An inspiring town of the Wolds

Words by:
Glynis Fox
Featured in:
July 2011

If there’s one thing that Louth is justifiably proud of it is its unique sense of identity. And there’s a real determination among members of the local community and long-standing traders to preserve that – whilst acknowledging that it is also vital to move with the times.
Now a ‘new’ arrival is helping to champion this popular destination. Recently-appointed town manager, Alison Hall, is excited about Louth’s potential and refreshingly confident that it is perfectly possible for it to ‘up its game’, without losing its special ambience.

Miss Hall said that preserving Louth’s uniqueness and attracting extra visitors and shoppers is important but it is not all down to its wonderful mix of niche businesses, staging great events is becoming increasingly vital too. And there’s plenty to look forward to on that front, whether you are passionate about music, crafts or fine food.

But firstly, I asked Miss Hall about her thoughts on the challenges facing the town, which has been hitting the news over various development proposals and she is clear that it is a case of striking a good balance.

Consultations are currently underway over plans submitted to East Lindsey District Council by George LB Ltd, which wants to turn a forty-two-space, short-term car park in Eastgate, into a 10,400 sq ft shop – and there are worries about the potential loss of car parking.
Fears have been heightened by concerns over another eighteen car parking spaces, after a planning appeal granted permission for the £5 million Park Broom Homes’ project, which has paved the way for four retail units to be built on the site of a doctor’s surgery in Queen Street.

Miss Hall pointed out that development interest in the town is not going to go away but she believes that Louth has so many brilliant, strong independent shops that some complementary larger high street brands can also exist in the town adding value to the shopping experience. However, this needs exploring fully and handling sensitively.

“I last worked in Rotherham Town Centre Management, although I live in Lincolnshire. Before I took up my post I had visited Louth on many occasions,” said Miss Hall.

“Although I don’t doubt things have been tough, I don’t think the town has faced as many of the problems that other places have, which have led to high vacancy rates. Many casualties of the recession nationally have been the bigger name companies.”

Many ‘homegrown’ businesses have survived and some have even expanded and Miss Hall said the quirky nature of many town centre premises – including those tucked away in its quaint passages –mean that empty premises can get filled quickly.

“However, I believe that people also want to see some bigger high street names in the town because we can risk losing visitors to bigger places, such as Grimsby,” said Miss Hall.

“This means that developments like that proposed for Queen’s Street, handled right, might actually be helpful.”

She said Louth’s undoubted attractions have the power to attract wide-ranging interest and it is up to everybody, from councillors to members of the community and businesses to have their say on how it should develop in the future.

“Supermarket interest isn’t going to go away and this may enhance the town for everyone. But there needs to be controls over where larger stores go and everyone also needs to be mindful of the impact which they could have on existing businesses and the landscape.

“If developers want to come in they need to look at what people here really want. But, equally, people need to speak-up and share their real concerns.”

Miss Hall, who reports to the Louth Town Centre Partnership – an elected group of volunteers from all walks of life including business and the community, is currently working on a long-term strategy for the group.

“The Partnership is interested in open discussions to achieve mutually advantageous development for sustainability,” she added.

Carol, Mick and son Dean Wright run Wright’s of Louth, in Eastgate. This large shop sells everything from newspapers and books to art supplies and gifts.

Daughter Nicky runs the dance business Studio 2000, close-by in Cannon Street. Mrs Wright said: “We have been in the town for thirty years. This is a brilliant place in which to have a small business, but a lack of car parking, and long-term parking in particular, is holding us back.”

But, whilst acknowledging the current car parking debate, Jim Luck of Luck of Louth, believes that the town’s businesses really benefit from a long-standing and loyal clientele.

Luck of Louth, which has been trading for twenty-five years and which sells ladies and gents clothing, countrywear, footwear and accessories including handbags and luggage, has gradually expanded over the past six years.

Director Jim Luck said: “The town has expanded and parking is not as ideal as it might be in a big city, but this is all part of Louth’s charm.

“From my point of view, we are a long-established business, like many others in Louth. People come here anyway – we saw proof of that during last winter’s bad weather.”

Shopping aside, events are also an important part of the mix, and Louth Town Centre Partnership – which is less than a couple of years old – is aready making its mark on this front and helping to put this popular destination on the map.

As we went to print, members were particularly busy as the town geared-up for its summertime events.

1st July marks the start of ‘Party in the Pews’ at St James’ Church – featuring music, entertainment, refreshments and a fashion show. It kickstarts Louth Music Festival, which runs until 10th July. Then St James’ Food Festival follows hot on its heels on 17th July.

Louth & District Lions Club has raised more than £15,000 over the past year, as part of its drive to put on an amazing range of events designed to bring more people into the area.

Outgoing president Liz Shaw told Lincolnshire Life that the group has just twenty-two members, but they have thrown themselves into all sorts of activities which have benefited charities and local families in need.

And it is a trend that Michael Armstrong, who takes over the reins from Liz on 1st July is determined to continue.

Liz said: “We are a very, very active club, running events such as a casino night six or seven times a year, a vintage tractor rally, two duck races, the Christmas Market – for which we are famous – and our popular ‘Rumble Band’ (Sixties night) at the Town Hall, which alone raises about £4,000 a Year.

“This year we have supported the RNLI, Lincolnshire & Nottinghamshire Air Ambulance, Diabetes UK and Wish Upon a Star, as well as local people.”

Louth Lions, which meets twice a month at the Brackenborough Arms, also gives £70 a month to ‘The Community Larder’, which helps local elderly people and families in need.

Retailers and pub operators have created new jobs in Louth over the past few weeks.

Lincolnshire Co-operative said it has enjoyed brisk trade following the opening of a good store in Newbridge Hill, which has created employment for about fifteen people.

