Plaza will set the scene

Words by:
Melanie Burton
Featured in:
April 2012

There is an air of excited anticipation in the Lincolnshire port town of Boston at the moment – and it isn’t just to do with the major national events taking place this year.
Though the town is preparing to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and mark the passing through of the Olympic Torch, top of Boston’s 2012 agenda is the end of the eight-month, multi-million pound upheaval of its Market Place.

The scheme, due for completion next month, aims to make the town more attractive to visitors and shoppers alike. Work has seen new pedestrianised areas being installed, old paving slabs being removed and replaced with attractive York and granite stone and the old Five Lamps street light, which was a distinctive feature of Boston for decades, being renovated and reinstalled.

Boston Borough Council economic development manager, Ian Martin said it had been a long period of upheaval for traders in the town but feedback has been positive.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel now and we are grateful that businesses have borne with us. There has been a lot of positivity from people and there is quite a buzz of anticipation,” said Mr Martin.

“The shopkeepers have suffered for the past eight months because footfall has reduced, but we anticipate that once the Market Place is opened up, everyone will benefit and it will help the retailers.”

The scheme will create a ‘town plaza’ and Boston Borough Council hopes it will spark a pavement café culture for open-air entertainment, with a programme of summer events in the pipeline and a permanent buskers’ corner planned.

The stalls were moved out of the Market Place for the first time in 500 years when resurfacing work began in July. Stalls were set up in Wide Bargate, making way for the £2 million refurbishment scheme which it is hoped will revitalise the area and bring the heritage of the Market Place to life.

In line with the £2m revamp of the streetscene, the council has secured £650,000 funding from English Heritage from its shop fronts grant scheme, to try and enhance the appearance of properties bordering the new-look Market Place.

This means grants of up to eighty per cent are available to shops, so they can bring their shopfronts back to a traditional look. The council says the scheme will help capitalise on the history of the town, described by English Heritage as the most important market town in the East Midlands.

“We have had a lot of expressions of interest and I feel it will be quite exciting,” said Mr Martin.

“There are a lot of things happening at the same time and there is big investment going on.

“When the market returns in May we are looking into buying new canopies and stalls to make it look fresh, new and cheery. It’s a big market. We have been fortunate that, when we moved it to the other end of town during the refurbishment, we didn’t lose any traders at all.
”We are optimistic that when the market is back up and running it will increase footfall.”

The council has appointed a new markets officer to oversee the market when it returns to its original place. Steve Fletcher has been working in local government since 1988, beginning his career in parks and gardens, and then transferring to markets, eventually becoming markets manager for Ashfield District Council, Nottinghamshire, for eight years before moving to Skegness with his wife.

There are lots of other schemes under way in Boston to help make the town a more attractive place to visit and live.

Boston is bidding to become a ‘Portas Pilot’ town which carries with it a £100,000 cash injection as well as support from the Government and TV’s ‘Queen of Shops’, Mary Portas who led an independent review into the future of the UK’s high streets last year.

An economic boost of up to £500m could also be on the cards through plans for a tidal barrier in Boston which aims to reduce the risk of flooding from a one in fifty chance to a one in 300 chance for 10,000 homes and 900 businesses.

It is also the next stage in ambitious plans to open up the region’s waterways for tourism which would improve the town’s character, increase opportunities for riverside walking, cycling, angling and marinas, encourage waterfront businesses and increase water-based freight.

In addition to this, Boston College has made a £1.7 million investment to the town with the opening of a new state-of-the-art, purpose-built sixth form centre.

“There is a lot happening to improve footfall and the whole visitor experience. The college has made a big investment and Boston Stump is also undergoing a £250,000 renovation,” said Mr Martin.

“Long-term projects include the flood barrier and a new footbridge to link the two parts of town and for the first time we are participating in the Britain in Bloom scheme. Hopefully this year will be a good year for us.”

Britain in Bloom is organised by the Royal Horticultural Society, which seeks to bring about community involvement in making lasting improvements to areas for everyone who lives, works and visits there.

The Boston BID (Business Improvement District) group is behind the town scheme, Boston in Bloom, and homeowners are being invited to support the project by decorating their frontages with hanging baskets, window boxes, tubs and planters in a red, white and blue planting scheme to also celebrate The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

It is one of a number of initiatives being launched to improve the appearance of Boston in the long term and impress Britain in Bloom judges who are due to tour the town in July.

Litter, graffiti, anti-social behaviour through to conservation, sustainability and improving horticultural standards will all be tackled to create cleaner and greener surroundings and civic pride.

