Grantham gains momentum
Major investments and renewed levels of confidence signal a brighter future for a South Lincolnshire market town.
Grantham has had its fair share of ups and downs in recent times, but there are signs that the general economic recovery is being reflected in new developments at this expanding destination.
Multi-million pound leisure and retail projects are in the pipeline or already underway, bringing the hope of new jobs, and there is a sense that Grantham is actually doing better than many other UK towns.
South Kesteven District Council head of economic development, Corinne Garbett said recent survey findings have been echoed by general sentiment within the business community, indicating a renewed sense of optimism and a fresh determination.
Larger projects include the £6 million regenerative town centre project. This is centred on a six-screen multiplex cinema, which will show all the latest blockbuster releases and also cater for niche local markets.
It is hoped that work will commence shortly and that the project will be completed by summer 2015.
“The cinema will build on the existing Reel cinema site on St Catherine’s Road. It involves an expansion of the building to create four new studios, taking the total seating capacity to 950 people,” said Mrs Garbett.
The site extends as far as the entrance to the Council’s car park, near the Tollemache pub and an existing Senior Citizens’ Club.
“The council is keen to work with the organisation to accommodate the existing rights of access and help the Senior Citizens’ Club to move to new premises, which will be built close to the cinema.
“South Kesteven District Council is building the venue then leasing it back to the end users,” said Mrs Garbett.
This ambitious development also proposes three restaurants at the side of the cinema building and 21,000 sq ft of office space on two floors above them.
Another plus for the town is the imminent return of Marks & Spencer, albeit it to London Road on the outskirts of town. It left its prime High Street site three years ago.
The new foodstore, which will have space for some clothing and a cafe, is expected to create fifty new jobs, although no opening date has been announced.
As we went to press, Kentucky Fried Chicken was making good progress with its new development at the Springfield Road/Harlaxton Road junction, where it is building on the site of the former Isaac Newton pub. It is expected to open this summer and will hopefully create around forty jobs.
Sainsbury’s is also hoping to demolish and rebuild its petrol station in London Road, adding extra capacity to give it six instead of four pumps and Lidl wants to demolish its supermarket in Watergate and replace this with a new store. Both these proposals were with planners as we went to press.
It is great to see these investments being created or proposed for a town which benefits from excellent road links – the A1 is right on Grantham’s doorstep and it also boasts a high-speed rail service to London.
Mrs Garbett said recent surveys and a sense of optimism indicate a general feeling of confidence.
South Kesteven was also named as one of the 50 Best Places to Live in the UK in the 2013 Halifax Quality of Life survey and Grantham is poised to grow by a further thirty per cent by 2026, which would give it a population of about 60,000 people.
“Our shop premises vacancy rate stands at fourteen per cent, which is on a par with the national average,” said Mrs Garbett.
“We also carried out a survey of our commercial property agents just before Christmas and talked to them about the creative use of the town’s empty premises. We discussed ideas, such as pop-up shops and the use of ‘skin wraps’ to improve the look of empty premises.
“Many agents were in a positive mood about the future for empty shops and many had received potential interest from clients over a three-month period. Only four properties had been given ‘shop wraps’, but many were not done simply because their landlords were confident of letting them.”
South Kesteven District Council has an Economic Forum, which meets regularly. Members include representatives from JobCentre Plus and business groups. A Federation of Small Businesses survey undertaken at Christmas had also recorded an increase in business confidence.
“The Economic Forum supports networking groups and has also done a film to promote Grantham, with the aim of attracting further inward investment,” said Mrs Garbett.
“Our Business support Scheme also offers confidential one-to-one help, via independent business advisers. So far, more than ninety businesses, including retailers, have taken advantage of that.”
The authority also offers top-up loans to businesses which have already been successful in securing bank finance.
South Kesteven District Council remains positive about the future for two major housing and employment areas on the outskirts of the town. These urban extensions are known as the South and North West Quadrants. Together they hold the promise of 7,000 new homes, community facilities and the potential for 2,500 new jobs.
