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Words: Glynis Fox
Photography: Mick Fox, Painting by David Work
Featured in the September 2014 issue

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Bursting with history and character, Stamford has something to tempt everyone, from those who love exploring old buildings to families keen to enjoy a waterside picnic and friends in search of serious retail therapy.

With 600 listed buildings, five medieval churches, quaint hidden alleyways, quirky shops and entertainment venues, there’s plenty on offer and now a major push is underway to ensure this South Lincolnshire market town becomes a ‘must visit’ shopping destination.

Expect to be surprised. Behind the attractive shopfronts lie some great products and services, in a town which has long been home to family-run independents and new entrepreneurs out to make a name for themselves. Naturally, there are branches of national stores too.

From fashion boutiques to stylish shoe shops, classy florists and outlets offering gifts with a uniquely different touch – including fabulous handmade watches – Stamford provides a rewarding experience for those prepared to go exploring.

Tracy Burr is putting her stamp on The Flower Shop in St Mary’s Street, having bought the former Sue’s Flower House from Sue Gray, who retired in the spring after owning the business for thirty-four years.

The wedding photographer leapt at the chance to take on the well-established business, along with existing full and part-time staff, including a delivery driver.

“In addition to being a wedding photographer, I also have a background in interior design, including twenty years in retail. I brought a friend along with me to look at the business last autumn and took things from there,” said Tracy.

With floristry training under her belt, and Interflora membership, Tracy is looking to build on the long-established business. She has already created a ‘private area’ where customers and discuss their special occasion requirements (including wedding photography). Tracy is also selling fresh and silk flowers, vases and gifts.

Taking a weekend break in Stamford is an excellent idea, especially if there is something special you want to see at Stamford Corn Exchange or the Stamford Arts Centre; or if your visit is timed to coincide with the famous Burghley Horse Trials. This year, this event takes place from 4th until 7th September.

The town has a wealth of hotels to choose from, each with its own unique ambience. The selection includes The George and The William Cecil Hotels and Candlesticks Hotel & Restaurant. Check-in at one tailored to suit your taste and budget.

The Candlesticks Hotel & Restaurant is situated in a quiet lane in the oldest part of Stamford. It was created out of the conversion of five derelict cottages (dating back to about 1730) and has been run by the Pinto family, which is originally from Madeira, since 1975.

Today Nelio Pinto, who took over the business from his parents more than five years ago, heads the team which offers first-time and repeat visitors a warm welcome to the eight bedroomed hotel, whose restaurant has an extensive menu featuring classical French, English and Portuguese cuisine.

“Being based in Church Street, we are not immediately obvious to tourists and visitors, but we are close to the town centre and we encourage people to come and discover what we offer,” said Nelio.

As well as providing accommodation for business and leisure travellers, Candlesticks caters for private family and wedding parties, for about forty people.

New landlords are starting to make their mark at Stamford’s Melbourn Brothers in All Saints’ Street, where they are enjoying the challenge of managing the Samuel Smith’s pub and attached restored Victorian working steam brewery.

Sean Mitchell and Katie Smith, who have been involved in pub management in the past, were unable to resist the opportunity to move from Skegness to Stamford, when they discovered that the previous landlords Mark and Delia Brecknock were planning to move on.

“We really love Stamford and had visited it quite a lot, so when we knew that Melbourn Brothers needed new managers, we were really interested. We got in touch with Mark and Delia and went on to be interviewed by Samuel Smith’s. Now we are building on what Mark and Delia have established,” said Katie.

“We have the same opening hours and do food from noon until 3pm and between 6pm and 9pm, on Mondays to Fridays, and from noon until 3pm on Sundays. We are also continuing to offer the hour-long brewery tours for groups. Many parties tend to have a meal with us as well.”

Stamford Chamber of Commerce and the Town Team action group, chaired by Tim Lee, are among those working hard to raise Stamford’s profile.

Stamford Chamber President, Richard Olsen is encouraging more retailers and service companies to use the power of the organisation to help improve their business fortunes.

As managing director of the Olsen Partnership – a full service marketing agency, and growth coaching and training services provider – Richard has a good overview of how Stamford is faring economically.

He believes there are great opportunities for businesses to spread the word about the town’s diverse commercial services and ensure that Stamford becomes recognised as a ‘must visit’ retail centre.

“The Stamford Chamber is one of six local Chambers within the Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce, which gives members a wider pool of businesses to engage with,” said Richard.

“Numbers-wise our members make-up the third largest part of the Chamber and we are particularly strong on the retail side.

“Being part of this network means our local members can tap into more than £1,000 worth of extra benefits per year, including a free legal helpline, health and safety and taxation expertise.

“Membership offers Stamford businesses, and those in the immediate vicinity, a great opportunity to tell businesses further afield about what they do and to forge positive relationships.”

Stamford Chamber is keen to act as an authoritative voice for local retailers and other businesses, through a range of campaigns and the use of petitions.

“Having a strong independent retail sector plays a key role in attracting more people to Stamford, but I would like to see more joined-up thinking by everyone involved in this area, to ensure it becomes a destination town for visitors.”

Richard believes the owners of the town’s commercial premises have an important role to play in ensuring Stamford remains vibrant.

“We want to see landlords taking the longer-term view and, wherever possible, supporting our independent shopkeepers by being sensitive about rent reviews when they can,” he added.

