Reasons to be great

Words by:
Glynis Fox
Featured in:
December 2010

The ‘Grantham is Great’ Campaign seeks to highlight the best qualities of Grantham and to promote the benefits of living, working and taking leisure time in the area.
The quality of local schools is always important to families and Grantham can be justifiably proud of the long history and success of King’s School. Founded in 1329, the school prides itself on being part of the wider Grantham community and with recent new expansion to meet local demand the school will continue to seek success at the highest levels both inside and outside the classroom.

Kesteven and Grantham Girl’s High School cannot boast quite such a long history having been founded in 1910 but the school was the first in Lincolnshire to be designated Science Specialist status in 2003. The school has been further recognised as a high performing school and accredited with a second specialism in languages.

A thriving town centre needs a mix of shopping both national and quality independents, as well as restaurants and entertainment to attract both daytime and evening trade. Grantham can boast two shopping centres. The George Shopping Centre, situated in the heart of Grantham, is a stunning ‘boutique’ shopping and business centre housing both smaller independent retail outlets and high street names. With the Georgian façade of the former George Hotel, the Centre offers unique and individual shopping in a traditional setting. The Isaac Newton Shopping Centre has an appealing mix of retailers including Holland & Barrett, Costa Coffee and Superdrug.

With good communication links via the A1 and main East Coast rail line Grantham stands amongst attractive countryside and picturesque villages. With three of the county’s National Trust properties being situated in the area visitors are sure to find plenty to do on a day out. Woolsthorpe Manor, the birthplace and home of Issac Newton, is a small seventeenth century manor where you can still see the famous apple tree from Isaac’s bedroom window. Belton House is known as the ‘perfect English country house’ and is set in a beautiful deer park. With an opulent interior and stunning gardens, the house attracts visitors throughout the season. There are historical gems to be found within the city centre too. The King’s restaurant is widely regarded as the oldest surviving English inn, located at the Angel and Royal Hotel, as it is known today, which is a historic and much loved property many guests have enjoyed over the last eight-hundred years.

Harry’s Place on the High Street, Great Gonerby enjoys the distinction of being the smallest Michelin-starred restaurant, seating just ten people, in the pleasant Georgian home of Harry and Caroline Hallam.

As the festive season is upon us there are a variety of events within Grantham to spark the Christmas buzz in visitors and residents alike.

To add some festive spirit to the air St Wulfram’s Church will be hosting a Carol Concert in aid of Parkinson’s UK on Wednesday, 1st December. The St Wulfram’s choir and Hand Bell Ringers will be joining together with the Lincolnshire Hospitals Band for a magical evening of traditional family Christmas carols. The Meres Leisure Centre are offering an evening of feel-good festive entertainment with the Pasadena Roof Orchestra on Friday, 3rd December. With special arrangements of songs, ballads and timeless classics of the 1920s and 1930s visitors will enjoy a magical family show.

In a true Christmas spectacle the Guildhall Arts Centre will be presenting the enchanting fairytale of ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ throughout December. With glittering costumes and captivating scenery it promises to be a perfect festive treat for the whole family.

With a tempting range of both popular chain stores and independent shops in the town centre, as well as larger shopping centres Grantham offers exciting shopping opportunities. Hopper’s Jewellers on the High Street offer a wide selection of exciting quality jewellery, watches and gift ideas, as well as providing the finest gems, beautifully made jewellery, and original and creative designs. The Fabric Warehouse offers one of the widest ranges of furnishing fabric and interior design accessories in the whole of the county.

It is not hard to look for nominees for the ‘Grantham is Great’ campaign and several local initiatives are finding creative and constructive ways to add to Grantham’s assets.

Christine Burnett is the owner of the multi-faceted Westgate Gallery, which is real proof that you can successfully run a niche enterprise even in small premises.

Crammed to the gills, like a colourful sweetshop, it is simply bursting with top class art materials, super gifts and fabulous wooden toys.

“Everybody in business has to find a niche market, whatever that might be. We have been going for ten years and we expanded into selling wooden toys about eighteen months ago.

“We buy from across the EU, because it is a Single Market but we choose carefully. We have rejected many poorly manufactured goods in the past. We also think that, as sellers of these items, it is important to understand about the nature of play.”

Martin Radford of JMR Financial Management, which works with a range of smaller local businesses, said Grantham must aim to attract more shoppers.

“Grantham needs to make itself more attractive for prospective shopkeepers to start businesses and there needs to be rent and rate reductions, or even free periods (from payment) to help them to get established.

“I also think the town needs to promote more of its traditions and to try and attract more tourists. There is a lot on offer locally, including the Angel & Royal Hotel, Belton House, St Wulfram’s Church and interesting Swinegate and we also have plenty of accommodation for short-stay visitors,” added Mr Radford.

The Travail Employment Group has a branch in The George Shopping Centre and its business is a good indication of the jobs situation in Grantham.

Branch manager Mel Lewicki said the business offers both temporary and permanent staff.

“On the industrial side we are currently very busy, particularly with anything to do with warehousing and manufacturing. That could partly be the seasonal effect of Christmas time, but we are supplying staff to food and drink factories and packaging firms,” she said.

“On the commercial side, there is demand for office workers but there is also a hesitancy because some companies may not feel able to go out and recruit permanent workers.

“The impact of the VAT rise in January remains to be seen but it could increase demand for temporary staff, because companies do not have to make a long term commitment,” added Mrs Lewicki.

Grantham has been given ‘Growth Point Status’ and South Kesteven District Council (SKDC) said there is a clear strategy for its expansion over the next ten years and beyond.

