Making a market
Sleaford is holding its own despite the economic challenges and new initiatives bode well for the future.
Market towns must keep moving with the times if they are to hold onto their existing businesses and attract newcomers who have the power to generate new jobs and extra wealth.
And this is an attitude which Sleaford has taken to heart, according to its Business Improvement District (BID) manager Emma Batty.
While much hard work is going on behind the scenes to bring major developments to fruition, smaller enterprises and long-standing family businesses are among those who are ensuring Sleaford is ‘holding its own’ despite continuing economic challenges.
In common with destinations countywide, the town has not totally escaped the winds of change which have seen big name retailers rethinking their strategies and closing stores in market towns around the country.
But there has been some ‘balancing of the books’ in Sleaford and this, together with plans for further development and the prospect of more jobs, gives the town and its residents much hope for the future.
Sleaford BID serves about 600 levy payers across the town centre and its industrial estates and the democratically-elected organisation provides a range of support aimed at boosting traders’ prosperity.
Manager Emma Batty said: “Our projects are designed to encourage both local people and visitors to spend their money in the town and improve the area commercially.
“We also want to see more inter-trading between businesses in the BID area, in order to keep that money within the local economy, protecting jobs. Sleaford is fairly vibrant at the moment, but this type of approach really helps.”
Mrs Batty said members of the BID Board are always exploring new ways of helping local businesses, whether that involves improving security, encouraging greener transport options or supporting events in the town.
“We have just installed cycle storage at key points around the town, in a project which has been jointly funded by Lincolnshire County Council, North Kesteven District Council and the BID.
“These storage points link in with our cycle lanes and they are part of the local strategic partnership’s determination to get people to look at alternative, sustainable transport options, which will also ease congestion.”
This year, Sleaford has celebrated new arrivals on the business front, expansion moves and the ongoing success of family firms – all aspects which have helped to counter the departure of names such as Currys.
Early in the year, restaurateur Vito Cataffo invested in a major transformation of the Sessions House in the Market Place, where he launched the Italian eaterie, Mia. That move boosted the choice on offer to people wanting to dine out and also created twelve new jobs.
Money’s Mill – a landmark building in Money’s Yard – continues to attract locals and tourists following its revamp by husband-and-wife team Isola and John Partridge, who converted it into The Curio Café, after snapping-up the premises three years ago.
In March, Isola and John picked up the New Business Awards at the Sleaford Town Awards Ceremony.
Dean and Wendy Peacock are the brains behind the greetings card and party products shop Sentiments – which switched from the town’s Bristol Arcade to the Riverside Centre earlier this year.
“We came into the Riverside Centre in February and it is proving to be a good move, despite lots of people still not realising that we are here. We feel that the town is holding its own and our trade is also picking up, but we would like to see an extension of the free parking that is currently on offer,” said Mrs Peacock.
“The move has allowed us to expand our range of giftware, party products and balloons.
“Our previous shop wasn’t really big enough. It was difficult to offer so much in such a small area and we were continually getting asked for party items which we were unable to stock.”
Their ability to increase the variety of goods they sell has also allowed Sentiments to become a ‘signature store’ for a leading make of perfumed candles.
“We realised the potential for us in Sleaford and we wanted to stay in the town. Before moving to the Riverside Centre, we also considered the main street (Southgate), but there were no available properties and also cost restrictions,” added Mrs Peacock.
Next year, one of the town’s best-known family businesses, Bennet Panton Furnishing Ltd, will be celebrating its fortieth anniversary.
The Northgate retailer was originally started by Geoff and his brother Malcolm, and based in the shop next door to its current premises – which is now rented out to a hairdressing business.
“Over the years, we have grown to have fourteen staff. The team includes our own sewing ladies and carpet fitters, which is a bit unusual now,” said Mr Panton.
“Having our own people gives us a level of control. They work to our standards and we try to offer top customer service, high quality goods and personal attention. Recession-wise, now is as bad as it has ever been, but we have maintained our employment levels.
“We largely rely on repeat business, with new work coming through word-of-mouth recommendations. We try to keep up with the times and we have had our own website for about five years now.”
The shop has its own designer, Mary Hodgson, who visits customers, advising on a range of soft furnishing options. She also keeps the business up-to-date about trends in the fields of soft furnishing and carpets. In addition to its private customers, Bennet Panton also provides a service to hotels, companies and the National Trust.
Ray Black is managing director of Money Minder Ltd, which has been based in Sleaford for eleven years and which employs ten staff.
“One of the things that always amazes me about Sleaford is how many successful businesses there are in and around the town, which people don’t know about. They don’t necessarily have large shopfronts but they attract national audiences,” said Mr Black.
“I also think that Sleaford has some really good events, including farmers markets, and I would like to see this trend grow.”
Against the town’s bustling retail backdrop there are moves to give Sleaford a new Tesco store, complete with a new link road, and to breathe fresh life into the town’s former Bass Maltings. People are also being consulted on how they would like Sleaford to look in the future.
LINK TO DEVELOPMENT
Earlier Lincolnshire Life has reported how North Kesteven District Council has given the go-ahead for new link road to cut across a recreation area (Boston Road Park) in the town.
