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Words: Melanie Burton
Photography: Mick Fox
Featured in the January 2015 issue

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Businesses in the south Lincolnshire market town of Holbeach are hoping that 2015 will be a rewarding year.

Clive Teague of ETC electrical store in Church Street said his is a fairly small business and 2014 had been a struggle.

“Since 2006, most years have been a struggle and there has been a general decline for small shopkeepers,” he said.

Fortunately, he specialises in certain products that the bigger stores can’t sell, so he gets a steady stream of customers through the door.

“I have been here for twenty-eight years and there are certain times of the year which are quiet for me, such as the summer. Winter is a better. I don’t employ any staff and if I did I would be out of business.”

Clive’s wife Lisa has also been trading in the town for twenty-one years, with her shop of the same name.

She said: “Business this year has been okay. It is not fantastic but it is ticking over. Most of the businesses are saying the same. But I am still here and that is the main thing.”

Lisa said she now has a Facebook page which she plans to develop to keep up with the times: “I will be checking out avenues of technology because that is the way it is going.”

She said it was a challenge all the time in all town centres.

“What people don’t realise is that in town we have a growing population. A lot of houses are due to be built and to keep a viable community we need the town. What people need to realise is that they can lose everything, so that is why it is important to support local towns and local services.

“It is important that the town is supported and the empty premises need to be filled. It can be done, and without having to pay £20,000 to £30,000 to someone to be a town manager.”

Rick Rickerby of the Mansion House in the town echoed his fellow business owners’ views.

Rick, who has run various businesses in the town over the past fourteen years, said his is a standalone business and is alright.

“I have customers from Germany, Holland, Italy and London, so my end of the market is fine,” he said. “There are a lot of houses being built but all the commercial activity in the area will be diverted to Spalding because the council wants Holbeach to be a residential town.”

Rick claimed he was probably the youngest and most successful businessman in the High Street.

“I started my first business here when I was twenty-six and I invested in the Mansion House about nine years ago,” he said.

“New shops are a good addition to the High Street but a new development is not the answer. A lot of the traffic is just passing through. They are not stopping but should we be making it a little bit harder to pass through?

“The main thing that needs to be done is the roads, supplying more car parking space and parking improvements. Pedestrianised areas with planters will make it a bit more attractive.”

Parish council clerk, Christopher Seymour said trade in Holbeach was much the same as in other towns.

“It is much the same as in every other town and business has fared on a par with other towns. It hasn’t been easy but it is getting better. The market is still going and doing well.”

He said there were a number of plans in the pipeline to benefit Holbeach but none had yet been finalised, so details could not be released.

Much of Holbeach’s economy has been based on food processing and South Holland District Council’s ward councillor for Holbeach, Nick Worth, organised the town’s first ever Food Festival last June to showcase why the town is one of the main food-producing areas in the UK.

He said: “I took up the challenge because it was about getting people into Holbeach. We want people to use the traders, growers and food producers in the town because Holbeach and the surrounding district of South Holland has a long history of producing food and has the best farming land in the country.

“There are major food-based employers in the Holbeach area, all supporting large supermarkets and, on top of this, we have a massive transport industry distributing food both in this country and throughout Europe.”

The importance of the food industry to the economy of Holbeach is well understood, with several major food processing and farming businesses in the area. Well-known names including Bakkavör, QV Foods, DGM and Jepco, are based in the vicinity and are directly employing many of Holbeach’s residents.

The town’s food credentials are increasingly being reinforced nationally and internationally by the presence of the University of Lincoln’s National Centre for Food Manufacturing (NCFM), supported by the growing recognition of the centre as a hub for food industry innovation, as well as for upskilling the industry’s workforce.

With food manufacturing being a key driver of the economy of Lincolnshire and the UK (food manufacturing is the largest manufacturing sector in the UK, accounting for fifteen percent of the manufacturing output), the NCFM has developed as a major resource for the sector and boasts outstanding partnerships with employers and excellent resources including a purpose-built specialist food factory facility for training and research. 

NCFM part-time, flexible courses for food industry professionals support the development of more than 1,500 individuals each year, with the centre’s part-time degrees playing an important role in helping the industry address the acute shortage of food technologists and operations managers.

In addition to skills, the centre’s innovation is aided by a partnership with more than thirty suppliers of technology and equipment to the food manufacturing sector.

As a result of NCFM’s activity, the centre enjoys the patronage of more than 250 leading food businesses. Companies partnering with and accessing NCFM’s courses or research include the Bakkavör Group, Nestlé, Greencore, Tulip, Moy Park, Mars, McCain, Pork Farms Group, Princes, Produce World, Asda, Morrison’s, Waitrose, Marks and Spencer and Tesco along with many SME businesses.

In addition, the University’s sponsorship of the University Academy Holbeach, which shares the same site with NCFM and the adjacent Primary Academy, has created an educational hub for the town.

Through its sponsorship of the academies, the University is seeking to improve the educational landscape and raise attainment and aspiration for young people in the area.

