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Words: Glynis Fox
Photography: Mick Fox, Painting by David Work
Featured in the October 2011 issue

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All market towns have their own unique character and ambience, but Sleaford is one where you need to take time out and go exploring to find its hidden treasures.

From Southgate, its bustling ‘main thoroughfare’, to its intriguing little alleyways and precincts, this is a place to find some great individual shops, as well as nationally-recognised stores.

Sleaford has apparently fared better than many comparable market towns during the recession, with just twelve per cent of its shops empty. In recent months the town has also begun to reap the benefits of a proposed £100 million investment, which includes a new TescoExtra store.

The recently adopted Sleaford Masterplan has also recognised that what the town can offer people shopping-wise is a key priority for the future.
Sleaford is definitely not a ‘clone town’ and has an obvious pride in its own unique character, but it is impossible to ignore the fact that what it offers shoppers has not quite kept pace with the phenomenal growth in its population and recent housing development.

Typically, some of the town centre’s shop units are too small to attract bigger name retailers, but there are hopes that the redevelopment of the southern end of Southgate – between the area designated for the new Tesco store and the town’s Handley Monument - will create fresh opportunities for High Street retailers who are known to be interested in Sleaford.

Sleaford BID (Business Improvement District) continues to keep a keen eye on what is happening on the commercial front, while continuing to work hard to pull in extra shoppers and other visitors to the town, in its drive to help traders to become more prosperous.

BID manager Emma Batty said: “Although many businesses are finding the economic climate particularly tough at the moment, Sleaford as a whole appears to be holding its own.

“The high street (Southgate) remains busy and vibrant, with few empty shops. The town has a loyal customer base and independent and national businesses are well-supported here.

“Retailers have to be more savvy and find ways of encouraging people to spend time and money in the town. The BID is doing all it can.  Earlier this year, we provided training sessions through Ultimate Performance Business Solutions, which were aimed at helping improve levels of customer service and communication,” added Mrs Batty.

In September, the BID also ran a workshop with Business Link and North Kesteven District Council. Purely directed at shopkeepers, it aimed to highlight creative ways in which traders could help themselves to win more custom.

Sleaford has some lovely small shopping precincts and lends itself to niche, independent retailers. Obviously any high street needs a mix and the town also accommodates some well-known national names, which is good for shoppers.

“Empty properties are generally re-let quite quickly and we don’t have the problems that a lot of high streets are facing, with large amounts of empty premises. For instance, Westgate is one area where occupancy rates are nearly 100 per cent, up from a couple of years ago when it was virtually empty.”

While the economic development department at NKDC is constantly dealing with enquiries from interested businesses, both independents and nationals, Sleaford does struggle to provide large enough premises to facilitate national names.

However, there has certainly been more interest shown in the town since the inception of the Masterplan and development within this will encourage further investment in the town, it is claimed.

But back to the town’s individual traders who offer a very personal slant on the choice of goods and levels of service which they offer: “Our mix of independents includes a couple of great boutique clothes shops, but we could also cope with a mainstream ‘fashion’ name, especially for the younger shoppers,” said Mrs Batty.

“It would be good to see additional retailers. We certainly could accommodate a wider range of shops. Unfortunately, Sleaford is slightly restricted on property size. Having said that, we have got several thriving little shops and we are really pleased to have welcomed a recently opened bridal shop, along with a new barber’s, a beauty salon and a cake shop.

”Westgate, particularly, has had a revival and the Riverside Centre, which has recently seen the arrival of Costa, is busy and popular again. Sweet Vienna (also in Riverside) is a hub of local activity, with its fantastic coffees and handmade cakes and pastries. This area is also home to the pet shop, Animal Magic – which has doubled in size – along with other retail and health and beauty businesses.

Millstream Square is at full occupancy, with the ever-popular Millstream Butcher anchoring this lovely area. A new café has opened up and The Clothes Circuit has been a really popular addition to the town.

The contemporary Thai Sabai, specialising in authentic Thai cuisine, New College Stamford and Escape complete the picture in this tucked-away gem.

The Clothes Circuit is run by partners Jessica Hart and Ann Corner. Jessica Hart said: “We opened in June 2010, which we think was a good time to start out. We take in and sell nearly new High Street and designer clothing and agency customers get sixty per cent of the final sale price, which we think is a bit different.

“It is very smart in this area and fully let and I think the businesses have benefited from each other. But it is slightly off the beaten track and everyone who comes in says they did not know where we were.”

Linda Fisher occupies the neighbouring unit and opened the doors on Nan’s TeaRoom during the May Bank Holiday. “My business was brand new and we are now trading from Mondays to Saturdays, between 8am and 6pm and also from 10.30pm to 3pm on Sundays,” she said.

“I was attracted to this area because people can also sit and eat outside alongside the river. Once customers have visited us they keep coming back. We just need more people to realise where we are.”