This will help to pave the way for the redevelopment of the Grade Two-listed Sleaford Bass Maltings and a new Tesco store on the former Advanta Seed’s site. Although Tesco has already extended its existing store in Northgate, the plan is for this to be eventually redeveloped to provide substantial retail units.
An NKDC spokesman said discussions relating to Tesco’s plans and those for the new road are still ongoing, with the key players being the supermarket giant, Albourne, Gladedale and the Town Council, when it comes to land-ownership issues.
“Discussions remain ongoing to reach an agreement that will see the new road link being funded,” he said.
The transformation of the 550,000 sq ft Maltings site could open the door to 200 flats, a health village, offices and workshops, with niche retailers and car parking.
Work is still underway to get sufficient information to take this application to North Kesteven’s planning committee. After much work with English Heritage to reach agreement on the windows, there is still a highways issue that needs to be resolved.
Another potential jobs-spinner for the town is the proposed Eco2 straw-burning power station. The company has said this would create work for eighty people and major supply opportunities for local farmers.
“The Government has just finished a consultation on grandfathering arrangements which was looking at what tax credits will be available for renewable energy sources. Following this Eco2 is looking to confirm finance for the project and is hoping to start development later this year,” said the NKDC spokesman.
STUDY WILL REPORT BY CHRISTMAS
Consultant Gillespies is working on a Masterplan for the long-term future of Sleaford, which will involve ongoing talks with business and other groups.
The work, which is expected to be finished by Christmas, follows the findings of a study by Genecon – commissioned by North Kesteven District and Lincolnshire County Councils.
Genecon highlighted a number of challenges facing the town, which will need to be tackled as part of the Masterplan.
Consultants said the town will potentially need to cater for a ‘substantial’ rise in numbers of people.
The firm pointed out that a bigger town will not be sustainable unless its centre is improved shopping-wise and commercially.
Parking, traffic flows and access for pedestrians are other significant issues which require attention, including action to free the centre of Sleaford from high levels of circulating and through traffic.
TOWN IS NATIONAL HEADQUARTERS
Damage to your car is always upsetting; even minor damage to paintwork can cause stress and disruption. However nestled in Sleaford is the busy headquarters of AW Repair Group – a nationally coveted crash repair group with its very roots here in Lincolnshire.
Whether you’ve suffered a major road impact or an unknown shopping trolley dent AW Accident Repair Centres will ensure your vehicle repair experience is as smooth as possible.
And the group – with bodyshops covering Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and South Yorkshire – holds vast approvals for UK insurance companies and vehicle manufacturers.
Managing Director Andrew Walsh, explains: “As both a manufacturer and insurance approved group we have a unique approach to regulate the insurer’s costs whilst using the most appropriate processes and manufacturer’s exacting standards for each vehicle.
“Customers choose a vehicle because of quality refinements and its performance. Make sure that it is not compromised by a poor quality repair which could affect the residual value, safety and performance.”
AW Repair Group’s commitment to the integrity of vehicle crash repair is supported by all sites gaining the British Standard Institute PAS125 Kitemark licence which became available to the crash repair industry only three years ago.
AW Repair Group repairs more than 6,500 vehicles each year across its branches in Sleaford, Newark and near Doncaster and has a fleet of eighty-five courtesy vehicles. For further information see www.awrepairgroup.co.uk.
FLAGSHIP FOR FAIR TRADE
When it comes to Fairtrade, Sleaford is something of a trailblazer!
Sleaford Fairtrade Group secretary Bob Stoner said: “We are possibly the first Fairtrade Town to emanate from a school. St George’s was the first school in Lincolnshire to become a Fairtrade School and then retain the certification.
“Now the group motivates and encourages other schools and churches to become Fairtrade qualified. This year our target moves to local businesses. The benefits are hugely significant.
“We pay a fair price for the goods. In that price the producers get a supplement – a Fairtrade premium – which enables them to provide for their community. The Fairtrade price for those goods will always include this supplement. If the price of the commodity falls they will never get less than the agreed Fairtrade price.
“However, if the commodity price were to increase, as it has with coffee and cocoa recently, then the Fairtrade price increases proportionally with the addition of the premium.”
People are encouraged to look out for the Fairtrade mark when they go shopping.
“In our own survey last year, we found that sixty-two per cent of respondents said that they didn’t think that Fairtrade was expensive – that’s quite different to the generally held impression.
“Where the most confusion lies perhaps is the question of how we know that the money that we pay for these types of goods gets to the producer. The Fairtrade Labelling Organisation, or the international certification body for Fairtrade ensures that the money is paid if the goods reach the Fairtrade standards and then the producer gets the agreed price, which includes the Fairtrade premium.”
Mr Stoner said the Sleaford Fairtrade Group wants people to understand that Fairtrade is not a charity, but a way of making sure producers get a fair deal.
“We may not be able to expect to buy all our products as Fairtrade, moreover, if local produce is available we encourage people to buy locally,” he added.
“Our plans for the future are to target local businesses with a view to promoting Fairtrade with their employees. We are already in the process of producing handwritten letters by the children of William Alvey Primary School and the business department of St George’s Academy is formulating a plan to speak to designated target businesses. Our wish is for these businesses to be a flagship for Fairtrade.”