The links between the academies and NCFM means that the centre is able to work with young people to raise awareness of the huge array of career opportunities in the Agri-food industry and it does this by jointly hosting careers and ‘Have a Go events’ for young people.

Val Braybrooks, Dean of the National Centre for Food Manufacturing said: ‘‘NCFM is an important facet of Holbeach town and our work has certainly put Holbeach on the map as far as the food industry is concerned.

“We are now seeing a steady stream of international visitors from the sector and as our research grows, we are enjoying developing links with other academic institutions. We have had visitors from several international universities recently and are currently hosting scholars and visiting students from Iraq, Nigeria, Ghana, Poland, France and Réunion Island.

“Our work is bringing Holbeach to the attention of a wide audience and of course our guests are making use of local services while they are with us, which is great for the town. We are the University’s family in Holbeach and this is a very special and enriching feature of the town.”

Another business putting the town on the national map is British Renewable Energy firm Tamar Energy.

It opened its new Biogas AD facility in the town last May, in a joint venture with Holbeach-based QV Foods’ parent company AH Worth.

The AD facility will take up to 30,000 tonnes of organic material per year, mainly vegetable trimmings and potato wastes from QV Foods operations, and convert this into renewable energy – enough to supply the site’s electricity requirements, with the surplus being exported to the National Grid.

As well as delivering power supply resilience and cost savings, the AD facility will produce a nutrient-rich biofertiliser and reduce QV Foods’ carbon footprint. The AD facility was developed around the specific site requirements, dealing both with the vegetable trimmings and peelings arising at the site, as well as to meet a significant electricity demand.

Duncan Worth, chairman of QV Foods and managing director of parent company AH Worth said: “Working with Tamar Energy to develop an AD operation at our site made perfect sense. Not only does it provide real financial benefits by putting us in control of our electricity supply and fertiliser production but it’s also a tangible demonstration of our sustainability commitment, with benefits we can pass on to our customers.”

WALKERS BULBS
Bulb growing has played a big part in the economy of Holbeach for almost 100 years – and business is still blossoming for one of its oldest established, award-winning firms.

Taylors Bulbs is ranked amongst the UK’s leading suppliers of bulbs to the trade while the latest branch of the business, daffodil specialist Walkers Bulbs, caters for the private sector.

The name Walkers is synonymous with daffodils and it used to be owned and run by Johnny Walkers, whose bulb-growing parents came from Holland in the 1930s and were stranded with the onset of the Second World War.

Johnny worked with his parents and attended horticultural college before flying the coop to make his own way in the bulb world. He helped establish a quality assurance scheme for a group of English bulb growers and part of his responsibility involved advising growers from Cornwall, Norfolk and Lincolnshire on bulb production techniques and maintaining quality standards.

The work of this group was so successful that, by the time Johnny left, it was exporting over 5,000 tonnes of daffodils per annum to countries all over the world.

When he left his full-time career behind, he started his own mail order business selling specialist daffodil varieties (and other spring bulbs) to narcissus lovers around the country.

He began displaying daffodils at horticultural shows and became known as ‘The Man with the Midas Touch’ because he almost always brought home a gold medal or trophy.

Taylors Bulbs took over the business about fifteen years ago but Johnny remains at the helm as quality manager.

Sally-Anne Foreman of Walkers Bulbs said 2014 had been a good year for the business, both in sales and in recognition.

“Business is up on previous years and we received a Premium award from the Harrogate Flower Show and another Gold award from at the Chelsea Flower Show.

“We have now won more than twenty Gold Royal Horticultural Society awards at Chelsea and we are already working on next year’s event.”

This year, Walkers launched a new variety of bulb called Georgie Boy, in honour of the birth of Prince George and plans are already in the pipeline to launch one for the new Royal baby when it arrives.

“We launched the bulb in conjunction with the Royal Marsden Cancer charity and part of the proceeds have gone to them as well,” said Sally-Anne. “Harrogate and Chelsea are the only two events we attend in the year because they are quite time-consuming and we have already started working towards the Chelsea Flower Show.”

Taylors Bulbs has roots going back to 1919 when the Government set up a number of smallholdings for ex-servicemen of the First World War. One of these Crown colonies was at Holbeach when Otto Augustus Taylor, as a result of being gassed in the war, was unable to return to his occupation as a retail pharmacist in London.

Taylor applied for one of these pioneering new holdings and with his wife and two sons, Stanley and Percy, he moved to the new settlement with a house and ten acres of land.

Otto became one of the pioneers of bulb-growing in this country and, although he died in 1946, by 1968 the family owned some 300 acres of prime Lincolnshire silt and the nursery facilities were expanded.

In 1970 OA Taylor & Sons Bulbs Ltd was formed to supply bulbs to nurseries and garden centres. Taylors now farms 317 acres of daffodils; and 1,860 acres of other crops including vegetables, cereals, potatoes and sugar beet. It is one of the largest bulb companies in the country, with their own Dutch purchasing company and sourcing all types of bulbs from around the world.

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