employed local people,” he said.

“Newark is an incredibly well-preserved market town. But because it is a thoroughfare and people whizz past it on the train, they don’t realise what an interesting place it is.

“There isn’t a Civil War centre anywhere else in the country so it is expected to attract about 60,000 visitors to Newark every year.”

Another key boost for the town is the introduction of new, free public Wi-Fi in the town centre provided by O2.

Newark is the first rural district in the country to pilot the new technology which covers Appletongate, the Market Square, Bridge Street and the grounds of Newark Castle.

Mr Steve Brown of O2 said: “The Wi-Fi is here to stay. There is a very small process of registering but once that has been done you will have access to Wi-Fi in all areas of the UK where we have installed the technology.”

The Wi-Fi will mean that a new Civil War app which is being developed will be more accessible to visitors to the town centre.

The app, which will be released to coincide with the opening of the national Civil War Centre, will contain virtual tours and computer-generated enhancement video footage.

Another venue which helps put Newark on the wider map is the Newark Showground, run by the Newark & Nottinghamshire Agricultural Society. It not only hosts the Nottinghamshire County Show and the Vintage Tractor & Heritage Shows every year but is also the venue for a number of other events from international antiques fairs, horse shows and dog shows to auto jumbles, wedding fairs and garden shows.

Society chief executive, Adrian Johnston said the showground is an ideal place for any event.

“We have an 120-acre site with eighty-four acres set inside a secure fence. We have eleven sets of buildings, a 14,000 sq metre exhibition pavilion which can be used for events, conferences, weddings, social functions and special shows. We can even have people coming through three separate gates to totally separate events on the same day.”

Three years ago, there was a market research report for Newark & Sherwood District Council which showed that the County Show was worth £3.02m to the town,” said Mr Johnston.

“We believe we inject something in the order of £45m into the local economy on an annual basis. We create local jobs and we are expanding that locally because of the success in how we look after people. We have a good location, so if you don’t look after the visitors they won’t come back.”

Part of the 120-acre site is home to the Newark Air Museum, which in itself attracts thousands of visitors to the area through its exhibitions and special events. And there are numerous other ongoing projects, all designed to improve the fortunes of the town and surrounding areas.

Newark Business Club is behind many of those projects and has been at the forefront of developments since it first formed back in 2001.

Club chairman, Michelle Allen said: “The club is celebrating its thirteenth anniversary this month which is a positive for the town. We are still going strong with 1,105 members at the moment and membership has been increasing quite a lot, which is a good thing.”

The club has an action group which is currently talking with key stakeholders to improve signage in the town to help attract more visitors, boost tourism and highlight everything Newark has to offer.

“We don’t even have a brown sign to the Castle. It is a fundamental thing and with the new national Civil War museum opening in 2015 we want to make sure the town is well prepared for it,” said Michelle.

The club also has a retail group which is working on a Totally Locally campaign. Totally Locally is an award-winning social enterprise and shop local movement which supports independent retailers with a free branding and marketing campaign for their town.

Teams of volunteers use the campaign to promote the value of local shopping, celebrate their high street, create community events, and ultimately lift their local economy.

“The group is working on getting the town’s independent businesses, not just retail units, to work together to encourage residents to shop in the town and spend more money locally,” said Michelle.

“They are offering various incentives throughout the year to try and get more people to support the town’s businesses.”

The club also has a new group called Racoon – Real Ale Collective of Newark – which is hoping to get all the local pubs and breweries to work together to put Newark well and truly on the UK’s real ale map and help attract more visitors to the town.

Michelle said: “As a club we are working collectively with Derbyshire & Nottinghamshire Chamber of Commerce on their Growth Hub project. It is a service they are hoping to offer people wanting to start a business in the area. The hub will be the first port of call for them to go to for guidance and advice.

“The club is always working with Newark & Sherwood District Council and it is offering incentives to businesses to come and move into the area. We have empty units in the town that we want to see filled and that, together with the Government’s changes in business rates is an incentive that will help to do that.”

