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Words: Melanie Burton
Photography: Mick Fox, Painting: David Work
Featured in the April 2014 issue

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Market Rasen might be a small market town on the edge of the Lincolnshire Wolds but it has plenty of ideas to push itself forward, thanks to its very own MR BIG.

For the past two years, MR BIG, otherwise known as the Market Rasen Business Improvement Group, has worked tirelessly to improve the town for residents and visitors alike and is striving to achieve its aim of enhancing the look and feel of the High Street retail areas.

Its work began even before it became one of the lucky bidders for Portas Pilot Town status but the £98,000 funding that came with that success proved very useful.

MR BIG co-founder and chairman, Sara Scott said Market Rasen was not only one of the first twelve Portas Pilot Towns in May 2012, but last year it received a further £101,000 in funding from central government after being selected as one of the UK’s seven most innovative High Streets.

“We are basically trying to transform our High Street to bring it into the twenty-first century, while maintaining its character and heritage. We want it to be a vibrant, thriving and attractive market town supported by local people and visitors,” said Sara.

MR BIG introduced regular monthly markets in the town’s historic Georgian Market Place to celebrate everything that is special about Market Rasen.

“They take place on the first Saturday of the month and we now have twenty under our belt. The market was down to one or two stalls when we started and now we have thirty-five,” said Sara.

“People come in from all around the county. It’s got a nice, continental feel to it and is presented all laid out in a big circle to encourage people to mingle, come in and have a bite to eat.”

So successful have the markets been – with stalls ranging from arts and crafts to farmers’ produce, refreshments, home accessories, beauty products and gifts – they have scooped a second national market award from NABMA, having been voted Britain’s Best Social Enterprise Market 2014.

“The markets have been at the heart of what we have been doing but we also do town tidy-ups to ensure it looks as nice as it can be and we have planting scheme initiatives as well,” said Sara.

“We also opened two community shops – one of which has now gone into private ownership.”

Former paramedic, Maria Pemberton took over Greens of Lincolnshire fruit and veg shop in Queen Street last June and has just been recognised with a Highly Commended certificate in the Select Lincolnshire awards.

“Maria is doing great things there and is hoping to open a kitchen in the back so she can do fresh deli-style food produce,” said Sara.

One challenge facing MR BIG is encouraging people to support traders on the High Street, in the face of internet shopping.

“We do all kinds of things to try and encourage people to shop locally, use the High Street and support the independent retailers. It is always going to be a challenge and we continually try to remind people to come into town,” said Sara.

“The message is use it or lose it. We want people to see it as a place for socialising, a place to find something different and enjoy that personal service which you don’t get in a chain store.”

With free parking in the town and a plethora of independent shops to browse around, Market Rasen has much to offer and with MR BIG’s plans to roll out three WiFi spots in areas of the town not usually well-serviced by the internet, things can only improve.

“Moving forward, we can see a massive opportunity for our town in terms of tourism over the next two years,” added Sara.

“We need to make sure we continue to attract businesses to Market Rasen bringing more jobs. There are plenty of challenges but, in terms of infrastructure, what we have to offer is quite special. We have Willoughby Woods and the Lindsey Trail which attracts walkers and picnickers and there is a big national cycling centre too.”

Assistant town council clerk, Juliette Herrette also said the town has lots going for it.

“There is still free parking here and plenty of spaces in the centre. But it is like anything, if you don’t use it you lose it. Efforts were made to bolster the town’s weekly market through the introduction of new stallholders but there weren’t the customers so they went elsewhere. The MR BIG monthly markets are helping bring people into town though.

“The Mill Road playing fields have just been revamped with new play equipment and although some shops have closed, others have opened so there aren’t many empty units in the town.”

The Mill Road playing field programme of work was long awaited and has come about through an £80,000 investment by the local authority. The rejuvenated play park now has a new play area, a new multi-use games area and a new footpath.

Market Rasen also has a very successful focal point for the community in the Hub, which is part of the Market Rasen Development Trust.

Hub co-ordinator, Stella Tuplin said: “The Hub is very active but is always in need of volunteers. It has been going for a good ten years and is here to offer support to the community for whatever they want.

“The Citizens Advice Bureau holds regular sessions here and a solicitor is available once a week. You can pick up town maps here or just drop in to use the internet. We are a true community hub.”

Converted from a former block of flats, it is a multi-use resource centre for the community and a base where people can access help and support on anything from searching for employment to finding out what is going on in the area with local businesses, activities and events.

Located on the main A46 road between Lincoln and Grimsby, Market Rasen is a busy thoroughfare for coastal traffic, but it is also still served by a rail service.

Its railway station was built by the Great Grimsby and Sheffield Junction Railway, with the opening of the line in 1848. It is the only station now between Lincoln and Barnetby. Nowadays, it is on the ‘Grimsby – Lincoln – Newark’ line and is managed by East Midlands Trains.

