Spalding’s strength and independence counts
If anything is certain for the South Lincolnshire market town, it is that further change is on the horizon.
May will see the last traditional Spalding Flower Parade, extra life is being breathed into the multi-million pound Red Lion Quarter and there is the ongoing challenge of stopping shoppers drifting away from the town to bigger centres.
Meanwhile, Spalding Chamber of Commerce president, Phil Scarlett remains in a positive mood. He believes that this is a destination which still has many opportunities to fulfil its potential.
The Chamber, which has grown to include about 125 members in the space of just three years, is taking a lead in tackling the issues which are threatening to hold Spalding back.
Mr Scarlett was formerly chairman of the steering group which worked to try and set up a Business Improvement District (BID) in the town. He said its failure had left many people frustrated, but the Chamber is determined to make a difference.
“I am upbeat, I come across numerous businesses which are investing in their plant, infrastructure or people, when many had been talking down the economy just three months ago,” said Mr Scarlett.
The Chamber, which is an associate of the Lincolnshire Chamber has logistics, retail, tourist and business breakfast forums, and the logistics arm alone has more than forty members.
Mr Scarlett said: “Growers, farmers and transporters attend meetings and while they admit that the economy is still very fragile, they also report seeing signs of growth.
“They will talk about the effects of supermarket pressure and the problems they are having with the weather, but there are still some who are spending on new equipment.
“Retailers say it is tough and that people are keeping money in their pockets. However, in Spalding, we are fortunate in having very strong, independent retailers.”
A number of shops are privately owned. This is a real plus because it means that local business people have a vested interest in the longer-term future of the town.
Spalding has an interesting mix of shops, including independents such as Bookmark, which sells gifts as well as books, and which also has a café.
Hills has department and furnishing stores and Gibb’s Shoes is another long-standing, independent retailer.
J F Inkley, menswear are a local landmark having been trading in the town for over fifty years.
National names on the fashion front include New Look, M&Co and Bonmarche, and Spalding also has Boots and WH Smith outlets. Bustling markets take place on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
Many people would like to see more big-name retailers investing in the town centre and that is not necessarily a pipedream.
“There is currently a proposition which would create additional opportunities, through the redevelopment of the Holland Market area of the town. No plans have been released containing details, but Spalding could sustain an additional supermarket,” said Mr Scarlett.
He is referring to plans by Holland Market owner and retail specialist Corbo, which could see the football club moving from the Sir Halley Stewart Ground and Spalding’s bus station move from the north of the town into Swan Street.
“There is a chance to put right past planning mistakes, so we want this concept to move forwards, subject to ensuring there are plans to sustain the existing town centre. We would rather have another supermarket in the town, rather than one built out on the A16,” said Mr Scarlett.
On the edge of town there is the massive Springfields Outlet Centre and Springfields Gardens. Some people were unhappy when this was allowed to be built – splitting local shopping provision – but Mr Scarlett said it has also created opportunities, because it attracts 2.6 million visitors to Spalding every year.
The Red Lion Quarter in the town centre has been the subject of much comment and controversy but, again, Mr Scarlett sees great potential and owner Boston College is investing in this centre.
“The RLQ has cost the taxpayer £7.5 million to build and it has regenerated what was a dreadful part of the town, turning it into an attractive area. We have the benefit of having an exceptionally good educational establishment there in the shape of Boston College Training,” he said.
“The business challenge is to persuade the college to provide courses which are aimed at local business opportunities, something which would create a ready supply of trained people suited to the jobs available in this area.”
As a first step, the Chamber has organised a Customer Service Programme with Boston College – a five-part event which will offer specialist help to both SMEs and bigger companies.
Events are an increasingly important part of the mix when it comes to encouraging people to visit county market towns and Spalding has witnessed first-hand the power of its key events – the Spalding Flower Parade, the summer Food Festival and the autumn Pumpkin Parade.
However, all have previously been dependent upon county and district council funding.
“Saturday, 4th May will see the last Spalding Flower Parade. The parade has seen a decline in numbers, but 2012 saw the best event for many years. Lincolnshire County Council and South Holland District Council say there is no future funding for the spectacle, which costs more than £200,000 to run,” said Mr Scarlett.
However, the Chamber has grasped the nettle and asked everyone with a stake in the Flower Parade and the Food Festival what might replace them.
“We decided to look at whether there was an appetite for a smaller type of flower and food festival type of event in 2014,” said Mr Scarlett.
“We asked whether this should take the form of a national event or be something more modest, taking into account the amount of money required. For instance, should the flower parade continue in the form of static displays around South Holland, with a treasure trail to link this in with church festivals? Heritage is important.”
Mr Scarlett hopes the Pumpkin Festival will continue as usual.
The Chamber is keen to use 106 money (money linked to the Springfields development for the marketing and promotion of the town centre) to fund a town centre manager for three years, after which that post would have to become sustainable.
“We have applied for the money and hope to appoint a full-timer by the middle of this year. The manager would deliver a range of projects which could include street cleanliness, or be related to street furniture or revitalising the town’s markets.”
Spalding & District Chamber and the Spalding & District Civic Society have a shared vision for the future of the town, which recognises its three key ‘selling points’ as its riverside, its market town identity and its food industry.