“The urban extensions will sustain the town centre. We have also brought forward serviced land to attract potential investors, encourage existing businesses to grow and expand into larger space (such as at Vantage Park), and we are able to offer developers design and build packages or to sell the land freehold,” said Mrs Garbett.
“We also have an ‘available property’ register to help potential developers. The council takes a pro-active approach and when we meet developers or potential investors we pull together a team, including planners, economic development and environmental health staff, so that we can answer a wide range of questions at the same time.”
Two major construction projects in Grantham could also be boosted if a bid for central government funds is successful.
A bid for £50 million has been made by the Greater Lincolnshire Local Enterprise Partnership, which has identified Grantham College and the town’s southern bypass (which was given planning permission last year) as projects worthy of financial support.
Ruth Carver, manager of the Greater Lincolnshire LEP, said: “Grantham is an important town, both economically and geographically, so it’s vital that improvements are made to the road infrastructure.
“The southern relief road will not only ensure that businesses can thrive and access new opportunities, but it will enable much-needed housing developments to go ahead.”
The LEP bid for funds sets out how it will help add £3.2 billion to the Greater Lincolnshire economy over the next seven years, including creating 13,000 jobs, supporting the building of 100,000 new homes and helping 22,000 businesses to grow.
South Kesteven District Council is still planning to develop a key site on the Earlsfield Estate in Grantham for the benefit of the local community.
Earlier this year community leaders, groups and organisations got around the table to create a ‘vision statement’ for the former Jacko’s public house in Trent Road, which was bought by the Council last year.
SKDC’s property development manager, Neil Cucksey said: “As a council we invested in this land which will now be developed to enhance the local community. We organised a workshop through OPUN – which specialises in design support services – which not only included local people, but also representatives from three churches, the food bank, YMCA, police, district and county councils, to mention a few, to get everyone’s views.”
Following that event the authority said it intended to go through everyone’s feedback and come up with a site brief to progress the project. This would also involve looking at funding sources.
GRAVITY FIELDS FESTIVAL
If you love science and the arts, make time to enjoy the second Gravity Fields Festival, which takes place in Grantham, from 24th–28th September.
It’s two years since the first festival took place, but if that event was anything to go by, the 2014 celebration will also be a resounding success.
The festival – which is backed by £89,200 in grants from The Arts Council – aims to creatively explore physical science and celebrate one of the world’s greatest thinkers, Sir Isaac Newton.
Events will take place in and around Grantham, close to Newton’s birthplace at Woolsthorpe Manor and The Kings School, where he was educated.
This event is being supported by three fantastic patrons – top UK scientist Professor Valerie Gibson, who is Grantham born and bred and who works with CERN in Geneva; TV presenter Dallas Campbell and world authority on Sir Isaac Newton, Rob Iliffe.
Attractions will include talks, new arts commissions, an exhibition of research findings of the scientific heritage of the seventeenth century and outdoor performances.
For more information and tickets visit the Gravity Fields website www.gravityfields.co.uk
GRANTHAM BUSINESS CLUB
Grantham Business Club has a real buzz about it, since its chairman Stuart Pigram announced a key decision – membership would be free and open to all.
Following the radical move earlier this year, GBC has renewed energy. More people attended its last bi-monthly meeting and they are also staying in touch thanks to its regular newletters, website and the use of social media.
Stuart, who took over as chairman in January 2013 – and who is group sales director of the Trust Insurance Group, which has been in the town for ten years – said a review of what the club offered and the varying support it had been getting had encouraged a rethink.
He said: “I concluded that the main barrier to getting people to join was the financial cost of monthly meetings and the £55 a year membership fee. With numbers dropping, we hit the bottom in November and December when, out of a membership base of about eighty-five people, just thirteen turned up for a meeting.
“We decided to move the financial barrier to all businesses and fifty-six people turned up to our April event. Following discussions with South Kesteven District Council (SKDC), it was agreed that it will sponsor each of our meeting topics and that this money can be used for venue hire, speaker and promotional costs.