Market Rasen’s town centre has a nineteenth-century red-brick appearance of mainly Georgian and Victorian architecture centred around the Market Place, with a medieval church restored in the nineteenth century.

The town became well-known around the UK on 27th February 2008 as the epicentre of an earthquake measuring 5.2 on the Richter Scale, which was felt far and wide from Edinburgh to Plymouth and as far away as Bangor in Northern Ireland and Haarlem in the Netherlands.

The ten-second earthquake was the largest recorded example in the United Kingdom since the Lleyn Peninsula earthquake in North Wales in 1984, which measured 5.4.

Another thing Market Rasen is renowned for is its racecourse which stages a year-round programme of racing. It is part of The Jockey Club, which has been at the heart of British horse racing for more than 260 years and which runs the largest racecourse group in the UK, with a £142.1m turnover, fifteen courses and attendances of 8.1 million.

The racecourse, which is currently undergoing an £800,000 development, is staging twenty-one jump racing meetings this year and is also a leading conference and events centre in the East Midlands.

It is also becoming well-known for the Rasen Rock concerts, which this year will see Wet Wet Wet perform live following the race meeting in August.

Market Rasen was originally known as East Rasen, with Middle Rasen being the more important location and West Rasen following on from there, but it became prominent when it was granted the right to a market.

Due to its location, it has obvious agricultural ties but at one time, back in the nineteenth century, it boasted nearly a dozen breweries or beer houses and was home to dealers in coal, lime and sand as well as manufacturers of items as diverse as tiles and washing machines.

There were also many coaching houses and inns and the town was a centre for carters from surrounding villages, who converged on the town for market days.

LITTLE SHOP OF TREASURES
Artists and crafters in the Market Rasen area now have the perfect outlet for their work.

A new shop has been set up in the Hub in Union Street, where the experts can show off their talents and sell their work and where the public can pick up beautiful and unusual handcrafted gifts.

The Little Shop of Treasures is a co-operative shop selling handmade jewellery, glassware, cards, paintings and many other gifts.

Stella Tuplin said it isn’t a community shop but a co-operative staffed by volunteers.

“It gives crafters and artists an outlet for their items without them having to open their own shops.They rent shelf space to display their goods and reach their customers,” said Stella.

It opened in November and is faring well.

“There is still space available and we would welcome more crafters or artists who can’t afford to open their own shop to come along,” said Stella.

MARKET RASEN RACECOURSE
Plans are taking shape for the biggest development in eleven years at Market Rasen Racecourse. It is hoped that work can begin later this year on an extension to the course’s popular Tattersalls Enclosure, to offer greater capacity for the major events that it now stages.

The £800,000 investment has come about following three sell-outs in that part of the racecourse last year, which showed the need for the venue to cater for larger audiences and it follows the announcement of its biggest combined racing and music day on Saturday, 16th August, when Wet Wet Wet will be performing live.

Under the plans, the first phase will see the demolition of the old Family Enclosure grandstand, the Tote Exacta bar being doubled in size and the capacity of the Tattersalls Enclosure increased. The aim is to complete the development by the end of November in time for the traditional Boxing Day fixture, which has averaged 9,000 spectators since the turn of the millennium.

General manager of Market Rasen Racecourse, Pip Kirkby said: “This is an exciting development for Market Rasen Racecourse as we stage increasingly popular major racing days. It illustrates the confidence that The Jockey Club has in Lincolnshire’s only racecourse that this investment is being made.“

Market Rasen Racecourse is a leading conference and events centre in the East Midlands. The Market Rasen Racecourse also has a caravan park situated inside the grounds and a golf course, sitting in the centre of the racecourse.

MARKET RASEN SWIMMING POOL
A fundraising campaign is well under way to save a Market Rasen swimming pool which has served the community for twenty-five years.

The pool, at the town’s Church of England Primary School, started life as an outdoor pool back in the 1960s as part of Market Rasen Secondary School. It was built into an indoor pool by parents in 1990, but it is now in desperate need of a new roof and other improvements to secure its future.

School head, Andrew Smith said: “We need around £70,000 and we have managed to raise nearly £50,000. The pool was built by parents twenty-five years ago so it has a real emotional attachment for the town.

“We are hoping to have the work done in the summer holidays and so secure it for the community for another twenty-five years.”

The pool is currently used by the pre-school and Sure Start and is going to be used by lifesaving groups and for swimming lessons.

“Due to the nature of the materials on the existing roof, we can only use the pool for twenty-six weeks a year because it is incredibly hot in the summer and very cold in the winter,” said Mr Smith. “But with the new roof we will be able to regulate temperatures inside, so the pool can be used all year round and be available for more community use.”

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