Another big issue that Newark Business Club is involved with is the RailFAIR campaign for better rail services for the town which would benefit businesses, retailers and visitors alike.

The frequency of trains between Lincoln, Newark and Nottingham is less than on some seaside branch lines and it was quicker to travel the line a century ago than it is today.

“The Lincoln-Newark-Nottingham line rail service campaign is on-going but it is making progress, albeit slow. Our MP Patrick Mercer organised a debate about it in the House of Commons and he was supported by MPs along the line. He is also talking to the business club about it,” Michelle added.

NOTTS COUNTY SHOW
Preparations are well advanced for an influx of visitors to Newark this month. The Nottinghamshire County Show takes place on Newark Showground 10th-11th May and is expected to attract around 50,000 people. This is at a time when a number of the big long-established shows have been forced to finish because of dwindling attendances.

Newark & Notts Agricultural Society hosts the show. Chief executive, Adrian Johnston said the event used to be known as the Newark & Notts Show but the name had been changed following requests from a number of large businesses in the county.

“We were quite happy with the change. It gives the show broader appeal and allows us to draw in and showcase in Newark all that’s good from across the entire county,” said Mr Johnston.

“Our show, which is one of the first in the UK’s show calendar, is still going strong at a time when other shows such as the Royal Show have ceased to exist. Three years ago, market research carried out by the East Midlands Development Agency estimated the show attracted an additional spend of around £3m in and around Newark. We believe we inject something in the order of £45m into the local economy on an annual basis.”

This year’s show has plenty to offer with 1,100 light horse entries, 450 showjumping entries and 500 sheep and pig entries.

There will be 200 trade stands selling everything from crafts, jewellery and garden furniture to clothes, pet goodies and outdoor wear as well as saddlers and agricultural dealers on hand.

The Food Experience marquee is a must with its mixture of demonstrations by celebrity chefs, tasting opportunities and produce to buy, and the Battle of Britain memorial flight will fly past on the second day.

There is also a full ring programme, two full days of national standard showjumping and a countryside area as well as a vintage working history display.

As it is the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the colour standards of all the British Legions in Nottinghamshire will be raised and, together with the scouts and cadets, they will take part in a parade led by the Nottinghamshire Band of the Royal Engineers.

“We are a charity and right through the year we raise the funds to inject money into the showground. The UK Events Market Trends survey 2013 showed that on average most venues invest £100,000 into their sites, but we invested £450,000 between 2011 & 2012 and £250,000 in 2012-13,” said Mr Johnston. 

As well as the County Show, Newark & Notts Agricultural Society organises the Newark Vintage Tractor & Heritage Show in November, at the Showground, and it is introducing a brand new show this year called the Midlands Machinery Show (MMS), all of which helps put Newark on the map.

CIVIL WAR CENTRE
The British Civil Wars were a period of massive upheaval. Opposing Parliamentary and Royalist forces often swept through the same areas many times causing tremendous disruption, not least to record keeping.

So the discovery of rare period documents stored in cardboard boxes in Newark was an historical moment.

Civil War expert Stuart Jennings, from Warwick University, was first to recognise their significance, after being called in to examine the contents by Newark & Sherwood District Council, which is behind the project to build the UK’s first ever National Civil War Centre in the town.

“By the time I got to the third box I could see that we had something unique. On individual sheets of paper were accounts, petitions and bills, the kind of things generated by everyday life in 1640s Newark, said Stuart.

“This kind of material does not normally survive the Civil War, so we are getting a rare glimpse into ordinary lives. We have records of poor relief detailing how money was raised and to whom it was paid during the third siege.

“There is a petition from a man with seven children whose house was blown up by cannon fire and a plea from a woman whose husband was killed fighting for the King. The church records are also complete from 1640–1660, both in Newark and in a nearby village. These records are an historical goldmine.”

