Alchemy to unlock potential
Situated on the western edge of the Lincolnshire Wolds is the small picturesque town of Market Rasen. As Melanie Burton finds, it is looking firmly to the future with plans on the horizon that will make it a better place to live, work and play.
Famous for being home to the only racecourse in Lincolnshire, Market Rasen is growing, with housing development underway and a new leisure centre due to be completed later this year.
It has a friendly market town feel with a range of independent shops, eateries and pubs but, as a small rural market town, it faces challenges.
Two major banks closed in 2015 and have remained empty since and a third is due to close in the summer.
The visual and economic impact on the High Street is huge and in a survey undertaken in the summer of 2019, local people highlighted the pressing need to improve the condition of the Market Place and bring empty buildings back into use.
The survey also drew out the strength of the community and the friendliness of its people and the conclusion was drawn that, if the town is to punch above its weight, this strength needs to be harnessed in a coordinated effort to achieve regeneration and growth.
As a result it is hoped that a new initiative, ‘Market Rasen Alchemy’, will be the catalyst for change.
Two events are taking place in April and a wide variety of businesses and community groups are being encouraged to get involved.
Various stakeholders will be able to contribute ideas and suggestions at the ‘Alchemy’ meetings, which have the potential to unlock up to £200,000 in funding from West Lindsey District Council for economic and community development.
Although the events are a collaboration between Market Rasen Town Council and the district council, it is felt that it is absolutely key for progress to be locally led.
Councillor Stephen Bunney, who is passionate about the need to move forward positively, said: “This isn’t going to be a talking shop – it’s about local businesses and community-based organisations working together to make a difference.”
The district council has earmarked a package of funding for capital projects that will support growth, but the grant will need to lever in match funding to make the greatest impact.
Emma Wardell, who is working on the Alchemy initiative, said: “Market Rasen must focus the energy of local stakeholders towards a common agenda. The town should aim to develop a place-based strategy to attract the external investment it desperately needs to future-proof its high street.”
Local organisations who are interested in being involved should contact Emma Wardell by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Market Rasen Town Council has been implementing its strategic vision recently, which aims to develop environment and heritage, health and wellbeing, leisure and culture, development and economy, along with transport and access.
Heritage is something Market Rasen has in abundance and has helped put the town on the visitor list, particularly through horse-racing, which has been taking place there since the 1800s.
Feast Week racing was held in autumn from 1828-1887 and with the advent of steeplechasing in the middle of the 19th century a second fixture was added to the calendar – held in spring from 1871 until the present day.
Market Rasen Racecourse, which is the only one now operating in the county, found a permanent home on Willingham Road in 1924.
Victor Lucas was responsible for the running of the course from 1945 until his death in 1971; he planned the layout of the course, paddock, parade ring, stands and weighing room, which has remained largely in place until today.
During this time the fixture list was expanded from three meetings each year to a total of 12 in 1967, which included Easter Monday and Boxing Day, remaining days were Saturday fixtures.
The course was sold to Racecourse Holding Trust in 1967, which was a subsidiary of the Jockey Club. The company is now known as Jockey Club Racecourses, one of 15 within the group.
Access to Market Rasen isn’t difficult for visitors from nearby towns and cities as it is situated on the main Lincoln to Grimsby road and is lucky enough to still have its own railway station.
It was built by the Great Grimsby and Sheffield Junction Railway, with the opening of the line in 1848.
The station was a substantial structure with an overall roof below where all the usual station facilities could be found including a WH Smith bookstall.
Although trains continue to arrive at Market Rasen railway station, its Grade II listed station building was closed by 1995, becoming derelict soon after.
Several restoration attempts were made over the years, but these sadly failed because of the huge sums involved.
But now the charming former railway station building is open again following an extensive programme of heritage restoration.
The Market Rasen Station Project began in 2014 when David Chambers, the Chairman of local construction company Lindum Group, saw the derelict building and felt its fortunes could be revived.
A community interest company was set up to take the scheme forward, with representatives from Market Rasen Town Council, De Aston School, Community Learning in Partnership (CLIP) and Market Rasen Racecourse.
The group was successful in securing £535,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and also attracted small grants from Tesco, the Railway Heritage Trust, Town and District Councils, and the local Rotary Club.
The building is now a Heritage Centre with offices, space for a café or other business, an engaging heritage area with displays about the station’s history, and a community room.
Torbulk Ltd, a shipping management company, enquired about the offices at an early stage and were delighted to relocate there.
“Space at the station is currently available to rent,” said Emma Wardle who was chair of the Market Rasen Station Community Project.
“The area that was previously used as a café has potential for a variety of uses (subject to planning), such as a craft workshop or artist’s studio, offices, bookshop, ice cream parlour, hair salon or therapy room – even a microbrewery!