The River Welland – with its much-loved, but seasonal, water taxis – is a stone’s throw from town centre shops and is seen as a major asset, with the potential to become a high-quality green linear park.
The Chamber and Civic Society’s vision states: “It is the setting for many of Spalding’s most handsome historic buildings, a wildlife corridor and a major contributor to the town’s special character and individuality.
“We should like to see the waterways opened up for leisure use and the riverside made more accessible for walkers and cyclists. We are mindful that the river and its wildlife must be carefully protected, but at the same time we need to make much more of this natural asset.”
PASSIONATE ABOUT ART?
Artists’ work is on show in a major new exhibition taking place in Spalding.
Work by professional and amateur artists from the South Holland District can be seen in the Function Room of the South Holland Centre in the Market Place until 7th March.
Entries were invited for the Open Arts exhibition from artists all over the county and surrounding region, provided they were over the age of fourteen.
Art from South Holland (and Boston) will be seen across Europe as part of a travelling display which is set to clock-up 125,000 miles a year.
The ‘Transported’ project will link communities at home and abroad who have much in common.
Large-scale photographic commissions on vehicles that criss-cross Europe can now connect the local workforce with the places and cultures to which the lorries travel.
Spalding based haulier, FreshLinc is providing links between villages and towns as part of its commercial support for an arts project set to receive £2.5 million of Arts Council funding.
FreshLinc general manager, Joel Evans said: “We became involved in Transported because we wanted to be involved in a local community project and we are uniquely placed to support this particular theme.
“Our vehicles connect with communities here and through our business of transporting mainly produce, houseplants and flowers, with communities throughout Lincolnshire, the UK, Holland, Belgium, France and southern Spain.”
An artist from Donington, near Spalding, captured the imagination and gained public approval when her sketch of a Boston fishing scene – shown at a Lincolnshire arts exhibition – won an award.
Jennifer Cottis’ ‘Drying Nets – Boston Docks’ received The People’s Choice Award for the McKinnells Lincolnshire Community and Life Exhibition at Sleaford’s Carre Gallery.
The award was presented by solicitor, John Roper from McKinnells in Lincoln at a Hodgson Elkington Junior Sports Programme exhibition of photographic work at the gallery.
Gallery director, Christopher Hodgson said the quality of entries had been particularly high and the gallery is now supported by a growing number of local artists.
JOBS AND ENTERPRISE
Initiatives taking place in South Holland are putting the world of work under the spotlight.
Pupils are being encouraged to ‘be their own boss’ through a series of workshops being rolled out in schools across the district.
The idea is to help young people to find out what it might be like to work for themselves, after school.
The programme is being funded by the economic development team at South Holland District Council and is being delivered by NWES World of Work.
Sessions aim to help students to decide whether self-employment is right for them and to explore the motivation, business and personal skills required, as well as the pitfalls and benefits of being your own boss.
Jobseekers and people considering a change of career are being invited to go along to a Jobs Opportunity Fair in Spalding on 23rd April.
The event is designed to help connect employers with potential employees.
People will be able to get information on current job opportunities and find out how to get ‘job ready’ by tapping into advice on applications, CVs and ways of getting to work.
The event, at the South Holland Centre in the Market Place, is being run by South Holland District Council’s economic development team in association with Jobcentre Plus. It runs from 10am to 2pm.
FOOD AND FAIRTRADE
Refreshments with a Fairtrade theme will be served at a coffee morning in Spalding, on 8th March.
South Holland District Council staff, councillors, colleagues and members of the public are invited to the Council Offices in Priory Road to sample Fairtrade products, including tea, coffee, chocolate, cereal bars and fruit.The event takes place from 9.30am to 11.30am.
In 2007, the Council adopted a resolution to support Fairtrade and in 2009 South Holland became the first Fairtrade district in Lincolnshire.
Food safety inspectors have hailed a year of progress following the introduction of a new system of hygiene ratings for outlets throughout South Holland.
The vast majority of eateries in the District are classed as between ‘generally satisfactory’ and ‘very good.’
The National Food Hygiene rating scheme was introduced by South Holland District Council last March, and replaced the Tulip system: 587 of the 890 food establishments in the district have received a one-to-five rating. The other 303 are either exempt, excluded from the scheme, of a sensitive nature or are ‘awaiting inspection’.
In South Holland 91.5 per cent of outlets are currently rated in the top three classifications.
RED LION QUARTER
Spalding’s multi-million pound Red Lion Quarter has been the focus of much criticism during its short history.
But today its owner Boston College is focusing on a brighter future for the venue, which is already providing training for more than 1,300 people.
Boston College principal, Amanda Mosek said: “We are currently running a range of courses, including Access to High Education, Computing and IT, English and Maths, Motor Mechanics, Accountancy, Catering and Teacher Training and we have enrolled 1,318 people on our courses since last September.
“We are planning to set up a Food Heritage Centre, which will be based in the old Atrium of the building. It will be opening in March, be a celebration of food in the Spalding area and will feature both fixed and seasonal displays.”
The old Food Court at the Red Lion Quarter has been transformed to offer enhanced hairdressing and beauty training facilities and the College is looking to take a partnership approach to revitalising the Sage Restaurant, which can be used for private functions.
Mrs Mosek said the College is also working hard to help unemployed people in the area.
17th April promises to be a special day for the Red Lion Quarter, when it is officially relaunched to the public.