Hurrah for Holbeach

Words by:
Glyinis Fox
Featured in:
March 2012

It’s an Olympic year of celebrations for the whole of the country, with the Queen’s Jubilee and the London 2012 Games to look forward to, but the festivities are taking on a whole new meaning for this South Lincolnshire town.
This year sees the beginning of an ambitious regeneration plan for the Fenland market town, which it is hoped will bring more visitors to the area and make it a more attractive place to live, work and shop.

While plans are being finalised to mark the passing of the Olympic Torch through Holbeach and its residents prepare for their Diamond Jubilee street parties and events, work is going on behind the scenes to map out its future for the next twenty years.

The town’s heritage, improved street scenes, retail and commercial development, housing and attractions are all being looked at as part of the new Holbeach Neighbourhood Plan, in a bid to restore Holbeach to its former glory.

The seeds were sown back in 2008 when the Parish Plan was formulated and a number of recommendations arising from it were actioned – including better signage at the entrances to the town and an improved traffic flow through it.

Because of its success with the Parish Plan, when the Government introduced Neighbourhood Plans as part of its Decentralisation and Localism Bill, Holbeach received £20,000 in funding to develop a Neighbourhood Plan, allowing the remaining recommendations to be taken forward in more detail.

Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group chairman and Lincolnshire County Councillor for Holbeach County, Nick Worth said: “We formed a steering group with representatives of the Business Forum, members of the public, people with interests in planning and representatives of the Parish Council.

“This local community-based group is drawing up strategic plans for Holbeach to cover the next twenty years, focusing on three priority issues. The biggest is the regeneration/creation of a genuine town centre.

“Currently there are two main streets to Holbeach with a five-way crossroads, but no real centre. The key is to link Tesco with the centre of town so people can walk straight through to the middle of the High Street.

“With that in mind, the steering group is looking at the redevelopment of the Chequers Yard area,” said Mr Worth (also South Holland District Council’s portfolio holder for localism).

“It’s quite an ambitious project and has been talked about before. It is still in the planning stage, but we want to create a retail development in the centre and restore the old Elite Palace theatre to its former glory.

“It would make a wonderful multi-use building, where we could potentially locate a number of public services all under one roof. We have done a condition survey on the building and English Heritage is coming to look at it, to see if we can persuade them to invest some money into it.”

Work has already begun to revitalise the streetscene in the town centre, with old buildings being revamped and shop frontages being smartened up.

“The High Street used to look a bit tatty but a lot of shop owners have been smartening up their properties and old buildings including new shop signage, new roofs and shop frontages to get them back to the traditional market town look using conservation grants,” said Mr Worth.

“People are starting to take a bit of pride in their town and the look of the town is so much nicer. It’s an exciting time for Holbeach.”

Another key factor in the regeneration of Holbeach is the University Academy, which is sponsored by the University of Lincoln and which opened last year when the town’s George Farmer Technology and Language College and St Guthlac’s School in Crowland amalgamated.

It is currently spread across the college and school sites, but work is due to start in April on an £8 million state-of-the-art revamp of the college to create new classrooms, workshops, ICT suites and a learning resource centre.

There will also be a new sports hall, fitness suite and other areas for students and community groups to use in the evenings and at weekends. New courses are being planned which will allow students to go on to advanced apprenticeships, as well as further and higher education.

“The academy has a good record of apprenticeships and enabling our young people to progress into jobs. They offer a huge range of vocational qualifications, including plumbing, IT and bricklaying and have an impressive hairdressing salon. The academy will make a big difference for the young people of the town and it will draw more people into the area,” said Mr Worth.

Other projects being explored, to encourage more people to visit the area, are a new development on the outskirts of the town, which would include land for both housing and employment uses and a long-held ambition for a roundabout on the A151/ A17 link road, to stop HGVs coming through the town.

A website has also been launched to keep people up to date with the Neighbourhood Plan and, because it is interactive, residents can have their say on how they feel things should progress.
Work has been going on over the past year to improve Holbeach’s Nature Reserve and the restoration of its Victorian Cemetery Chapels, to provide an educational and exhibition centre for historical, heritage and wildlife research as well as chamber concerts and art exhibitions, is about to begin.

Holbeach Parish Council chairman and South Holland District Council vice-chairman, Councillor Rita Rudkin said there is a lot going on behind the scenes.

“The parish council is involved in a lot of planning. We are very much involved in the new Neighbourhood Plan and we are also in the process of expanding and developing the fish pond area which is now a nature reserve, but in the past was a brick pit. It’s the only large body of water in Holbeach. We are expanding it to make it more attractive and more of a feature of the town.