“With bespoke wood panelling and glazing, exposed brick walls, ample kitchen space, free parking and toilet facilities, this is a wonderful opportunity to work in a Grade II listed building that retains many character features.
“This community project has been a triumph of partnership working, and this was recognised with a National Heritage Railway Award, unveiled last month.”
In line with the restored station building, a team of dedicated volunteers works tirelessly to ensure that the surroundings are maintained and kept clean and tidy.
The Market Rasen Station Adoption Group has been looking after the general upkeep of the station platforms and surrounding areas for more than six years.
Though Market Rasen is now the largest town in the Rasen area it wasn’t always able to lay claim to that title.
It was originally known as East Rasen, with Middle Rasen being the more important location, and West Rasen following on from there but Market Rasen became prominent when it was granted the right to a market.
Originally the market took place on Sundays but was changed to Tuesdays in the early 13th century.
Over the years it has seen a wide assortment of goods bought and sold such as cattle, arable crops, grain, coal, fertiliser and salt.
It is still an integral part of the town with markets taking place on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays and community events taking place throughout the year.
At one time in the 19th century, Market Rasen boasted nearly a dozen breweries or beer houses, dealers in coal, lime, sand and agricultural requisites, and manufacturers of items as diverse as tiles and washing machines/mangles.
There were many inns/coaching houses and the town was a centre for the carters from surrounding villages, who converged on the town for market days.
Top awards for De Aston School
De Aston School, a mixed 11-18 age secondary school with academy status in Market Rasen, recently picked up a number of accolades.
Last month, the school was awarded Career Mark Gold accreditation in recognition of the high quality of careers advice and guidance provided to its students.
The new Gold accreditation represents De Aston’s third consecutive Career Mark award and the report explained it acts as ‘recognition of the school’s long-standing commitment to career learning for its students’.
De Aston School also secured two wins at the inaugural Love Market Rasen Community and Business Awards at Market Rasen Racecourse.
Year 9 student Abigail Mansfield took home the ‘Inspiring Young Person of the Year’ award, while De Aston School was named ‘Best Employer of the Year’ in the business awards section.
As one of the 35 member schools of the Boarding Schools’ Association (BSA), De Aston provides a mixed boarding facility for 65 students and is also home to a popular sixth form, offering a friendly, caring environment for students to achieve the highest standards.
A focus on extra-curricular activities throughout the school allows students to join a wide variety of clubs, together with a range of sports teams.
Drive to deliver the best of Land Rover
Few family businesses can boast a similar pedigree of dedication to precision engineering, their county customers and motor vehicles as Duckworth Land Rover of Market Rasen.
Managing director Ben Duckworth is the third generation to continue to drive this business forward, following on from his father Martin and grandfather James who firstly built a strong local reputation as Land Rover specialists and established their independent dealership for the marque in Market Rasen in 1980.
As the model range and appeal of Land Rover grew, from the launch of the Land Rover Discovery in 1989, the Freelander in 1997, to the Range Rover Sport in 2005, Duckworth’s maintained their investment in staff training, new showrooms and customer care. Expansion with the purchase of a dealership in Boston took place in 2007. This business relocated to purpose-built premises at Avalon Road, Kirton three years ago, offering superb facilities for both Land Rover and Jaguar customers.
The Market Rasen site continues to be the flagship for the company meeting the demand for new vehicles, parts, servicing and an impressive showroom which was revamped during 2019 to harmonise the presentation of the Land Rover brand across the groups’ sites.
Connection and service to the county community is part and parcel of the business. In past extreme snow conditions, Duckworth were pleased to provide vehicles to help non-emergency hospital patients get to their appointments and home safely again in Market Rasen and Boston. Land Rover is proving more than a match for the difficult conditions.
Entertainment for all
There is always plenty going on in Market Rasen from horse racing to music events and the usual regular club get-togethers and sporting events.
Market Rasen’s Festival Hall, built in 1972, serves the town for a range of functions with a main hall, meeting room and large catering kitchen and bar. The venue can be hired for wedding receptions, formal dinners, children’s parties or discos and the whole building is accessible with wide doors and ramps.
There is also a large stage area which makes the venue an ideal theatre suitable for many types of stage production, variety shows, pantos and plays.
On a bigger scale, Market Rasen racecourse is a music venue like no other bringing in the crowds not just with its exciting race days but with its music nights which incorporate an afternoon of racing followed by a headline performance from top-class artists.
It has hosted shows from the likes of Jesse J and the legend that is Sir Tom Jones. And this year is no exception. McFly are set to bring their spectacular live show to the course in August playing their best-loved mega-hits such as All About You, Obviously, Star Girl, One for the Radio and Shine a Light.
Before that top DJ Scott Mills, from BBC Radio 1, is due to return to the town as part of the 75th VE Day anniversary celebrations on 8th May, when he will headline the post-racing music as part of Market Rasen’s Great British Celebration race night.