Plans are also afoot to brighten up parts of the riverbank through Boston with a show of red, white and blue wild flowers and a Diamond Jubilee water feature is to be unveiled in honour of The Queen’s sixty-year reign during the Big Jubilee Picnic in the Park community day in Central Park on Bank Holiday Monday, 4th June.

The fountain will be the centrepiece of a newly designed Victorian garden in Central Park, which will form part of the borough’s Boston in Bloom 2012 effort. In addition, as a tribute to the 2012 Olympics, a special Olympic rings flower display will be unveiled to add to the jubilee floral festivities.

Boston BID’s manager, Niall Armstrong, said there are a number of projects on the go to help boost Boston.

“It is an exciting time for the town with the newly renovated Market Place, the town’s bid to become a Portas Pilot town and the Boston in Bloom project,” he said.

Plans are also well advanced for a new free music festival in Boston on 21st April which it is hoped will instil a sense of community in the town and also foster links with America.

Organiser Tim Norman, who hails from the US, said he came up with the idea as his way of doing something for the community.

“We have had a pretty hard year and I wanted to give people the chance to have an enjoyable afternoon with family and friends without spending too much money. There will be something for everybody,” he said.

Boston Stump

Boston’s iconic parish church, St Botolph’s, is set to benefit from its biggest investment for over 150 years.

Thanks to a number of substantial grants, the church, which boasts the tallest non-cathedral church tower in the world and has acted as a landmark to sailors for centuries, is undergoing a £250,000 revamp to improve its community and visitor facilities.

The work, which started in January and is expected to be finished by the beginning of May, consists of the removal of the current shop and replacing it with a permanent heated structure along with two adjacent multi-purpose rooms and the construction of a new café on the south wall of the tower, which will provide visitors with drinks and light refreshments.

The church has suffered for many years by not having toilets on site and the final element of the project is to convert the existing verger’s / parish administrator’s office into toilets, with facilities for the disabled.

Vicar of Boston, the Rev Canon Robin Whitehead, said: “This development is fabulous news for the church and the town. We have been working for over four years to finalise our plans and secure the funding. We thank the many organisations which have contributed to the project and many people who have helped us achieve our goal.”

The Len Medlock Voluntary Centre
A voluntary community centre in the heart of Boston is hoping to expand its use as a conference and meeting venue.

The Len Medlock Voluntary Centre, which was built specifically to serve the community and voluntary sector in the town, is promoting its services and facilities to groups, organisations and the general public in the South Lincolnshire area.

Located on St George’s Road, West Street, close to the bus and railway stations, the centre has been serving the community of Boston since it opened in 1999 and every year tens of thousands of members of the public pass through its doors for a variety of reasons.

It has conference and meeting room facilities available to hire, with refreshments available on request. The conference room, ideal for conferences, meetings, training and other events, has capacity for up to forty-five people and has a twenty-person conference table, kitchen facilities and a serving hatch.
Equipment available includes laptop, drop-down display screen, overhead projector, flipchart, white board and display boards.

The centre also has a ‘drop-in’ office with capacity for up to five people. It is ideal for drop-in sessions, smaller meetings and one-to-one sessions. Equipment available includes desk space and chairs and computer access.

Run by Boston Volunteer Centre Charity and managed by South Lincolnshire Community and Voluntary Service, the centre is open five days a week with out-of-hours room bookings available on request.

For more information or for a full list of prices, contact Tom McBeth on 01205 365580 or

Boston music festival
The people of Boston will be able to get in the party mood ahead of the town’s celebrations for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in June, through a new free music festival.

The event, on 21st April, will take place at four different venues around the town and offer a variety of music genres at the same time. It will also raise money for the LIVES charity.

Organiser Tim Norman, who is managing director of North Woods Entertainment, came up with the idea to give something back to the community.

“It is the first year it has been done, but this is only the beginning. If it goes well this year, hopefully we can make it an annual event. We have had a pretty hard year and I wanted to do something for the community,” he said.

“There will be something for everybody and most of the bands playing are local. It is going to be free to help people out and give them the chance to spend an enjoyable afternoon with family, friends and neighbours without having to spend too much money.”

Sponsored by the town’s Chatterton’s Solicitors, the festival will feature jazz and blues at The White Hart, country and bluegrass at The Carpenter’s Arms, metal and rock at the New Inn, and folk and Celtic music at Fydell House.

Mr Norman is hoping the festival will help strengthen the town’s links with the United States and attract more American visitors to the town.

“There’s a lot of history in Boston and I am hoping to try and get Boston and the United States interacting. America has historical roots in this town and ultimately I want to try to get more Americans to come to Boston. Having events like this will give them something to plan their trip around.”