No wonder then that excitement is growing as the centre takes shape in Newark’s Old Magnus Building, which is a Grade II listed building that started life as a Tudor grammar school, was later joined by a Georgian townhouse extension and Victorian school hall.

External communications consultant for the project, Richard Dam said: “The first part consists of unpicking the complex building which dates back to the Tudors and Victorians.

“It is a critical phase of work, stripping back the leadwork to reveal the Tudor beams and see if they can be preserved. But it will move forward very quickly after that and we are on course to open in 2015.”

Information gleaned from the new archive will be used by The National Civil War Centre to tell the story of Newark’s sieges from the perspective of ordinary civilians.

“Newark will get a big tourism boost from the Civil War Centre. It will attract about 60,000 visitors a year which will be a big benefit to the area,” said Richard.

Manager of the National Civil War Museum, Michael Constantine, who is also head of Museum & Heritage Services with Newark & Sherwood District Council said in terms of tourism this will be the ‘attract brand’ for Newark.

“It will be the reason why people come to Newark rather than other places such as Grantham or Retford,” he said. “It will bring more people to the town by putting the name of Newark in their minds when they are thinking of places to visit and it is great for business and the local economy.”

The planned Civil War App will help drive visitors to different places in the town which will benefit the businesses in those areas.

“We will be shooting films at the key sites in Newark to form part of a Civil War trail, so visitors don’t just visit the museum but other areas of the town as well. It will give them more time around Newark and businesses near those sites will see increased footfall.”

SOUTHWELL RACECOURSE APPOINTS NEW MANAGER
Southwell Racecourse is another venue which regularly attracts visitors to the area, lying as it does just ten kilometres from Newark.

The thoroughbred racecourse is one of only four in the UK to have an all-weather track and is the only one with a fibresand surface, which makes it a good stamina test.

Its new general manager, Mark Clayton, has his sights set on boosting visitor numbers even more.

For someone who spends virtually every waking hour at a racecourse, you would think Mark would opt for a different activity on those rare days off, but he is the first to admit that there’s a very blurred line between his job and his hobby. 

“Even though I’m now managing a racecourse that holds around seventy meetings a year, it doesn’t stop me going at least a couple of times a month when I’m off work. It’s a bit of a dream come true for me and I’m relishing the challenge of leading the Southwell team,” he said.

Mark went to Southwell after gaining experience as operations manager at Doncaster Racecourse, where he looked after the bigger events, such as the four-day St Leger Festival managing crowds of up to 33,000 people.

“We started the music concerts after racing while I was there and booked bands such as Madness, Texas, McFly and Status Quo. There were some hugely successful days at Doncaster and I used to get such a buzz out of putting on such a great four days for so many people.”

Mark’s challenge is to replicate that feeling at the Nottinghamshire course, where he hopes to introduce some similarly successful events.

“Each of the Arena Racing Company owned courses has their own personalities, which is what makes it so interesting,” he said. “Southwell is not just a racecourse, but a very successful golf club as well. That means people come here for a variety of reasons – golf, conferences and racing – which means we should be reaching a cross-section of the community.

“One of the challenges of racing all the time – which we can do here because we have a mixture of all-weather, jumps and flat turf racing – is that it is hard to keep the numbers up on every fixture.

“But our newly-launched All-Weather Championships series which has seen ARC invest an extra £2 million into prize money, has certainly helped. It attracted a higher standard of horse and consequently a lot of racing fans who followed the series.

“I feel a great sense of pride in being involved in something so innovative because it is something which will just grow and grow.”

Now the All-Weather Championship Series is over, Mark is concentrating on some other ideas he has to attract people to visit Southwell.

“For me, racing is about more than just watching horses running around a track – it is about the occasion and there should be an emphasis on making the whole day an event to remember. 

“We don’t pretend to be Ascot or Cheltenham but we do pride ourselves on having much to offer to a lot of people.”

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