“The Council will also assist the club in agreeing topics and speakers for events, as well as promoting meetings and membership via email to its database of local businesses.”
GBC offers members everything from networking to advice, business help and lobbying. The Club also works closely with Darren Joint of Total Networking and David Charles of the Grantham Retailers’ Association.
“Each group continues to have its own place or subject, but I have agreed that we are going to create a Grantham at a Glance Facebook page, which will be supported three ways, as a closed group,” added Stuart.
GBC’s next meeting is on 6th June at The Ramada Hotel in Swingbridge Road, Grantham at 6pm. The topic will be Focus on Social Media and the evening will include a special workshop. The food is being provided by The Thorold Arms.
GBC, which successfully got involved in the 2014 Grantham Business Awards, has lots of goals this year. It wants to improve its web presence and social media activity, improve internal and external communications, attendance at club meetings and to also secure future funding from SKDC.
GRANTHAM RETAILERS’ ASSOCIATION
David Charles, the founder of Grantham Retailers’ Association (GRA), is a man on a mission.
The owner of Grantham Computer Centre is encouraging traders to work together and spread the ‘shop local’ message, in a drive to create a more prosperous retailing environment in the town and more jobs for the future.
David said a survey he carried out confirmed that people value independent businesses, but it also highlighted that many could do more to promote themselves.
GRA firmly believes there are lots of good reasons why shoppers should be urged to spend their money with their favourite local businesses and put the personal services offered by homegrown and family-run enterprises to the test.
To encourage shoppers, GRA has come up with a special discounts and deals cards. These cost £1 and people can find out what participating Association
members are offering by visiting www.grantham.uk.net
“If every adult in the town spent £5 a week in their local shops, instead of online or in supermarkets, it would be worth an extra £7.6 million to Grantham’s local economy,” said David.
That’s certainly food for thought, but David has noticed that shopping trends seem to be changing, so he says businesses need to work together and be creative.
“From my point of view things have improved vastly over the last year, in terms of the number of customers coming through the door and increases in the average amount of money which they are spending. We have also built up a good reputation with our customers over twenty-five years,” he said.
“But there are retail businesses which are still finding it difficult because of the economic climate. We are also finding, for instance, that Saturday is becoming a quieter day and that people are shopping out of town, so we are working hard to encourage them to come into town as well.
“With the multiplex cinema scheme coming on stream and more retailers moving in, I think there will be a move towards increased footfall within the town centre.”
GRA meets on the first Tuesday of the month. The Association is also entering a float in the Grantham Carnival on 14th June.
DUNCAN AND TOPLIS PRESENTED WITH AWARD
Duncan & Toplis has been named Medium Accountancy Firm of the Year at the inaugural East Midlands Chartered Accountant of the Year Awards in Nottingham.
The awards were presented at the annual dinner of the Nottingham, Derby and Lincoln Society of Chartered Accountants held at Trent Bridge in Nottingham on Thursday 13th March.
They celebrate the best achievements of local ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales) members and the firm won the award for the best practice with between six and twenty-five partners.
Adrian Reynolds, Managing Partner, said: “We are honoured to be recognised by the institute as winners of this award. It acknowledges the continued success of the firm and the contribution we have made to the successes of our clients across the East Midlands. We very much work as a team and this award is a testament to the effort and skills of every member of the Duncan & Toplis team.
“We believe that chartered accountants have a vital role to play in not only helping their clients to grow and prosper but also in providing highly skilled jobs across the region. We are proud to have been recognised by the institute for our contribution in these areas. Duncan & Toplis is committed to playing its part in the continued success of the East Midlands region.”
Nick Edwards, President of the Nottingham, Derby and Lincoln Society of Chartered Accountants, added: “In judging these awards I have been struck by both the personal achievements of the young accountants coming into the profession and the contribution students and member firms have made to the local community and economy.”
For further information please visit the website www.duntop.co.uk