Firmly on the county tourist trail
Businesses and community groups in Alford have been continuing to build on a positive reputation, attracting visitors and strengthening the town’s links to the past, as Melanie Burton discovers.
This year’s boom in staycations has seen reports of almost full bookings at caravan and camping sites along the East Coast. This popularity has had a knock-on effect on places like the historic market town of Alford, just seven miles from the seaside resort of Mablethorpe. But the town has its own wealth of heritage buildings, community groups and specialist businesses that have helped to put it on the map.
At the foot of the Lincolnshire Wolds, which form an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Alford is quiet and picturesque, with good road links in all directions making it an ideal base for exploring rural Lincolnshire.
It is also full of historical interest and visitor attractions, from the working five-sailed windmill, 17th-century manor house and 14th-century church, to its renowned arts and craft market and recently opened art gallery.
The Grade I listed five-sailed windmill was built in 1837 by Alford millwright Sam Oxley. It is now the only surviving windmill in the town. More than 30 metres in height with six floors, it could grind four to five tons of corn a day. It ceased to operate in 1955. However after two years’ lying idle, it was restored to full working order in 1957 and is now used commercially to produce stone-ground organic flour and cereal.
Alford’s Manor House, reputed to be the largest thatched manor house in the country, is a Grade II listed building built to a traditional H plan in 1611 and restored during 2004-2006. Interactive exhibits were installed and accessibility increased for disabled visitors. It also has gardens and tea rooms adjacent to the Museum of Rural Life, which is home to many of Alford’s historic artefacts.
The Manor House has two current exhibitions which are due to end in December this year. ‘From Field to Fork’ showcases some of the Thompson Collection, which has been gifted to the Manor House by R Thompson and Sons, millwrights in Alford for many years and whose workshop contained everything needed to maintain and renew all the windmills in Lincolnshire and beyond.
‘Sight and Sound’ are two strands of one exhibition.
‘Sight’ centres on a collection of cameras which have been donated to the Manor House, part of its own Nainby Collection – cameras and glass slides from the prominent Alford photographer Edwin Nainby – and a ‘Magic Lantern’, which has recently been donated.
‘Sound’ allows the Manor House to show a collection curated by Mr Robin Walker of early radios from the late 1920s to the late 1930s.
This was a period of rapid advancement in radio technology, from crystal sets and simple valve receivers, using batteries long aerials, headphones and moving iron loudspeakers, to the much more sophisticated radios of the late 1930s employing superheterodyne techniques to improve reception and selectivity, automatic volume control (avc) to make tuning more user-friendly and moving coil speakers giving a much better depth of sound.
Apart from the technical aspect, the cabinet design of these radios reflects the strong Art Deco influences of that period.
The collection also contains a quantity of printed material which visitors to the exhibition are free to read and examine.
Alford’s parish church, St Wilfrid’s, is also a Grade I listed building and is steeped in history. It celebrated its 650-year anniversary in 2000. There are some original features in the church including a 14th-century screen, a fine Jacobean pulpit, traces of 16th-century glass and a 17th-century tomb in the chancel.
The church was restored in the 1860s when a second north aisle, vestry and organ chamber were added and the tower was raised and decorated with pinnacles.
The tower houses six ringing bells, frequently rung by a dedicated team of bell ringers. There is also an ancient sanctus bell.
Over the south porch is the Parvis Room, used as the first grammar school in Elizabethan times.
Recent additions to the church include more than 200 embroidered kneelers, many dedicated to family members, and often with designs representing some of the town’s clubs and organisations.
CRAFTS AND COMMUNITY
Alford also has more modern day attractions for visitors to enjoy. The town’s Craft Market was established in 1974 by Heather and Michel Ducos of Alford Pottery and has grown so much that it now boasts a Craft Market Shop, a Craft Centre with a busy programme of classes and a recently opened dedicated art gallery.
Alford may be a small rural market town but it has a big heart, and a sense of togetherness which makes it unique.
Community spirit has been to the fore during the pandemic and was very much in evidence recently for the East Midlands in Bloom competition, despite the fact that this year, due to Covid-19, the town has not put itself forward for consideration.