If you are looking for sweets, clothing, party must-haves, beautiful flowers and quality jewellery, there’s another niche precinct that shouldn’t be missed – the town’s Bristol Arcade.

And, if you are looking for the latter, now could be the time to pick up a real bargain, because jeweller Keith Dolby (70) – who occupies a large corner unit in the arcade – is winding down to retirement. However, it is hoped that Mr Dolby’s move won’t leave the Arcade with an empty shop.

“I have been trading in Sleaford for over fifty years and have occupied my current premises for the past twenty-five,” said Mr Dolby, who hopes to retire in December.

“Naturally I have seen lots of comings and goings. I think some people (traders) have had a hard time, but we have maintained our turnover and it has actually gone up over the past few years.

“I think that is because we are well established, but we have changed what we stock. The price of gold has gone sky-high and we have moved more into designer silver jewellery.”

Mr Dolby added that he has received a “serious enquiry” about his premises. He is hoping this will develop and that the outlet may still trade as a jewellery shop in the future.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Sleaford continues to be thrust into the spotlight as efforts are made to progress plans for regeneration moves which promise to inject more than £100 million of private sector cash into the town – creating 1,000 new jobs.

Earlier this year North Kesteven District Council (NKDC) adopted a twenty-five-year Masterplan (now known as Sleaford Forward) which sets out the long-term vision for the future – including areas for new housing, improved car parking and the location of schools.

The council also gave the green light to a major flagship scheme, within this wider regeneration package, which involves the creation of a new Tesco store (on the former Advanta Seeds’ site) and the refurbishment of the town’s landmark Bass Maltings.

As we went to press, NKDC said those aspirations remain, despite the fact that Sleaford Town councillors have voted not to sell part of Boston Road Recreation Ground which has been earmarked for a link road to the Maltings’ development.

Councillor Mrs Marion Brighton said: “It is essential that a level of growth is achieved in Sleaford to maintain and develop its existing retail, leisure, employment and housing.

“Sleaford needs the link road if it is to have the retail offer to match its continued growth and the demands of the population.

“The maltings site alone will create up to 500 of the anticipated 1,000 jobs through the significant employment space being provided there and the scheme is an integral part of the wider Sleaford South East Regeneration Project.”

SLEAFORD BID
Sleaford – along with Lincoln and Boston – has its own Business Improvement District, or BID.

The BID is an independent organisation, working between the local authorities and businesses in its area, to provide initiatives and projects which are aimed at improving the trading environment in a town or city.

It supports events which are designed to encourage more people to visit and works on projects to increase a town’s attractiveness to shoppers and tourists.

Sleaford BID is a five-year project, which began in 2007. This means that the organisation will be coming up for its reballot in 2012, when traders will have the chance to vote to determine whether it should run for another five-year term.

BID manager Emma Batty said: “Our overnight security service has provided security cover for all BID businesses in the town and continues to help deter thefts and anti-social behaviour on regular occasions.

“A fall in the number of unknown vehicles and commercial thefts has been a trend since our two officers started their work and we continue to receive excellent feedback on the service which they provide. 

“Marketing and promotion is another of our priorities and this year the BID ventured further afield to the Heckington Show where we had a fantastic weekend promoting the town and its businesses to a record crowd of 30,000 people,” said Mrs Batty.

“A good number of businesses provided us with promotional material and we were happy to chat to visitors to the stand and let everyone know what a great place Sleaford is and about the variety of shops, fantastic businesses and things to see and do in the town.”

Sleaford BID also covers the industrial areas of Sleaford, as well as the town centre. One of its latest projects involves looking at ways to improve the signage on the ever-expanding Enterprise Park, as well as for the precincts in the town.

“We believe that proper signage can make all the difference to new and existing businesses and we are happy to support this,” added Mrs Batty.

Having already supported this year’s Sleaford Historic Car & Motorcycle Show, the BID is also backing the town’s grand SaFire Night on 29th October and this year, for the first time, is working with the Town Council as part of the Christmas Market Committee – in a drive to ensure the Christmas Market on 27th November is the best ever.

NEARLY HALF A CENTURY OF ANIMAL CARE
There has been a continuing Veterinary Practice in Sleaford for over 100 years.  For the last forty-eight years that practice has been associated with the Kirk family and is now known as KirksVets.

KirksVets is a mixed practice. We have Vets who can treat companion animals as well as farm animals. In 2002 the Practice moved from its home, Highfield, of the previous seventy plus years to a new custom-built surgery on the new Lions Way, part of the Sleaford Pride development. The new £500,000 Surgery gave animals, clients and staff a much better environment and better equipment to work with, and as a business the growth has far outweighed all expectations.

KirksVets now comprises two surgeries (Sleaford and Grantham) and a Sleaford town centre Pet Shop. All three premises offer a dog grooming service and also a licensed Pet Crematorium.

KirksVets take great pride in being such a part of the Sleaford community and making its own contribution to the town’s recent history.