Chief executive Beverley Agass said: “This focuses on strengthening the town centre and ensuring that Grantham is well-connected to its surroundings, by offering people a choice of high quality new housing, shops, leisure and business opportunities, and plenty of open, green space.”

Work is already underway, thanks to investment in the town’s historic Market Square – which is designed to invigorate and regenerate the hub of the town centre and create a more pedestrian-friendly environment.

Grantham station is seen as a major gateway to the town centre and offering excellent rail links to London and Leeds.

The regeneration of the station and its surroundings aims to create a really vibrant, mixed area, with a distinctive character, featuring a business quarter, with start-up units and a range of housing, said SKDC.

Southern Grantham is expected to benefit from an ‘urban extension’, including up to 4,000 new homes, commercial and leisure development opportunities and an improved infrastructure.

A key factor will be a relief road to reduce the amount of traffic going through the middle of Grantham.

Looking further ahead, the Council said that the development of Wharf Road and Greyfriars in the town centre would provide the bigger shopping areas which are needed to attract high-profile national retailers and provide the level of support needed by a town which has a rising population.

“Grantham is committed to this ambitious growth agenda to strengthen its position as a major regional economic centre within Lincolnshire,” said Mrs Agass.

“Success will ensure the town thrives as a successful business destination and a vibrant regional hub,” she added.

Market town trader Alastair Hawken is rallying businesses and the community to ‘get creative’ and help to boost Grantham and raise its profile across the county.

Mr Hawken, who has talked to South Kesteven District Council about ideas which could help to make the most of the town, said Grantham needs to start taking advantage of its ‘unique selling points.’

Now, in addition to his role as Grantham Business Club chairman, Mr Hawken also chairs the town’s Community Heritage Trust, which is working on ways to save the local museum for future generations to enjoy.

At the same time, South Kesteven District Council said it is also working hard on short, medium and longer term projects, which are designed to bring more business, jobs and visitors into Grantham.

Mr Hawken, who runs Panini in Westgate, said Grantham, like other market towns across the country, has seen the impact of the supermarket giants, fringe-of-town stores and the online shopping revolution.

“Grantham is doing better than a lot of market towns in the north of the country. The problem is the changing focus of retailing, which is moving to the edge of town and retail parks. The supermarkets are also vastly effective when it comes to providing everything that people need, under one roof.

“We have to do something about these issues and drive up footfall in the town by majoring on Grantham’s unique selling points – our heritage, our localness and our position, close to the A1 and on the East Coast Mainline,” said Mr Hawken.

“We need to put independent niche retailers back into the heart of Grantham – including those who are not trying to compete with the out-of-town stores and supermarkets.”

Mr Hawken would like to see more unusual and independent businesses, including boutiques and craftshops moving into town centre premises. He also urges landlords to take a really creative approach when trying to find tenants for premises, by being as “realistic as possible” about rents charged.

People are sorry that Grantham is to lose its Marks & Spencer store in the High Street in the New Year, but Mr Hawken has a suggestion.

“What about having a business incubator there. The Marks & Spencer could easily be converted to provide fifteen unique units for start-up businesses.

“They could be based there for twelve to eighteen months, share centralised services, and then hopefully move on elsewhere in the High Street. Grantham could become the start-up capital of the East Midlands,” he said.

But having a successful town is down to much more than shopping. Mr Hawken said it is vital to tempt people in with a range of attractions and events.

“We have to exploit our heritage, things like our Grantham Gingerbread and our connections with Margaret Thatcher, Isaac Newton and others. We also have attractions like Belton House and Belvoir Castle on our doorstep.”

A Trust has been set up to save the town’s museum, which Lincolnshire County Council has plans to close by the end of March.

“We do not want to see the Museum closed, so we have talked to the county council, written a final business plan, looked at the running costs of this venue and pulled together a team of 180 volunteers who are willing to give at least half-a-day a month to running it,” said Mr Hawken.

“They have the necessary skills, although we would probably need a Commercial manager. We would like to put in a bigger shop and educational resources. We would also look to offer free entry, but invite visitor donations.”

Mr Hawken said Grantham Community Heritage Trust is forging ahead with its negotiations with the county council with the aim of taking over the venue.

The Grantham Events Group is also working hard to encourage more people into Grantham. As we went to print it was busy gearing up for the town’s crowdpulling Christmas Festival and its Lights Switch On, on 28th November – from 4.30pm. This event brought in more than 5,000 people to the town last year and it is hoped to build on that number this year.

Famous figures, including former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Sir Isaac Newton and Thomas Paine have helped to put Grantham on the map.

But this destination is also known for its unusual ‘white’ gingerbread – and the town’s football team is also affectionately known as ‘The Gingerbreads.’

Mrs Thatcher was born in the town in 1925 and lived with her family at 2 North Parade, in a flat above her parents’ Alfred and Beatrice Roberts’ grocery store.

After attending the Kesteven & Grantham Girls’ High School, Margaret went on to Oxford (Somerville) and studied chemistry.

The outstanding mathematician and physicist Sir Isaac Newton was born on Christmas Day in 1642 and lived just outside Grantham, at Woolsthorpe. However, he went to The King’s School in the town.

Newton, who died in 1727, is credited with proving the laws of gravity, after studying a falling apple.

Political activist and journalist Thomas Paine (1737), who once lived in Grantham, is particularly remembered for trying to encourage people to take more interest in politics and understand how the decisions made by politicians affect their everyday lives.

But back to the gingerbread. This pale-coloured treat was first made in 1740 and totally by accident. Baker William Egglestone was busy cooking at home when he unwittingly created his own take on this popular food, when he failed to include black treacle, which is traditionally used in this recipe!

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