The store, which has a mix of full and part-time staff has opened following a £350,000 investment in transforming a former Peugeot dealership.

Pub chain JD Wetherspoon also launched a new venue in the town, providing work for thirty-seven people.

The company spent £122 million developing the outlet on the site of the former Kai’s Bar in Kidgate. The new venue, known as The Joseph Morton, will be managed by Paul and Fleur O’Leary.

Mrs O’Leary said: “We are looking forward to welcoming customers into the pub and are confident that it will be a good addition to Louth’s social scene.”

The Joseph Morton occupies several ‘combined’ properties, which have traded as a bar since the 1980s.

The tallest is a former warehouse built between 1808 and 1834. The cast-iron plates on the building bear the name of local ironmonger Joseph Morton. The premises also include a smaller warehouse facing Kidgate, rebuilt in 1818 according to the faded tablet on the facade, and two early nineteenth century houses in Pawnshop Passage.

The new-look outlet features one bar specialising in real ales, serving a wide range of beers including those from lo cal and regional brewers.

Patrons can take advantage of a walled beer garden to the rear of the premises whilst admiring an original hoist from the warehouse building which has been refurbished and used as a feature.

Louth’s Music Festival, which is now in its third year, runs from 1st to 10th July and its hard-working committee’s aim is to create a sustainable annual festival, without having to rely on public funding.

The Louth Music Festival organisation acts as an umbrella body helping to promote events during the festival period, which are staged by the venues, promoters and musicians themselves.

Committee chair Nathan Michael said: “We rely very much on the goodwill of the various bands and venues to entertain everyone. Our aim is to celebrate Louth music and our long term aim is to attract people to the town so they can experience its delights to the full.”

The Festival kicks off on 1st July with ‘Party in The Pews’. It is scheduled to start at 7pm in the Parish Church of St James – a truly magnificent fifteenth century building, which has a strong musical tradition and is often used as a major venue for a variety of concerts.

Saturday, 2nd July offers shoppers the chance to enjoy ‘Music in the Market Place’ between 11am and 3pm. Later in the evening ‘Soul Solution’ will play at The King’s Head in Mercer Row.

St James’ Parish Church will echo again to the sounds of the Louth Choral Society on Sunday, 3rd July at 7.30pm, when it presents ‘Songs from the Shows’. This promises to be a wonderful evening with numbers from shows such as ‘Les Miserables’, ‘Mamma Mia’,

‘Chicago’ and ‘Carousel’. The Choral Society has been connected to the Music Festival from the outset and works hard to ensure the event’s success.

The weekend’s offerings are just the start of a kaleidoscope of musical events all taking part in the attractive ‘capital of the Wolds’. A full calendar of events can be seen on Louth Music Festival website.

Business partners Stephen Parris and Paul Adams – who run four stores in Louth, trading as two separate businesses – are waiting to see if they have won another accolade.

Mr Parris, who is kept busy at the helm of Dragonfly’s gifts, homes and card shops in Eastgate is waiting to hear whether his cards shop has scooped a top title.

Meanwhile Mr Adams who runs The Cheese Shop, also in Eastgate, is still basking in the glow of it being named first in the ‘Best for Food’ category in ‘The Telegraph’s Small Shop Awards’ earlier this year.

Mr Parris said Dragonfly’s card shop has been chosen as one of the top ten countrywide – and is among the top three in the Eastern region – chasing the honours in the ‘Retas Awards’.

“Nominations are made by the trade, by people like greeting card publishers, card reps and agents, but this is quite a coup for us and also good for our staff. It is just hard waiting to find out more.”

Finalists in the awards will discover who is the overall winner at a glittering ceremony at London’s Dorchester Hotel on 13th July.

Louth will celebrate its great food production heritage on 17th July, when a cornucopia of the finest produce stalls set up in the Market Place, Cornmarket and Mercer Row.

Music and entertainment will go hand-in-hand with a phenomenal range of delicious fare, displayed to tempt the most discerning shopper.

There will be around sixty stalls, with many selling local foods, as well as arts and crafts, and people will also be able to watch cookery demonstrations.

The St James’ Food Festival is being hosted by the Louth Food & Drink Group, part of the Louth Town Partnership. It is intended to build on the success of last October’s Victorian Fayre.

Group Chairman, Patrick Neville, says the popularity of last year’s Victorian Family Fayre sparked a renewed enthusiasm for themed markets.

“Over 4,000 people flocked to the Victorian Fayre and many stalls sold out by the early afternoon. Shops, pubs and cafes which opened reported brisk business.

“I’m pleased to say that over thirty town centre businesses have agreed to open for the St James’ Festival, and we encourage more to do so,” said Mr Neville.

Louth can justifiably claim to be a ‘Good Food Town’, thanks to being surrounded by farmland with rich high-yield soils, which lead to the harvesting of outstanding produce.

The range of locally-grown food is evident throughout the town’s shops, many of which are award-winning family businesses. It is a well-known fact that the town is promoted locally and nationally as ‘The Larder of Lincolnshire.’

During their ‘Food Tour of Britain’, the famous ‘Hairy Bikers’, stated – “Louth is a great foodie centre, full of wonderful shops.”

Unlike many market towns whose high street speciality shops have dwindled in recent times, Louth has a wealth of high quality artisan food outlets.

There are several butchers (one specialising in game), several bakers and cake-makers, a fish shop, cheese shop and a range of businesses selling a combination of health foods, vegetarian products and local specialities.

“Our aim is to put Louth firmly on the map as an authentic food town and an integral part of a complete shopping experience,” added Mr Neville.

“We are fortunate in that so many of the traditional family businesses here are well supported by the people of Louth and its surrounding villages.”

“There is an immense pride among everyone involved in the town’s food chain from the farmer through to the distributor, retailer and consumer”.

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