Britain’s favourite market town

Words by:
Glynis Fox
Featured in:
December 2012

Colourful, characterful and affectionately known as the ‘capital of the Wolds’, Louth has been hitting the headlines this year – for some very good reasons!
2012 has seen shoppers and businesses celebrating awards galore. The town has few empty shops, new names continue to move in for a share of the limelight and there’s a major drive underway to transform one of Louth’s most impressive buildings for the benefit of the community.

As Louth counts down to its crowdpulling Christmas Craft Market and the switching on of its festive lights on 2nd December, now could be the ideal time to visit the town yourself and enjoy a taste of its wonderful ambience and warm hospitality.

Town Partnership co-ordinator, Samantha Phillips said it was fantastic when Louth was named Britain’s Favourite Market Town in the BBC Countryfile Magazine Awards earlier this year.

Three months on, everyone remains determined to continue building on this success, in a concerted effort to encourage more people to explore the town and discover what makes it so special.

“Louth is full of charm and character and we are still lucky to have a vibrant three-day market as well as many local, family-run independent shops. On behalf of the Partnership, I would like to thank everyone who voted in the competition and to welcome any new visitors this accolade brings to the town,” said Miss Phillips.

The Partnership is made up of a group of dedicated volunteers. This year they have worked hard to produce the Louth Food Festival, The Victorian Family Fayre and, for the first time, the Christmas Craft Market – with the Town Council co-operating with the lights switch-on.

Both parties have agreed to progressively renew the Christmas street lights and each has put up £2,000 towards this year’s cost.

“2012 really seems to have been Louth’s year. As well as being named Britain’s Favourite Market Town, we also won Silver Gilt in the East Midlands in Bloom competition, and it was the first time we had entered,” said Miss Phillips.

“Many of our businesses have won awards this year and we are really pleased that we have a low shop vacancy rate. Data collected during September revealed that just eight of the town’s 220 ground floor units were empty.”

Town Partnership chairman, Patrick Neville said: “Louth is taking a positive attitude to the tough economic conditions prevailing across Britain. The town’s empty shop rate is well below average, with premises seldom remaining shut for long, while Louth’s butchers, bakers and cheesemakers continue to pull in county and national awards on a regular basis.

“The diversity of independent food retailers, which reflect the area’s rich agricultural heritage, is complemented by a wide range of local and national shops selling everything from furniture and carpets to electrical goods, gifts and household needs. It adds up to a shopping experience rivalling most market towns of a similar size.”

The Partnership, is keen to do all it can to preserve, develop and nurture the character and lifestyle of Louth and a wealth of activities – including a three-week-long festival of arts, music and food and the introduction of
themed street markets is boosting footfall and helping to put Louth on the map.

“Food and markets have long been among Louth greatest strengths and we strive to build on them. Progressively our shops are tuning in to the increased visitors and are supporting our events, especially those held on Sundays. It’s a gradual process but with the support of the local authorities and the huge effort put in by our volunteers we are achieving results,” said Mr Neville.

“The next phase of our plans will be to engage those businesses outside the town centre, particularly in Louth’s industrial estate, where there are some remarkable success stories.”

He added that the most recent themed market, the Victorian Family Fayre, brought more than 5,000 people, with an estimated cash turnover approaching £100,000, into the town.

Next year, the Partnership plans to fill Louth with flowers and add to its event calendar with a sausage festival.

“There is no end to what we can do, although we will have to engage more with businesses to secure our long-term funding,” added Mr Neville.

Fairburn’s of Louth is among businesses flying the flag for the town, having recently been crowned Lincolnshire’s Butcher of the Year 2012. The prestigious biennial Poacher Competition drew record entries and Mr Fairburn found himself being applauded by shoppers at the crowdpulling Victorian Family Fayre.

“At this level, the hard work and commitment put into achieving these awards pays off in so many ways. It is a tribute to my staff and the support I get from Louth itself,” he said.

“While it is disappointing that the county has again been denied protected status for its Lincolnshire sausage, the fact that Louth wins so many prizes for its food products speaks volumes for consistency, creativity and quality.”

Mr Fairburn is producing a special recipe Christmas sausage, which will be on sale during during the Christmas Fayre and in the lead-up to Christmas itself.

Fellow Louth butcher, Jim Sutcliffe of Meridian Meats also did well in the Poacher Competition, winning a class award for his bacon.

Mike and Angie Bristow only bought Larders Coffee House in Little Butcher Lane last year, but their passion for great coffee and top customer service saw them named Best Newcomer 2012 in the East Midlands Food & Drink Awards and they were Highly Commended in the Best Venue category.

“We are absolutely delighted with these results. We love working in catering and set out to produce the best coffee in Louth. It is hard work but our customers make it all worthwhile. Each morning we arrive at work with a smile on our faces,” said Mrs Bristow.

‘We’ve almost had a complete refurbishment. We’ve redesigned our front counter as well as replacing both the inside and outside furniture. We have also installed new baby changing units. Our new kitchen appliances allow us to do all our cooking and baking in-house.”

Mike and Angie also have a coffee stall at Louth’s regular Friday market.

Sweet Memories of Louth, in Church Street, is owned by husband-and-wife team Sid and Jill Thorpe and this Aladdin’s cave boasts more than 200 jars of mouthwatering treats.