“The aim is to open it up, so it is more visible from the road, and make the community aware that we have quite an attractive asset there.”

South Holland District Councillor for Holbeach Town ward, Martin Howard has been overseeing the project for the parish council.

“When the Parish Council took possession of the Fish Pond last year, it was overgrown and had never been managed. There were brambles and nettles and it was shrubland. This last twelve months we have worked hard. We have cut all the trees back, we have put bark down and there are all types of bulbs down there.

“We are going to put in nest boxes to enhance the species of birds in the reserve and we plan to introduce more wildfowl,” said Mr Howard.

“Schools are going to be asked to design a new sign for the nature reserve. Seating and flowerbeds will be installed to encourage people to visit the area and make it a visitor attraction for the town.

“There are fish in there but we don’t know what. We are going to fish it for information purposes and then our findings will be put on a lectern for the parishioners to enjoy. It’s running water so we know there’s trout in there and carp, but we can’t really say they are there until we catch one and confirm it.

“We have ducks there at the moment, but we want to introduce more species and we know there are two terrapins in the pond because they come up in the summer on floating logs.

“It’s going to become a focal point of the town and when it is finished it will do the town credit. We have already had fantastic comments and it makes all the hard work worthwhile.”

Mr Worth added that Holbeach is also making preparations for the arrival of the Olympic Torch which will pass through the town on 4th July.

“It may only take ten minutes to come through but we are going to make a day of it and get the schools involved to create some real atmosphere,” said Mr Worth.

“We are hoping to have a mosaic or sculpture with an Olympic theme to it, which we can unveil, and lots of street entertainment and sports-related demonstrations in the town to entertain the crowds. We are currently putting together a programme of events for the thousands of people that are expected on the day.”

Towns and cities up and down the country are busy making preparations for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in June, but the people of Holbeach have a Jubilee of their own to celebrate.

On 27th April, the Holbeach and District Civic Society reaches its 25th anniversary, having been formed by a group of residents in 1987 with the aim of preserving the area’s buildings of architectural and historic interest.

The milestone will be marked with a guided tour of the town’s parish church, All Saints, followed by a bangers-and-mash supper in the church.

All Saints Church was constructed almost entirely in the fourteenth century, although there have been several changes to its interior since, most notably the Mary Bass Room at the west end, above which there is an open-fronted bellringing platform. An impressive glass wall separates the room from the nave and depicts the Tree of Knowledge which is very much admired by visitors to the church.

The Society works with South Holland District Council, Heritage at Risk and English Heritage to try and restore neglected buildings in the parish and is currently working with Holbeach Parish Council to restore the neglected Grade II-listed Cemetery Chapels which were built in 1854.

Society member, Trish Bryant said the town is a prime conservation area.

“There is a lot going on to make the town look more attractive and more traditional but there are still some derelict buildings,” she said.

“The Civic Society would like the town to keep its traditional look, because we don’t want to become a clone town. People like its charm because of its traditional look and friendly shops. Project wise, the Cemetery Chapels are being restored. The Parish Council is behind the project, but we are associated with it.”

The Cemetery Chapels are of an unusual design in that they link together to form an archway over the access road that leads through the centre of the six-acre cemetery. One of the chapels was built for non-conformist use and the other was consecrated by the then Bishop of Lincoln, but deconsecrated in 2008.

A steering committee was set up in March 2010 to attract funding to refurbish the buildings and to find uses for the chapels that would benefit the whole community.

A limited company has been formed which will have charitable status and will be responsible for bidding for funding. A firm of architects will also soon be on site to carry out a feasibility study.

Steering Committee member and Parochial Church Council secretary, Gill Graper said: “Whilst in a state of some disrepair, they are thought to be well worth refurbishing and renovating, with a view to using them as an educational and exhibition centre for historical, heritage and wildlife research.

“It would be possible to have chamber concerts and art exhibitions there, as well as a quiet place for reflection. Students from the University Academy Holbeach already visit the cemetery for history, maths, science and art lessons.“

By the time the Olympic Torch reaches Holbeach on its seventy-day journey across the UK, the town will be ablaze with colour.

The new Holbeach in Bloom group is getting ready to brighten up the area with eye-catching hanging baskets and floral displays, as a tribute to the Olympic Flame and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

The group, which formed last year as a successor to the Pride in Holbeach Group, also hopes its efforts will reap rewards with a top award in the East Midlands in Bloom competition.