Nevertheless it didn’t stop the residents coming together to create a wheeled wonderland as part of the annual drive to brighten up the town and make it a more attractive place to visit.
Dozens of bicycles decorated in flowers and more went on display at the end of July orchestrated by Alford in Bloom, a group of volunteers who each year give the town a floral makeover.
Members are supported by garden designer Christina Melaugh, who is contracted by Alford Town Council to supply and maintain the displays.
Each year, a different theme is chosen and this year’s theme was ‘On Ya Bike… and Come to Alford’.
It began with 20 scrapped bicycles, donated by Lincolnshire County Council, being distributed among volunteers who had taken up the challenge to decorate them but the tally of bicycles increased as more people got on board.
One thing to come out of the pandemic is how communities have looked out for each other and Alford’s residents have their own support bubble on hand in the form of the Alford Hub which is now the officially registered Covid-19 Community Hub and Mutual Aid for the town.
Formerly known as the Chester and George Alford Care and Share Group, it works in partnership with Alford Town Council, Alford Group of Churches, the Storehouse Foodbank, the schools, Merton Lodge Doctors, Lloyds Pharmacy, and other officially recognised bodies to ensure the public’s wellbeing.
This partnership is also the only volunteering hub insured by Lincolnshire County Council in Alford.
It works to support the vulnerable, shielding and elderly people in the community through prescription collections, food deliveries, telephone support and a Facebook group which acts as a virtual community centre, where people can chat, share ideas and stay connected.
SIMPLY HIKE ACQUISITION
Outdoor leisurewear and equipment specialist Simply Hike has been bought by the owners of Lincolnshire wellington boot brand Evercreatures.
Simply Hike, which sells hiking, walking, camping and skiwear, has become the latest addition in the Astbury Collections group, which also owns Rainmac.
The acquisition of the Simply Hike brand, which will now become an entirely online operation with its headquarters based in Alford, is also expected to add six new employees via the government’s Kickstarter scheme.
Tony Bailey, owner and director of operations of Astbury Collections, says he is now working with new suppliers to add new brands, while also undertaking a wider review of the business.
Mr Bailey said: “The opportunity to add Simply Hike to our portfolio of businesses was too good to miss.
“With Evercreatures having been a supplier to Simply Hike, I knew the business well. It has a lot of potential, even in a competitive sector, as at its peak it had a turnover of £3.5m per year.
“It is a strong retail brand, has an excellent reputation and superb customer loyalty, with good traction on social media.
“The business is not without its challenges, particularly rebuilding in the current climate, but the reaction from suppliers and customers has been extremely positive.”
Mr Bailey added: “We will need more staff across different areas and are looking to expand the warehouse, customer service, sales and marketing teams.
“We are awaiting the greenlight for funding from the government’s Kickstarter scheme to provide opportunities to help younger people back into the workplace.”
FIND YOUR FOREVER FURNITURE AT ASKEW’S
Situated in the town’s iconic former Methodist Church in West Street, Askew’s Furniture of Alford offers a personalised shopping service for discerning customers in search of quality furniture.
Owned and run by Mark and Helen Lawrence, who took over this well established business from her father and founder John Askew in 2014, the couple have updated and refreshed this traditional store into a perfect blend of online convenience and five-star high street service.
The light and airy showroom, which is open Tuesday to Saturday, boasts a selection of quality furniture brands, including beds from Sealy, Pennine and Sweet Dreams, as well as modern and classic sofas from Buoyant, Celebrity and Sherborne.
“We aim to showcase British manufacturers, with approximately 80% of our collections made in this country, as this not only helps to support jobs, but the quality is much better too,” says Helen, who has been involved in the family’s furniture business all her working life.
“Our unique customer service means shoppers are welcomed by our friendly and experienced ‘in house’ trained team who always go out of their way to try and help customers choose products to suit their own individual lifestyle, taste and budget.
“You can come and meet us in person, see and try all our wonderful products in our relaxed ‘no pressure’ showroom, and then order online later from the comfort of your own living room.