NEW ARRIVAL
An expanding national jobs solution and training company is one of the latest businesses to take its name to Sleaford.

A4e Limited, which helps people to find work and develop their skills, has moved into office suites at the Sleaford Business Centre.

The business has leased two units, in the recently refurbished former railway station building, from chartered surveyor Hodgson Elkington which is the managing agent for North Kesteven District Council, which leases the centre from Network Rail.

Hodgson Elkington senior surveyor Marie Gutteridge said: “The letting of a significant area of the building to a national company demonstrates the demand for office suites of this type in Sleaford, which has excellent accessibility to the town centre and transport links, together with ample parking in the locality.”

The revamp of the building to provide office suites was completed in early April. Within three months of that, more than half of the square footage was let.

A4e’s staff will be helping to get unemployed people back into jobs through the Government’s Work Programme, by providing local, face-to-face support, which will cater for individual needs, including CV writing, training and marrying job opportunities with both local and national employers.

A4e regional director Tony Mace said: “The Work Programme is our way of improving people’s lives in Sleaford and across the East Midlands, by helping them to find and keep a job, supporting their journey with our extraordinary teams, and by engaging with communities, employers and partners to help us.”

Mr Mace said A4e is transforming people’s experience of looking for suitable work, because its programmes and packages of support are tailored to the unique needs of every person who comes through the company’s door

The business has taken the largest available unit at the Business Centre for administration purposes and also a training room.

North Kesteven District Council (NKDC) leader Councillor Mrs Marion Brighton OBE, who holds the Executive portfolio for economic regeneration said the confidence shown by A4e in signing up for the largest portion of the building over six years, illustrated how valuable such space is in Sleaford. 

“We established these units expressly to support new enterprise and foster opportunities for training and business growth and it is heartening to see that they are already contributing to our economic development goals for the District,” she said.

The Sleaford Station Business Centre, forms part of the railway station on land ultimately owned by Network Rail but leased by NKDC. It has been transformed to provide eight offices suites – ranging from ninety-seven to 883 sq ft – as part of an intuitive refurbishment scheme to help satisfy the demand for small start-up office space throughout the town.

NKDC said that the railway station is an important building, at the gateway to Sleaford, and the development will help to give people arriving in the town by train the right impression of a vibrant town.

This project also fits in with NKDC’s wider aims of enhancing Sleaford, through a series of initiatives which are culminating in the long-term vision of the Sleaford Masterplan.

Hodgson Elkington added that the Sleaford station development is not the only NKDC initiative which is encouraging new businesses into the area.

The council is also offering six months half-price rent for prospective tenants who are looking for small industrial units – at Bilinghay Business Park and Reedspire Business Park – in a drive to attract new businesses into the area.

Hodgson Elkington has also started marketing four units at Pride Court on the Sleaford Enterprise Park, where the landlord is Melbourne Holdings.

And the firm is also looking to sell a former furniture mill opposite Sleaford station. The business has found premises in another part of the town and a buyer is now being sought for the 15,000 sq ft building, which has undergone a high quality restoration.

HUB HAPPENINGS
A major craft and design centre has chosen Lincolnshire Day to celebrate its new look.

Exciting celebrations are planned for 1st October, when The Hub in Sleaford will open its doors as The National Centre for Craft and Design and show off its new graphic identity, website, Learning Zone and community ExChange Space.

Visitors will also be able to discover how the centre has evolved by checking out displays charting the building’s history, in nearby Navigation House.

After a morning of formalities, families can look forward to a fun-packed afternoon, with craft demonstrations, hands-on badgemaking, clay tile decorating, storytelling, live music and street entertainment.

Professional artists Rhubarb Theatre will tell the story of the Lincolnshire Boggart, with the help of music and acting and internationally renowned and locally based ceramic artist Peter Moss will work with visitors to design special clay tiles.  These will form a large piece of work to be permanently displayed within the centre.

There will also be live music from saxophonist Dave Taylor and the energetic duo the Love Boat Captains. Visitors will no doubt marvel at the high stilt streetwalker and mime artists, who will be greeting people inside and outside of the building.

The Hub was originally established in 2003 and over the past eight years has developed a strong reputation within the national museum and gallery sector.

Exhibitions throughout the year celebrate the very best of international craft and design and set them within the context of popular culture to ensure everyone has the chance to experience, understand and be inspired.

The centre also works closely with schools to provide gallery-based educational opportunities for primary aged pupils and also provides cross-curricular learning to secondary and tertiary students.

The National Centre also boasts a café and its shop really is the place to find unique, one-off gifts.

Centre Director Clare Edwards said: “Rebranding as The National Centre for Craft & Design provides us with a fabulous opportunity to not only refresh our visual and verbal identity, but to create a clear brand identity which evokes a feeling about what we stand for and the values we promote.”

The centre is owned by North Kesteven District Council and run on its behalf by Leisure Connection, in partnership with Arts Council England.

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