Looking to brighten the season
In Market Rasen Melanie Burton finds that much work has been going on behind the scenes, to lift community spirit and give the town’s independent shops a boost ahead of the Christmas season.
The normally bustling town of Market Rasen has, like many small rural communities, been gradually getting back on track following lockdown. A popular destination with walkers and home to the county’s only racecourse, it is usually awash with visitors. But recent restrictions on large social gatherings, travel and mixing with other households has meant 2020 has been a year like no other.
During the pandemic much work has continued, to shape the future of the town, spearheaded by the Market Rasen Town Partnership, an umbrella organisation encompassing Market Rasen Town Council, local businesses, local churches, Market Rasen Action Group (MRAG), charity organisations like Rotary, Lions and Round Table, local schools and keen residents.
It was born out of MR BIG, a group of business people set up to manage the Mary Portas Project and other town activities. Its main purpose is to help develop the town’s market, local businesses and cultural and recreational opportunities, enhancing life for local residents and visitors alike. It acts through lobbying, finance raising and project delivery.
However as Covid-19 became a reality earlier in the year, its purpose became more immediate. Stephen Bunney, who is a Market Rasen town councillor, West Lindsey District councillor, chair of the Town Partnership and in his own words “mostly a grateful resident” explained: “At the first meeting the group realised that this was going to be an exercise that lasted at least to December 2021 and identified three phases of operation.
“The immediate response to the virus and lockdown – in particular working to support ‘vulnerable’ individuals and families; the phase from the end of the summer to winter 2020/2021 as the community adapted to the new post-Covid way of life; and the phase stretching to the end of 2021, and beyond, as the new economy and reality is embedded into daily life.”
During Phase 1 the partnership helped co-ordinate the various food banks in the town, ensuring that essential food parcels were getting to those in need.
“It soon became clear that as the schools closed down a number of young people and their families were losing out on an essential support mechanism,” said Mr Bunney.
“Consequently, the partnership concentrated on ensuring that food parcels reached families in Market Rasen, Binbrook and the surrounding villages.”
Support was also provided to Market Rasen Action Group’s shopping and prescription collection service for those who were self-isolating by providing volunteers/printing resources etc.
MRAG also produced a very useful letter of contact numbers for essential services and local independent businesses that would deliver things like groceries.
“To help support those on their own and those who were lonely, a ‘safe’ telephone befriending service was set up marrying volunteers up with the vulnerable,” said Mr Bunney.
“It soon became clear that everyone involved gained something positive from the service. All this work was done in conjunction with Lincolnshire’s Local Resilience Forum.
“To help spread some happiness and a sense of community belonging a number of mass one-off meals on wheels/picnics were delivered to 200-plus vulnerable residents in the area. These were prepared centrally using ingredients sourced [locally] – many generously donated – and proved to be very popular.
“From this it soon became evident that a number of people would benefit from a more regular hot meal service, so a scheme was devised to deliver around 30 meals a time, originally twice a week but now that more people can get out, on a weekly basis.”
The partnership also set up an ‘e’ information system for local businesses to ensure that they were aware of the various support grants and loans that they could apply for. Where necessary, advice and support was also given on how to complete the required paperwork.
“As with the meals, this service remains but is now activated less frequently with the emphasis shifting to longer-term projects designed to sustain the development of the High Street,” said Mr Bunney.
“We have now entered Phase 2 and whilst some of the above projects remain, emphasis has shifted to the future. However, the various projects are operating at a level that can soon be accelerated to a higher level of activity if local and national conditions require help to be given.
“The group is particularly keeping a watch on the employment situation as furlough comes to an end.”
The main project being worked on by the partnership at the moment is the Christmas season – the intention being to ‘Brighten Up Christmas in Market Rasen’ to compensate for the unavoidable cancellation of traditional events.
Mr Bunney explained: “It is intended to install extra Christmas trees, brighter white lights and festoons of coloured lights to help bring ‘brightness’ to the town including side streets, Rhodes crossroads and De Aston Fields.”
The group is also aware of the retail outlets on Gallamore Lane that helped supply essentials to residents during lockdown and is keen to draw them into the town’s Christmas celebrations.
On 5th December a reduced Christmas Market is planned to take place in the Market Square and will be a mixture of charity and commercial stalls as usual but set out according to social distancing regulations.
“To get visitors to the market around the independent shops, a Christmas Window Competition and trail/treasure hunt is being organised,” said Mr Bunney.
“There will be trophies and prizes [vouchers to spend in local independent shops] to encourage participation and this year the competitive element will be extended to outlying areas [Gallamore Lane] and local residential properties with the aim of bringing the community together.”
The group is also looking at producing a local directory of businesses highlighting Christmas openings, bargains, discounts etc for distribution around the town.
During Christmas week the Town Partnership will be co-ordinating the preparation and distribution of a Christmas Goodies box for around 200 residents, at least 30 food parcels of store cupboard essentials and a wrapped toy for the younger age group.