“We’re passionate about what we offer, including products at excellent value for money and an easy-going, non-pushy approach to sales. Whether you pop into our store, find us on Facebook or call us on the phone, you’ll always enjoy the best shopping experience we can offer with the same customer service commitment from our staff.”
For more information visit www.askewsfurniture.co.uk
YOUR COUNTY WINE MERCHANTS
The Wine and Glass Company are well established wine merchants located near Alford. The company have a selection of over 400 wines from all over the world as well as a substantial selection of fortified wines and spirits, with their specialities being French country wines, Bordeaux and Port.
Mary Hales, the managing director, is always pleased to discuss with clients their specific events and make recommendations to suit the occasion and budget. “It is all part of a service to help with the choice of wines, even if they are not included on our list. We have choices which include French, Italian, Spanish, other European and New World wines in all price brackets.”
With this huge choice of wines, The Wine and Glass Company can welcome enquiries for private or charity tastings.
“These events are a great way to engage with your clients to find the perfect wine for any occasion or fund raise for special causes. We can offer a tasting experience which is exclusive to one country or which takes you around the world, and give you one or two back stories to some of the labels.”
In addition to the wine services, delivery is free of charge in Lincolnshire and glass loan can be organised for any function with the company’s wine.
For further information tel: 01507 462350 or visit: www.wineandglass.co.uk
SAFELINCS – CELEBRATING 20 YEARS OF MAKING BUSINESSES AND HOMES SAFER
Since being formed in 2001, Safelincs has grown to be the UK’s most progressive and customer-focused fire safety provider. Starting out as a sole trader, MD Harry Dewick-Eisele has been the driving force behind Safelincs. Employing 67 staff from the local area, it is now one of the largest employers in Alford. When asked what he attributes the success of Safelincs to, Harry said: “We have a fantastic team of creative, committed and hardworking people – without them this growth would not have been possible.”
With a range of over 6,000 products and services, including smoke and fire alarms, defibrillators, extinguishers, and servicing of fire safety equipment, Safelincs can provide solutions for multi-national businesses as well as domestic customers. Harry added: “We pride ourselves on giving the best customer service no matter how big the sale.”
Safelincs has won several customer service awards as well as the ELBA Employer of the Year.
Supporting the local community is very important to everyone at Safelincs. Numerous charity donations have been made so far this year alone – ranging from defibrillators for local sports clubs, such as Alford Football Club and Alford Cricket Club, and fire-fighting equipment for Spilsby Scouts, to hand sanitisers and PPE for the local primary schools, and monetary donations to LIVES, Alzheimer’s Research UK and Alford Corn Exchange.
To find out more about what Safelincs can offer, visit www.safelincs.co.uk or call the customer care team on 0800 612 6537.
Alford has long been renowned for arts and crafts and following the success of the town’s Craft Market Shop and Craft Centre, it can now boast its very own art gallery.
After many years of planning, research and fundraising, Alford Craft Market has opened its Alford Arts gallery, which gives local artists the chance to show off their talents.
This spacious new venue has been refurbished by local businesses with the provision of grants from Alford Craft Market, Lincolnshire County Council and East Lindsey District Council.
It will be a welcome display space for selected local artists and for a programme of exhibitions by established artists as well as touring exhibitions.
This modern and well-lit gallery will be open Tuesday to Saturday, 10am-4pm and is manned by community minded volunteers.
On closed days and some evenings, the gallery will be used for art classes for all and will be a great addition to the full programme of art and craft workshops already well established at the centre.
“Situated just next door but one to our Alford Craft Market Shop & Centre, it is an ideal setting for a Gallery and Community Arts Centre to add to the other projects we have set up in Alford,” a spokesman said.
“It will enable us to show the work of some of the best of our Lincolnshire artists and offer an inspirational space for art classes, exhibitions and special events. Also it is a great addition to the many visitor attractions we already have in Alford.”
Alford Craft Market is one of the longest standing craft markets in the UK, and the first of its kind in the Lincolnshire Wolds.
Photographs: Mick Fox