Town moves up
Lincolnshire Life revisited this popular market town to take a closer look and to ask business owners and managers for their views. Sleaford is a popular place in which to live and work and a good base from which to commute.
Its town centre boasts both national and independent retailers and service businesses, as well as good schools.
You can enjoy a walk alongside the pretty River Slea, visit the town’s fitness centres, pop into one of its many pubs or browse the latest exhibition at the National Centre for Craft and Design.
When you wander around the town, with its many delightful precincts, you will notice empty shops, but Sleaford is also proud to shout about its long-established family enterprises, many of which are doing well.
Firms on the edge-of-town industrial estates are also helping to put Sleaford on the wider map, but the town’s vision for the future – which features thousands of new homes, along with new employment sites and neighbourhood shops – means people are keen to see the town developed wisely.
Against this backdrop, Tesco has confirmed it is serious about building a new store, but proposals for a new link road from Boston Road to Mareham Lane remain a cause for debate.
The Eco2 straw-fired plant off Boston Road is due to be commissioned in January 2014 and there is still a determination in the town to see new life breathed into the Bass Maltings.
John Elkington is managing director of A&H Factors: “I think that Sleaford is ‘marking time’. It is just holding its own but fresh investment is needed, wherever that may come from.
“If plans for future housing development in Sleaford are to move forward, we need investment in people, property, the town’s infrastructure and new jobs.
“If a major new national retailer is prepared to invest in Sleaford it would be wrong to stand in its way. A strong name would give confidence to others.
“In my view, the biggest problem Sleaford has at the moment is negativity. People are all too ready to criticise and pull the town down, but it has an awful lot going for it. However, it must utilise its assets, such as the town centre, market place and river, in the best way,” added Mr Elkington.
Mr Elkington was chairman of the Sleaford BID, before its demise.
“I think the BID is certainly being missed in certain quarters, particularly from the security side. I have had several comments from people on the industrial estates who miss this aspect of what it offered,” he added.
Money Minder Financial Services (UK) Ltd managing director, Ray Black said: “Sleaford doesn’t need to be a dynamic metropolis in order to be successful, but local businesses do need to serve the local community and there are areas where there is room for improvement.
“I want to see an individual or well-run, motivated organisation rekindle the passion and drive inherent in our likeable market town. They could reinvestigate missed opportunities and stimulate new ideas.
Mr Black named the ‘stalling’ of the Bass Maltings project (and the decision to include more residential units) and the ‘out of town’ retail park on East Road, near the bridge, as prime examples. He reiterated his view that the Eco2 plant should have been sited closer to the East Road Industrial Estate, in order to provide cheap energy for the businesses in that area.
He said: “Many shops in the town have become vacant. In my opinion, Sleaford’s forward momentum, built up in the early Noughties, has been somewhat curtailed by those with the power to make a difference. All is definitely not lost, but it really does need some inspired focus.
“We are still heavily dominated by one main supermarket chain. If plans to supersize it ever go ahead, I think this could actually keep other retailers away.”
“Given the option, and considering the controversy about the closure of the level crossing and proposed new road layout, I would like to see this planning consent revisited and alternatives considered, if possible.”
Accountancy firm Wright Vigar Ltd not only has a branch in Sleaford, it also serves long-standing clients in the town, which pulls in visitors from the outlying villages and centres such as Boston, Bourne, Grantham, Newark and Lincoln.
Mr Sewell said the high quality of education on offer in Sleaford means parents are keen to live within the necessary catchment area so that their children can benefit. The large number of forces personnel based on local RAF bases also provides consumers for local services.
“Although the country is in a long recession and the construction and retail sectors are struggling, a short drive around Sleaford and its industrial estates highlights that all is not doom and gloom,” said Mr Sewell.
“Units are well-occupied and the industrial estates are growing and also home to award-winning businesses, such as Sleafordian Coaches,” he added.
“Professional firms such Sills and Betteridge, Ringrose Law and ourselves have taken the decision recently to move into the centre of Sleaford. We recently acquired Northgate House in the town and refurbished it.