Holbeach in Bloom chairman and secretary, Carol Johnson said: “Our theme this year is ‘Holbeach Ablaze’, because of the Olympic Torch coming through Holbeach and because we have a beacon which is going to be lit for the Queen’s Jubilee.

“We are going with the flame theme so displays will be done in reds, oranges and yellows.”

As Pride of Holbeach, the town was successful in winning a silver award in last year’s East Midlands in Bloom competition.

“We changed our name, have a new committee and we are a bit more proactive. We meet once a month when anyone and everyone can come and air their views. We are hoping we can come away with a silver gilt award or even a gold this year, particularly as the presentation is being held at Springfields in Spalding,” said Mrs Johnson.

The plants have already been ordered and are due to be delivered at the beginning of April. The group is now trying to get local businesses on board.

“We are trying to encourage local businesses to have hanging baskets so that we have a great display through town. We will plant areas that are owned or maintained by the Parish Council so we get a uniform planting theme throughout the town,” said Mrs Johnson

The group is completely voluntary, getting sponsorship from businesses in and around the town and also from national companies.

“We are not doing anything in particular for the Queen’s Jubilee, but the area where the beacon is will be planted out once the beacon has been lit. By the time the torch comes through on 4th July, everything will be in place and hopefully flourishing,” added Mrs Johnson.

Holbeach is a small market town with a population of about 10,000 people, but it has strong links with the Olympics, which stretch back decades.

It boasts a number of Olympic champions among its most famous sons and daughters, including hurdler and BBC sports commentator Stuart Storey, champion shot putter and strongman Geoff Capes and Paralympic shot putter Sally Reddin.

Stuart Storey grew up in Holbeach and attended Spalding Grammar School. He qualified as a PE and Maths teacher at Loughborough Training College and went on to represent Great Britain at the 1968 Summer Olympics and 1970 Commonwealth Games in the 110m Hurdles. He held the British record at the 200m hurdles.

He also helped to coach fellow Holbeachian, Geoff Capes at Holbeach Athletics Club

After retiring from competition he became an athletics broadcaster on the BBC and since 1973 he has commentated on nine Olympic Games. He left the BBC after the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing and will be commentating for the Olympic Broadcasting Service (OBS) at this year’s Olympics.

Geoff Capes grew up in Holbeach and went to the George Farmer Secondary School. He began his career as a member of the Holbeach Athletic Club and went on to represent Lincolnshire at basketball, football and cross country.

As an athlete, he represented both England and Great Britain in field events, specialising in the shot put, in which he achieved seventeen national titles. Mr Capes was twice Commonwealth champion, won two gold, two silver and one bronze medal at European Championships, was three times European champion, competed in the 1972, 1976 and 1980 Olympic Games and was awarded The Queen’s Jubilee medal in 1977 for services to the community.

Mr Capes also became well known in Britain and around the world as a strongman, twice winning the World’s Strongest Man title.

He can claim to be the most capped British male athlete of all time, even though he retired from UK athletics in 1980, with sixty-seven international caps and thirty-five tournament titles to his name.

Sally Reddin competed in the shot put and javelin events at the 1996 Summer Paralympics. She went on to win the gold medal four years later in 2000 in the shot put but finished fourth in the 2008 Summer Paralympics.

Another famous sportsman with connections to Holbeach is former England rugby union player Cyril Lowe, who held England’s international try scoring record for more than sixty years with eighteen tries in twenty-five international games.

He was capped twenty-three times and went on to become a First World War flying ace, being credited with nine victories and receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Military Cross.
Lowe was also said to be the inspiration for W E Johns’ character Biggles.

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Lord Taylor also hails from Holbeach having been educated at Holbeach Primary School. William Stukeley, one of the founders of field archaeology, who pioneered the investigation of Stonehenge, was also born in the town in 1687.

The Orders of St John Care Trust is a not for profit registered charity which provides a range of high quality services for the elderly including residential care, nursing care, specialist dementia care as well as intermediate and day care and Extra Care, otherwise known as Very Sheltered Housing.

At Patchett Lodge, their care home in Holbeach, services include long and short-term care; respite care and short breaks; intermediate care and day care. The Lodge is set in attractive grounds close to the centre of the town.

Residents can be assured of complete peace of mind through professional and personalised care – with respect for each person’s individuality. You are welcome to arrange a visit or drop in for a chat, over coffee or lunch, to see if Patchett Lodge could be your ideal choice.

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