Think of liquorice and liquorice root sticks, pipes, Wilko mints, torpedoes/comfits, sherbet/kali, bon-bons, toffees, sours, jellies, coltsfoot rock, aniseed, fruits, chocolate, fudge, chew bars, lollies, cinder toffee…and more!

The couple thought long and hard before taking the plunge and starting to work for themselves, especially in the current climate, but they think Louth is a lovely town which naturally lends itself to a shop like theirs. It seems they are right!

“In July, we had only been open for ten months when we won the ‘Best Shop in the Region’ award (includes Lincolnshire, East Midlands and part of the North East), courtesy of UK Sweets’ Sweet Shop Awards competition. To put it mildly, we were absolutely thrilled to bits to win so soon in our retail careers,” said Mrs Thorpe.

Indulgence of Louth is based in Mercer Row and specialises in Hallmark Gold Crown cards (its main brand) and Thornton’s Chocolates. It is another business which has made a stunning impression since opening just over a year ago.

The shop, run by Mel and Peter Tilley, along with daughter Rebecca, is not only proving an irresistible temptation for shoppers of all ages, the Tilleys have already picked up a double accolade!

Rebecca Tilley said: “We were named Best Newcomer for 2011-12 and the Best Franchise out of more than 170 of Thornton’s franchises across the UK. That was a complete surprise. What’s more we got both together on the same day. We are over the moon!”

The family is aiming to build further on its successes and is also planning some great events over the coming months.

Louth is blessed with a wealth of independent and family-run businesses, including Luck of Louth, Eve & Ranshaw, Dragonfly, Damselfly and The Cheese Shop. All continue to work hard to offer customers added value.

Luck of Louth director, Jim Luck and his shoe shop manager Vanessa Cook have qualified as shoe fitters and been awarded membership of The Society of Shoe Fitters.

“We did a distance learning course, attended two workshops and learned all about the anatomy and health of the foot. Gaining membership of the Society was critical for a small, independent business such as ours. We are keen to offer customers personal satisfaction and leave them feeling confident that they have been fitted with the correct footwear,” said Mr Luck.

Melanie Ewing is director of Mini Threadz, a stylish childrenswear and accessories shop in Upgate, which opened in October. The mum of Evie (7) and Charlie (3) is a former county council civil engineer, but fancied a complete change of direction.

“I was born in Louth, live locally with my husband Stuart, a self-employed plumber, and I knew how difficult it can be to find children’s clothing and accessories locally, so after carrying out my research, I am selling six different clothing ranges and four gift ranges. Other local traders have given me a very warm welcome.”

Scenergy is a Louth based company that is leading the way locally in energy saving and renewable technologies. They have become the first company in the area to gain MCS accreditation for a full range of renewable technologies, including Solar PV, Solar Thermal, Air Source Heat Pumps and Ground Source Heat Pumps. This enables the company to offer customers a ‘one stop shop’ for multiple renewable technologies. In addition, operating from their base on the industrial estate in Louth, they focus on providing customers with a local quality service. So speak to Scenergy for all things energy saving and renewable!

Exciting times are on the horizon as the Louth Community Education CIC (Community Interest Company) embarks on a major transformation of Louth Town Hall.

The not-for-profit organisation is forging ahead with plans to breathe new vitality into the building, in the wake of ELDC agreeing to transfer its management to the CIC. Chief executive officer, Andrew Howlett said the authority’s Access Point and the county’s Registration Service team will continue to be based in the Town Hall.

But the drive is on to turn the building into a lively hub which will benefit all sectors of the community. That means this historic Grade-Two listed building, which dates back to 1853, could be used in a wide variety of ways over the coming years.

“This place needs to remain a key focus for community development and to become a community hub. We want to offer everything from advice and support to online shopping, to assist community groups with bright ideas and support people who need help with their literacy or to write a CV,” said Mr Howlett.

There are also plans to stage exhibitions and concerts at the venue and to hire out facilities, such as its impressive ballroom – which is capable of seating 330 wedding guests – and its Chamber, which can seat 140 people. The building is already home to the Town Partnership and the North Lincolnshire Theatre Organ Society is a key partner in maintaining the Town Hall’s Compton Organ and organising a schedule of concerts.

The venue will also be the base for East Lindsey’s Youth Parliament.

2012 has also been a notable year for Louth Museum because – just two years after celebrating its centenary – it was named Lincolnshire Museum of the Year.

This accolade, won in the summer, came with a plaque for the museum’s reception area. The attraction is run by a voluntary charity – the Louth Naturalists’, Antiquarian and Literary Society, known locally as the ‘Ants and Nats’. So this achievement is great recognition for this hardworking band of volunteers.

The University of Lincoln dean of faculty, Professor David Sleight, who headed the judging panel said: “Louth Museum is constantly pushing at the boundaries of what is achievable on a very modest budget and showing just what is possible if you have passion and imagination. It demonstrates a strong focus on inclusivity by appealing to the widest possible age range.”

The much-loved Lincolnshire Wolds Railway is inviting families to take a break and take to the rails for a special trip which both contrasts with and complements the town’s Christmas Market taking place at the beginning of December.

The railway, which operates on a stretch of line that used to form part of the Great Northern route from Boston to Grimsby, is running Santa Specials during the weekends of 8th and 9th December and 15th and 16th December. Adults and children are expecting to clamour for seats. Pre-booking is therefore essential for this popular event, which gives everyone the chance to meet Santa at the station. Children will also receive a gift from the ‘man in red’ when they visit his Grotto, following a ride on one of the steam trains.

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