Home town on the right track

Dining Out

Words by:
Melanie Burton
Featured in:
December 2014

2014 has proved to be an interesting and eventful year for the businesses and community of bustling market town Newark.
From well-known television stars shooting scenes in various historic spots to discussions nationwide about its major developments, if the town isn’t already on the visitor map, it soon will be.

Newark found itself in the media spotlight last April, following the controversial resignation of its MP Patrick Mercer. This gave rise to a by-election in June which got the whole nation talking.

Suddenly Newark became more than just a destination on the main south to north A1 road network and a place where the London train stops on the East Coast mainline.

Newark Business Club (NBC) had to work hard with the media to ensure Newark was featured as a great place for businesses to relocate to, with superb transport links, affordable property and robust ambitions for growth.

Prime Minister David Cameron and a number of high profile MPs visited, and the colourful figure of Boris Johnson was even spotted in the market place handing out leaflets.

NBC was instrumental in organising hustings events, where the five candidates were invited to attend and answer questions from the public.

NBC chair, Michelle Allen said: “The event was well covered by the media and included live broadcasts. The election result saw Robert Jenrick elected as the new MP and the following day he made his first public appearance at the June business club meeting.

“We will continue to work closely with the elected MP on key local issues, and we have recently celebrated success with the improved rail links between Lincoln, Newark and Nottingham.”

NBC has been campaigning for improved links on the line for some time but the campaign was relaunched in late 2013. Throughout 2014 the business club liaised with business representatives across Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire as well as county councils, MPs, local authorities, user groups, East Midlands Trains and Network Rail.

“In September, we were delighted to receive the news from the Transport Secretary, Patrick Mcloughlin that from May 2015, funding for a three-year service enhancement programme had been agreed,” said Michelle, who is office director at chartered accountant Wright Vigar and based at Beaumont Chambers in London Road, Newark. “The programme includes an increased number of trains between the stations and a reduction in journey times.”

Newark Business Club was formed in 2001, when a group of local people got together informally, with the idea of becoming the voice of business in Newark. It has been growing ever since.

For many years the club has had a very active Action Group – which looks at planning, education, town centre management, the A46 dualling, car parking issues and token schemes. Its retail group helps local shopkeepers with a range of supportive initiatives.

“Newark has exciting prospects in 2015. The National Civil War museum is due to open, which is key to ensuring Newark becomes a major visitor destination,” said Michelle.

“The town and stakeholders are working closely together to ensure we maximise the potential of this exciting addition to the tourist offering. Significant work is already underway to improve signage in and around the town.”

Shrouded in shiny plastic it looks more like a sleek skyscraper than one of Newark’s most venerable structures! Inside, timeless heritage skills are being employed to give the town’s Old Magnus Building a new lease of life, as home to the UK’s first National Civil War Centre.

The flagship £5.4m project by Newark and Sherwood District Council is on course to open in spring 2015, supported by £3.5m in funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund. 

Not surprisingly it is the building’s oldest part – the Tudor section built in 1529 as a free grammar school – that has thrown up the biggest challenges.

National Civil War Centre business manager, Michael Constantine said: “We stripped back the roof and had a good look. It emerged that some of the original oak beams were rotten. They have been removed and new ones weighing one tonne each installed. That was a major exercise requiring the use of a massive 100-tonne crane and plenty of elbow grease.

“Our aim is to keep everything we can and replace only where strictly necessary. Sensitive restoration is the aim and the result is going to be spectacular.”

Mervyn Bollard, site manager for Woodhead Heritage, the main contractor for the scheme, added that the beams were 500 years old.

“They have more than served their time. On the whole the Tudor building is beautifully constructed with deep foundations and thick walls,” he said.

Less complex have been the Victorian building – which will house the Civil War gallery and precious historic artefacts – and the Georgian townhouse, where new floors have been laid and plastering completed.

Both will be finished by the end of the year, ready for the exciting museum interpretation to be installed. That represents a new phase of the project, with top interpretation consultants working shoulder to shoulder with historical experts to create an unforgettable museum experience.

Tourism in Newark and Sherwood is expected to increase dramatically when the National Civil War Centre opens, with more than 50,000 visitors expected to come to the area each year.

Newark & Sherwood District Council is also pioneering a brilliant new hi-tech town trail app running in parallel with the National Civil War Centre.

Dramatic costumed scenes from Newark’s past were filmed in the town during the summer, to be used in Augmented Reality (AR) sequences for users of smartphones and tablets.

The innovation – the most ambitious project of its kind in the UK – will be launched at the same time as the centre and will take visitors on a tour of Newark’s key Civil War sites.

History will be brought to life in a way never seen before in Newark. The special trail to complement the opening of the National Civil War Centre will help visitors and tourists witness the stories behind the bloodiest conflict in our history: the British Civil Wars.

Using AR, an emerging technology which blurs the boundaries between the real and virtual worlds, viewers will discover and interpret information in a new, visual way.

There are eight sites on the Newark Civil War Trail where – after you have downloaded the app – AR is triggered by the camera in a smartphone or tablet. The device will show the real world enhanced with images, audio and video content.

Once the AR trail is working, viewers will be able to witness vivid Civil War encounters played out from key locations including Newark Castle, The Governor’s House and St Mary Magdalene Church, as well as the medieval coffee house.