Tim Lee chairs the Town Team, an action group formed and made up of representatives of local councils, members of the community and Stamford Chamber.

“The organisation includes a wide mix of traders, who live and work in the town, and who freely volunteer their time to promote the future development of Stamford and increase its vibrancy,” said Tim.

“We have retail champions who represent different shopping areas, such as The Lanes, St Mary’s Street, Red Lion Square, High Street and Broad Street. In effect, they are looking after the individual parishes and they are aware of the various issues which affect different areas.

“For instance, on Fridays, Broad Street is dominated by a huge market, with stalls running down both sides of the street, in front of resident businesses. This also extends down Ironmonger Street,” said Tim.

“The Town Team was formed in 2013, because retailers were concerned that South Kesteven District Council might have cut back expenditure on the development of tourism.”

Three themes are being pursued by the Town Team – visitor attraction, retailer co-operation and web leverage through exploiting digital opportunities.

Tim said: “We are looking at joining up with the South Holland Destination Management Organisation, which is trying to get LEADER project funding – in order to promote visitor interest and attract expenditure to our area.”

Although still a relatively young group the Town Team is keen to make its mark. One of the ways it is doing this is by tackling the issue of ‘A’ boards, which are scattered outside businesses in the High Street and other parts of the town.

“Together with the Town Council we have developed a code which entitles each business to one board, which should be placed within sixty centimetres, or two feet, of their premises,” said Tim.

Apart from shopping and checking out Stamford’s historic landmarks, you can also walk one of the town’s trails, or perhaps take the opportunity to tour the town hall on a Friday morning.

Find out more by visiting the Tourist Information Centre, in the foyer of the Stamford Arts Centre – also a great place for a coffee or lunch stop.

STAMFORD ENDOWED SCHOOLS
Stamford Endowed Schools offer a diamond structured, all-through education from 2 to 18 for boys and girls. This means that boys and girls are educated together at Stamford Junior School (2–11), separately at Stamford High School (11–16) and Stamford School (11–16), and together again in the co-educational Sixth Form (16–18). This allows us to offer a highly personalised and tailored education, which places the pupil at the centre of everything we do.

Small class sizes, excellent academic results, a wide range of subjects to choose from and extensive extracurricular opportunities are all hallmarks of an education at Stamford. We have served the town since 1532 and take boarders from across the region into our family-run boarding houses. The best way to see what our schools can offer you and family is to visit us on our Open Days in October. For more information, please call 01780 750311, email ses@ses.lincs.sch.uk or visit www.ses.lincs.sch.uk.

WATCHMAKER TO NOTE
Stamford offers visitors a unique mix of shopping and great hospitality.

Key ingredients which make this destination stand out are its fantastic stone architecture, its wealth of owner-run and managed businesses and the fact that Stamford is a magnet for the aspiring entrepreneur.

The retail and leisure mix includes luxury watchmaker Robert Loomes & Co, florist Tracy Burr, hotelier Nelio Pinto and publicans Sean Mitchell and Katie Smith.

Robert Loomes & Co launched exciting new limited edition ladies’ and gentlemen’s wristwatches at the CLA Game Fair at Blenheim Palace this summer, returning home with some great orders.

Technical director, Robert Loomes said: “We go to events to meet members of the public and showcase our work and, on this occasion, we came back with immediate orders worth £25,000.”

Now people can pop into the business’ quaint Grade Two-listed premises overlooking the River Welland and see why The White Robin (men’s) and The White Robina (ladies’) designs are causing such excitement.

Just 100 of each of these mechanical watches are being made, in Sheffield stainless-steel cases. Each is hand-built to order and fitted with a white-glass enamel dial, kiln-fired in Stamford. Hundreds of hours of work goes into each hand-wound watch.

Robert is obsessional about British craftsmanship and proud that the family business can trace its roots back to Thomas Loomes, a watchmaker based in Stamford in the 1640s.

The story of Loomes reinvigorating British watchmaking is fascinating. Some components, like ruby jewelled bearings, had not been made in Britain since the 1980s and Robert had to find suppliers who could be persuaded to make the tiny quantities needed to build the watches.

“I am immensely proud of what we have created. This is the first time Britain has seen proper watch manufacturing in over a generation. We have already expanded our production capacity this year,”  claimed Robert.

Managing director, Robina Hill said: “If the twentieth century was about globalisation then the twenty-first is about localisation. People often buy a watch, only to discover later that much of it was actually made in China.

“What we wanted to do was create beautiful, traditional watches for ladies and gentlemen using nothing but British components. We can tell you the origin of every scrap of metal: they are produced by British craftsmen and women capable of the finest watchmaking in the world.”

WINES AND BEERS TO SUIT YOUR TASTE
Adnams’ Stamford store on Bath Row is in a beautiful building by the river. Once inside the store you can discover hundreds of wines from around the world and Adnams famous beers and award winning spirits – including Longshore Vodka which was recently named ‘Best in the World’ at the International Wine and Spirits Competition. If you’d like to try before you buy, the free tasting counter is a open every day and there are also regular tasting events with winemakers – the next one is on 12th September at The Garden House Hotel with Andrew Mitchell, all the way from Australia.

As well as beers, wines and spirits there is a hand picked selection of kitchenware and gifts to help you enjoy cooking and eating at home.

The store offers customer parking, free local deliveries and party planning services are available (including glass hire). To find out more visit http://adnams.co.uk/

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