“We had outgrown our old premises and wanted good quality meeting facilities and working environment for our team. There is also ample car parking for visitors.
“We are committed to working with individuals and businesses in Sleaford to offer the best possible accounting and taxation advice,” added Mr Sewell.
Jeweller Moore & Scrupps opened in the town in 1998 and, despite the current climate, has enjoyed a very successful year.
Partner, John Moore said: “Our Southgate premises have been home to jewellers since 1700, so this is a recognised destination in that respect. Although it has been a difficult year for many, Sleaford has a good catchment area and we have actually been very busy.”
The Sleaford shop is popular for customers looking for diamond rings and other personal jewellery, whether that is traditional or contemporary.
“Seven years ago we were one of the first in the country to offer the modern Pandora range and we have added Ti Sento to that. Both are big brands for us. Our Sleaford outlet also features an engraving and repairs workshop.”
KirksVets in Lyons Way, on the edge of town, is headed by principal veterinary surgeon, Jim Kirk and his son and partner, practice manager Angus Kirk.
It launched its £500,000 surgery in May 2002, after formerly being at Highfield in East Road and now employs a team of twenty-five staff, serving its Sleaford and Grantham practices.
Angus Kirk said: “We have been here for a long time now. We feel part of the community and enjoy doing our best for our domestic and farming customers within about a fifteen-mile radius of Sleaford.
“We are particularly proud to have been recognised by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons as an RCVS-accredited practice.”
TESCO IN SLEAFORD
Tesco has reiterated its commitment to invest in Sleaford, giving renewed impetus to North Kesteven District Council’s (NKDC) economic regeneration for the town.
Development on the former Advanta Seeds site at the southern end of Southgate is central to a broader regeneration programme for the town – with the store committed to financing a new link road to ease traffic flow in the town and support the approved redevelopment of the historic Maltings.
NKDC Leader, Councillor Marion Brighton, OBE, has described these three moves as collectively being “the biggest and most economically significant commercial investment in Sleaford since the opening of the Navigation more than 200 years ago.”
Tesco’s creation of a larger store, as initially approved in 2009, will create an additional 230 jobs on top of its existing 200-plus staff. There is further potential for around 120 more jobs in non-food retail units to be established at Tesco’s current Northgate site.
NKDC said the £100 million being invested in the Tesco and Maltings projects has scope to create some 1,000 much-needed jobs in addition to broader jobs growth achieved through wider economic regeneration.
Lincolnshire Chamber hosts regular breakfast meetings in Sleaford – on the first Friday of every other month.
They take place in the Barge & Bottle in Carre Street and run from 7.30am to 9am. Both Chamber and non-Chamber members are welcome to attend and the next get-together takes place on 5th July.
Lincolnshire Chamber spokeswoman, Rachel Mooney said: “We work with people to develop their businesses and talk to them and explore what information they need and how we can help.”
The breakfast meetings regularly attract twenty to thirty people, including regulars and newcomers. They range from sole traders to representatives of national and local family firms.
One of the things the Chamber is trying to do at the moment is to work with North Kesteven District Council to look at ways in which smaller businesses can be encouraged to bid for contracts worth up to £25,000.
SLEAFORDIAN BEING STEERED BY NEXT GENERATION
Family-run Sleafordian Coaches has come a long way since starting life as a taxi business and it looks like its team will have lots to celebrate when it reaches its 50th anniversary in 2014.
Today the business – which grew out of the Sleaford Taxi Co Ltd started by Don Broughton and the late Ted Barton (changing its name to Sleafordian Coaches in the early 1970s) – is being steered forward by Don’s son, managing director, Mark Broughton and his wife Lisa (also a director).
But it doesn’t stop there. Mark’s daughter Hannah also works in the firm’s office and Lisa’s sister and brother-in-law, Sarah and Ian Tomlinson, are on board too
The business employs thirty-five full-time and six part-time staff and operates a fleet of thirty-one vehicles.
Sleafordian services school contracts for Lincolnshire County Council and has private hire clients. It also operates local bus services, offers coach holidays and has its own successful driver training centre.