Nottingham based Spool Films, using state-of-the-art cameras similar to those used for the Lord of the Rings movies, had a cast of more than 100 over a twenty-day shoot to provide a number of short films for the trail and the centre’s own cinema.

The films star Waterloo Road actress Elizabeth Berrington and budding thespians, and feature the ordinary people of Newark who endured plague and deadly shell fire, as well as well known historical characters like King Charles, Prince Rupert and Henrietta.

Up-and-coming local actress Emily Hutchings (23) was involved in the films. She said it was brilliant because, although Newark is a small town, not many people were aware of the important part it played in British history.

“The idea is fantastic. The fact that you can actually go to the places where all these events happened in history and actually see it on your smartphone is brilliant. It is good way of making young people aware of the history in the town and getting them interested so they appreciate their local history,” she said.

“It will encourage tourists to see where the film was made and to find out about the history for themselves. It will bring a lot of visitors to this particular area, which is great for local businesses and traders who were fantastic when we were filming. They were very understanding, friendly and really respectful.”

Emily was involved in the scenes featuring Elizabeth Berrington in the role of Henrietta.

“It was a short scene but it was exciting being involved and it is a good chance for Newark to be in the spotlight,” said Emily who has just started doing film and television work.

“It was quite emotional and I feel privileged to have been part of something that is going to be around for a long time to come and will help put Newark in the spotlight.”

The trail covers Newark Castle, Millgate, the Queen’s Sconce, St Mary Magdalene Church, the NCWC in Appletongate, Kirkgate and the Market Place.

Wireless technology which is being piloted in Newark by communications firm O2 Telefónica is key to the project.

There are major plans for a state-of-the-art visitor hub to link the new National Civil War Centre with Newark’s Palace Theatre and the town’s Tourist Information Centre.

The proposal is to create a focal point for tourism and culture in the town’s Appletongate, boosting attendances at both, helping increase footfall for shops and businesses and signposting visitors to the array of quality attractions and points of interest in the town and wider district.

Newark & Sherwood District Council said, by having the town’s Tourist Information Centre on the same site, which itself currently draws 20,000 visitors per year, the proposed new hub would further increase numbers.

Leisure and Environment Committee chairman, Councillor Tony Roberts said: “The opening of the new National Civil War Centre next year will not only provide a thrilling new attraction telling the story of the British Civil Wars, it will be the catalyst for increased tourism for Newark and the wider district.

“The Palace Theatre has, for decades, been a treasured and much-loved asset for the community. We want to create the Palace Theatre and Centre site as the arrival destination for tourists and visitors to the town.

“By bringing the two venues together operationally – with the Tourist Information Centre – we can better showcase what the town and district have to offer and bring in more visitors and increased revenue supporting our prosperity agenda.

“By sharing resources we can help maximise income, reduce costs and help preserve the magnificent Grade II* Old Magnus Buildings – which will house the National Civil War Centre – and the Grade II Palace Theatre.”

It is hoped the planned hub will energise the area and generate new income streams, as well as bring greater efficiencies and savings to the operations. Key elements under discussion are a combined reception area, continental-style courtyard and an all-day cafe bar – possibly run by a local or regional operator, with new jobs for local people, and offering the best in local produce.

Building work is anticipated to start in July next year with all major work completed by October 2015.

“For the year 2016/17, the National Civil War Centre is expected to welcome 52,137 visitors annually and the theatre 48,327 but these figures are expected to rise through cross-selling and with the addition of the Tourist Information Centre into the hub and passing trade, bringing in an extra 43,000-plus visitors and up to £120,000 extra in spin-offs for the local economy,” said Councillor Roberts.

“Savings of £100,000 would also be made through integrating operations.”

Newark Business Club (NBC) works tirelessly behind the scenes to help increase footfall in the town and boost the local economy. One project it has helped to launch along with local businesses is the Totally Locally scheme.

The idea was brought to light by independent cafe owner Rebecca White, who knew it was a fantastic initiative but wanted support to get it off the ground. NBC and Rebecca took the idea to the club’s retail group and it has flourished from there.
NBC chair, Michelle Allen said: “With an ever-increasing number of local independent businesses signing up to the initiative it emphasises why Newark should be a key shopping and visitor destination.

“A recent audit of the town highlighted that Newark is a ‘Home Town’ which is largely due to the fantastic array of independent businesses that have set up and thrived here.”

Well-known independents include the fashion stores Jane Young in Chain Lane, and Shirt Sleeves in Middle Gate, jeweller Andrew Michael’s in Stodman Street and Stray’s, at the corner of Middle Gate and Boar Lane, where you will find coffee, jazz and books.

The Totally Locally team and the retail group have teamed up with the local councils to promote Newark’s excellent shopping, dining and entertainment venues for the Christmas period.

On Sunday 14th December the festive spirit will come to town thanks to the Christmas team’s efforts to pull together an event which includes a Christmas Market of local traders, crafters and businesses, all showcasing the best local produce and products.

There will be stalls selling festive food and drink along with an array of gifts and crafts. Local businesses will be encouraged to take stalls along with food producers and handmade crafters from around the region.

In addition to the market, Newark’s Town Band has been booked along with several schools to lead the community carol concert. The Beaumond House Santa Dash around the Market Place will take centre stage at midday.

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