Mr Norman, who hails from America but who has now made Boston his home, hopes the festival would also boost local trade.

“We have a lot of character in the town and I don’t want to see it getting to the point where we have a bunch of empty shops. When you have that, it has lost its character and you get all sorts of problems.

“I wanted to do something for the community and hopefully this festival will give people something to enjoy and will help local trade,” added Mr Norman.

Mr Norman is also chairman of the Boston Placecheck Project which is a partnership between Boston Borough Council and South Lincolnshire Community and Voluntary Service.

The key aim of the project is to empower local communities to take ownership of their neighbourhoods and to support residents to feel that they can influence decisions on issues which affect them in their daily lives.

Blackfriars – a theatre in dreamland

You can hear the applause ringing around theatreland – but not for the latest Andrew Lloyd Webber spectacular or even for the record-breaking Agatha Christie thriller, The Mousetrap.

No indeed, this applause is for a very special and much-loved small theatre, the Blackfriars Arts Centre, which has not just survived the threat of closure but is now punching well above its weight by presenting the sort of productions and stars that you would normally only see on a large stage in a city venue.

Blackfriars Arts Centre is in fact a superbly restored building, originally a Dominican Friary now containing a 230-seat theatre, an eighty-seat Cabaret Revue Bar, a Foyer Gallery which houses regular visual arts exhibitions, and an art studio and a number of multi-purpose rooms.

Its history as a venue for the arts dates to a meeting of the local drama and arts groups which took place in 1959, at which it was resolved to find premises which could be converted into a theatre. Led by Alan Champion, warden of Pilgrim College, and local architect Alan Meldrum, the idea of creating a ‘Little Theatre’ from the remains of the thirteenth-century Dominican Friary, in Spain Lane, began to take shape. In September 1961 the Blackfriars Trust was formed to raise money for the conversion, supported by a grant from the Ministry of Works.

The opening of the theatre in 1966 was the first stage in the development of a complete Arts Centre. Over the following years two studios, a kitchen and office were added, and in 1980 the first full-time professional director was appointed. Today Blackfriars has a full-time theatre manager and relies on a dedicated force of volunteers who provide vital support in the box office, administration, as front of house stewards, bar staff and various other duties.

That manager, or theatre director as he is officially known, is the very experienced Mike Raymond who once trod the boards as both actor and entertainer, as well as producing, directing and writing many varied productions. You only have to meet Mike for a few minutes to be engulfed in his enthusiasm for entertainment and in particular for Blackfriars.

“I just love the place, it has so much character,” said Mike. “It is hard to believe that little more than five years ago it was nearly lost for good as its financial structure crumbled. Fortunately a brilliant group of people got together and with loans and support from local organisations the theatre was saved; since then it has never looked back.

“I came here at the start of 2009 and my first job was to put together a varied programme, with something to appeal to every age group – we wanted and still want to appeal across the board. So from warbling to wrestling, you can expect to see it all at the Spain Lane venue. My next job was to try to make people in Boston aware that there is a lovely theatre here, because I don’t think everyone realised that.

“There are probably still those who do not know what a gem of a theatre they have in Boston but gradually the word is getting through. we have had an excellent panto run and we have some real stars wanting to come here. Gerry and the Pacemakers love coming here as does Dominic Kirwan, the Blues Band, the Searchers, the Fureys and Davey Arthur and many others. We have recently had the fantastic Celtic Dream production, which rarely plays at smaller than 1,200-seat theatres, the Vienna Festival Ballet and in June we have the highly-acclaimed Michael Jackson Concert. It is not just the events on stage though; we have a very healthy theatre academy and a dance academy to give a helping hand to the starts of tomorrow,” Mike explained.

“The theatre still needs some help of its own though. We have turned things around in making Blackfriars a venue where you can see a wide variety of great entertainment but we still need money for refurbishments and better equipment. We are more grateful than we can ever say to all those people and organisations who have given us financial help through sponsorships, loans and so on and to our many volunteers, but we still have another gear or two to move up and that means that we still need a little more help, even though our books are balanced.
“Our seating for example could do with replacing. The seats are adequate but they have been here a good many years and have seen their best days. General costs do not lessen including print. We have more than 50,000 printed items each year and we would love to add more sponsors’ names to our brochures and leaflets. The theatre has been to some dark places in the past but now the lights are shining here and we would welcome people, businesses and organisations to become a part of the story,” added Mike.

Boston’s Blackfriars Arts Centre has weathered many storms and has even become something of a role model for other small theatres around the country. No wonder the phone rings regularly from agents and managers expressing the interest of surprisingly big names wanting to appear at Boston. They want to be a part of the success story too. After all, that’s show business!

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