“Hopefully, this will build on the sense of community cohesion and welfare experienced during similar projects earlier in the year,” said Mr Bunney.
“Work on Phase 3 has started but is very much in its embryonic form. Basically, it focuses on improving the town and surrounding area’s appearance, environment and economy.”
In conjunction with West Lindsey District Council the emphasis will be on the visitor and leisure economy – to build on the opportunities for staycation breaks brought about by Covid.
Projects include tidying up the buildings around the Market Place, developing the Town Trails, cleaning the River Rase, seating at De Aston Fields, clearing footpaths and verges, allotments/community gardens, litter clearing, and Market Rasen in Bloom.
“We are also looking at developing the Tourist Information provision in the town,” said Mr Bunney.
“Alongside this we will encourage local groups to restart their markets, concerts and festivals, supporting them and local independent shops through a concerted multimedia advertising programme around the area.
“This work pattern is ambitious and challenging but we believe that the community cohesion and spirit that came to the fore during Covid deserve the efforts required.
“Without it there is a danger that the recent ‘brightness’ experienced by Market Rasen will slip.”
Mr Bunney, who was assistant head of De Aston School in Market Rasen up until May last year when he was elected to serve as a councillor on West Lindsey District Council, said thanks must be paid to all the key workers, local independent businesses and volunteers who kept the local community going throughout Covid and beyond.
“I continue to be amazed by the community spirit in Market Rasen,” he said. “Everyone has and continues to work hard to make sure that all residents are looked after and are as happy as they can be.
“Lockdown demonstrated to us all the benefits to our quality of life that are associated with a slowed down economy – it is our duty to this and future generations to do all we can to ensure that the improvements continue into the future.”
FARM’S NEW SELF-SERVICE VENTURE
Lincolnshire cheesemakers Cote Hill Farm say their newest venture is proving a hit with families who love to fill their shopping baskets with tasty local produce.
Members of the Davenport family – makers of the award-winning Cote Hill Cheese – are delighted with the early reaction from visitors who have popped into their innovative, self-service farm shop, The Cheese Shed.
Since the Osgodby farm launched it in early October, The Cheese Shed has attracted a steady stream of long-standing fans of Cote Hill’s cheeses and newcomers are joining them, with the “shed” offering something for everyone.
Michael Davenport said: “We have kitted out The Cheese Shed with a range of self-service cabinets and a coffee machine, enabling people to easily choose what they want and use contactless payment. Although it is early days, our shed is doing very well and we are getting a lot of positive comments from our customers.”
One cabinet is for products that need to be kept chilled and a second for ambient foods. Together, they offer shoppers a choice of individually wrapped portions of Cote Hill’s Lindum, Red, Yellow, Blue and Soft White cheeses, along with other producers’ butter, eggs, cheese, plum bread, jam, marmalade, tea and coffee.
“Next to these is our milk dispensing machine where people can fill provided glass bottles with our own raw milk. For some people it is the first time they have tried unhomogenised milk, but many are coming back for more,” said Michael.
Visitors can also use the coffee machine, the milkshake optics and the farm’s fresh milk to make hot or cool drinks.
“We are crucially aware of the need to comply with social distancing and we have created two short walkways to the shed. This means that cyclists can leave their cycles on one side of the shed and drivers can park up on the other side of the building.”
The Davenports are delighted that The Cheese Shed is proving popular and, as a bonus, visitors who get their timing right will enjoy seeing the real “stars behind the venture”, the farm’s dairy herd.
MARCH HARE KITCHEN & DELI MENU BRINGS METROPOLITAN TASTES TO MARKET TOWN
The popular March Hare Kitchen & Deli in the centre of Market Rasen is a unique eatery which offers the perfect place to take time out while sampling the delights of its creative, modern menu.
Owned and run by chef/patron Trevor Guerin, who has a passion for reinventing classic café favourites, the March Hare is a food-lovers hub which combines the best of coffee shop, bistro and delicatessen food within a welcoming, contemporary setting.
Recently awarded a Trip Advisor Travellers’ Choice Award for 2020, ranking them in the top 10% of restaurants worldwide, the March Hare’s inspired menu includes expertly cooked hearty traditional breakfast favourites, as well as Antipodean-inspired avocado on sourdough, breakfast burritos, and lighter, nutritional choices such as the coconut milk chai breakfast bowl.
Among its delicious deli-style sandwiches menu is turkey, cranberry, brie and pear; triple stack chicken, bacon and avocado, as well as tuna mayonnaise with fennel and orange. Also popular are baked and sweet potatoes with a choice of guacamole, sour cream and tomato salsa, and Middle Eastern curried minced beef with sour cream and pomegranate seeds.
“We offer dishes which are unique to our neighbourhood while trying to create a more ‘Instagramable’ atmosphere,” explains Trevor, who is also offering customers looking to “work from home” the opportunity to rent a table for £10 an hour, including free drinks. “You could say we’re helping bring metropolitan tastes into a small market town.”