Mark Broughton said: “We are happy with our performance considering the economic climate. We are always looking for opportunities but our reputation has become such that new business is coming our way without us having to aggressively chase it.”
Lots of good news has been released by the company in recent weeks. One of Sleafordian’s bus routes – carrying girls from Kesteven and Sleaford High School (Years 7-11) and boys and girls from its Sixth Form, from Sleaford to Helpringham via Heckington, Great Hale and Little Hale – was named school bus Route of the Year. It was nominated by the firm’s driver, Andy McCall.
The award was made by Lincolnshire County Council as part of its Max Respect scheme, which aims to promote, encourage and reward good behaviour on home-to-school transport.
Five Sleafordian Coaches drivers have achieved GreenRoad Fleet Elite status. GreenRoad provides data on how drivers perform and safety management for fleets.
To qualify drivers have to log at least 500 hours of driving and achieve a safety score equal to or lower than five. Alex Green, Graham Lee, Alan Long, Andy McCall and Richard Ward were successful.
Sleafordian Coaches’ Driver Training Centre scored ten out of ten in its Driver Certificate of Professional Competence audit, following a visit by the Joint Approvals Unit for Periodic Training which has classed it as fully compliant.
SCHEME GIVES SECURITY
More Sleaford businesses are being encouraged to help themselves by joining the town’s Shopwatch and Pubwatch Scheme, and take advantage of its security radio link offer.
Since the demise of the Sleaford BID, Lincolnshire Chamber has continued to manage the scheme in partnership with the Community Safety Partnership.
Lincolnshire Chamber business development manager, Chris Brown said: “The overall aim is to drive down crime in the town centre and make Sleaford a safer place in which to do business.
“Thanks to the support of the Sleaford Police Team, North Kesteven District Council and local traders, it is starting to gather momentum, but there is still room for more businesses to get on board and we would welcome that.
“The strength of the scheme lies in the fact that it gives traders a way of sharing information and receiving updates from Lincolnshire Police, relating to both local and county issues.
“Traders also have the opportunity to opt into a security radio scheme, which provides them with a useful link to other traders in the town, CCTV operators and the local policing team. Radios can be leased at a small cost,” said Mr Brown.
“As part of this benefit businesses also get sound advice on issues such as how to deal with suspected criminals who are on their premises and what to do if they are presented with fake bank notes.”
Businesses can get more information from the scheme’s local co-ordinator Barry Inman on 07969 323454 or by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org
A DECADE IN BUSINESS
A Sleaford couple, based at 22 Westgate, are both celebrating the tenth anniversaries of their businesses. Steve Clegg owns ‘Portraits with Personality’ – a high quality studio and location photography business. He loves photographing people, and strives to portray his subjects’ individual personalities in a creative, yet timeless manner.
“Over the last ten years, I’ve seen big High Street studios charging silly prices for ‘trendy’ pictures come and go, and also no end of ‘budget’ photographers offering unimaginative, very poor quality photos. In contrast, I pride myself on providing a great value ‘experience’ for my clients, right from the portrait session to choosing their final images. That’s because I want my customers to cherish their photographs not just now, but for years to come,” said Steve enthusiastically.
Steve’s wife, Josephine is a qualified traditional acupuncturist, and established Sleaford Natural Health Centre as a multi-disciplinary complementary medicine clinic in 2003.
Jo works with a team of experienced, fully-qualified and insured practitioners. As well as traditional acupuncture, the centre offers needleless acupuncture for children, ostoepathy, sports and remedial massage and reflexology.
“We are able to assess our clients and tailor a healing experience to their individual needs,” said Jo. “Our patients are mainly recommended or referred and are making lifestyle choices to be in optimum health using complementary medicine. It is about achieving the best possible health care for each patient whatever their condition – migraines, back pain, arthritic pain, women’s health, fertility, stress, insomnia, or allergies to name but a few.”
Jo and Steve will be celebrating their first ten years of business this year and Steve will be continuing to focus, literally, on Portraits with Personality, while Jo, naturally, serves the community in and around Sleaford.