Recovery and growth at forefront of plans
New funding schemes and business developments in Spalding are encouraging future growth as the town responds to the challenges of the pandemic and Brexit, as Glynis Fox reports.
For many years the workforce in Spalding has been strengthened by agricultural workers from Europe but owing to Covid restrictions and the recent changes to employment laws brought about by Brexit, a lot of migrant workers have had to return home leaving the industry and its supply chains with a labour shortage. Calls have been made on the government to introduce new visas to allow firms to recruit critical roles such as lorry drivers and bring in seasonal workers to harvest the crops from the fields.
Organisations across the food and drink industry, including the National Farmers Union, have submitted a report asking the government to introduce a 12-month Covid-19 Recovery Visa in order to alleviate the shortages. They say this visa would provide a short-term response and allow firms to recruit critical roles such as lorry drivers.
South Holland is short of an estimated 100 lorry drivers and some firms have reported being unable to get products out to customers as a result.
The South Holland branch of the NFU has said the agriculture and horticulture industry needs up to 80,000 seasonal workers each year. But the current allowance is 25,000.
The business sector has also been impacted by the pandemic but help is at hand to aid its recovery and growth for the future.
South Holland District Council launched a new funding scheme – the South Holland Recovery and Growth Fund – at the beginning of August which is open to all businesses in the district and offers between 60-80% contributions towards both capital and revenue-related investments.
Unlike the previous emergency Covid grants that the council has helped distribute, which supported running costs to help keep businesses trading, this fund is focused on future development and growth and can be used to support a wide range of investments such as website development, staff training, business advice or consultancy costs and the development of marketing materials or promotional activity.
Applications are open until 31st December, with all grants awarded needing to be fully claimed by 31st March 2022
Councillor Harry Drury, South Holland’s Portfolio Holder for Commercialisation and Growth said: “As we move away from the challenges and difficulties the last year and a half have thrown at us, both personally and in our work, it is important that we do everything we can not only to return South Holland’s businesses to where they were before the pandemic, but also to invest, support and develop them to come back stronger than ever before.
“This new funding scheme will help local businesses of all sizes and sectors to start looking to the future and take the exciting next steps on their journey.
“I encourage anyone who thinks the funding could help them to apply and take advantage of this opportunity, and ensure that this vital investment is put to use in South Holland, where it can make a real difference to our residents, workers, visitors and economy.”
One of the main employers in Spalding is the UK’s leading manufacturer of fresh prepared food, Bakkavor, which just two months ago launched a recruitment drive with 89 vacancies available at its town site.
Bakkavor produces meals, salads, pizza and bread, and desserts for the UK’s major supermarkets, including Tesco, M&S, Sainsburys and Waitrose, and employs around 17,000 people in the UK, and a further 2,000 globally.
The company remained open for business for the length of the pandemic, working round the clock to produce the essential food items that could feed the nation and maintain the food supply at a time of national emergency.
Bakkavor’s recruitment drive is a welcome boost to local communities around the UK – at the very time when the phasing out of the furlough scheme will, for many, bring economic uncertainty.
Donna-Maria Lee, chief people officer at Bakkavor, said: “At Bakkavor, we’re immensely proud of our people and I would like to thank all our colleagues that have worked so hard during the pandemic to help us maintain food supply to the nation, helping to keep the supermarket shelves stocked at a critical time.
“As we re-emerge from lockdown, we have a wide range of jobs available at a large number of our well-established sites, all offering great career development opportunities.
“It’s important we continue to invest in the communities where we do business and we hope our employment drive will help many families to rebuild their lives after more than a year of lockdown.”
Bakkavor also invests in developing the skills of young people through its apprenticeship and graduate training programmes and has recently been commended by Jobs Crowd, winning the annual award for ‘Best Company in FMCG’ for its apprenticeship programme. The business also has an award-winning graduate training programme.
Springfields is another main business in the town, being one of the leading retail and leisure destinations in the East of England with more than 50 premium and high-street brands of men’s, women’s and children’s clothing for sale, a choice of cafés and restaurants and a Home and Garden Centre. It is also the home of Springfields Festival Gardens where it all began back in 1966.
Springfields’ award-winning gardens introduce members of the public, amateur gardeners and enthusiasts to a wide range of horticultural experiences including celebrity designed gardens by the likes of Kim Wilde and Charlie Dimmock, as well as formal gardens, woodland areas, wetlands, the Senses Garden and the Memorial, Sun Dial and Founders Gardens.
Springfields Adventureland includes the UK’s largest JCB Young Drivers’ Zone, giving children the opportunity to drive around in bright yellow pedal diggers, enjoy the JCB slide and use their imagination on many other items of interactive play equipment.
Since opening in 2004, Springfields Outlet has experienced years of consecutive turnover growth and an average occupancy rate of 98%.
And despite the challenges faced by all sectors over the past 17 months it has bounced back, showing a strong post-lockdown growth with sales-per-visitor numbers up 12% compared to 2019, like-for-like turnover averaging 95% and footfall averaging 83 per cent compared to two years ago.
Baytree Nurseries garden centre is another business that has put Spalding firmly on the map with a variety of activities, departments and themes for visitors to enjoy. Like Springfields it has been part of the fabric of the town for decades with its roots planted in the Swinging Sixties.
Reinhard Biehler left his native Bavaria in 1964 to seek work as a rose budder in Lincolnshire’s thriving rose industry.
He travelled from Germany on his Heinkel Tourist scooter, which is still on display at Baytree, and started rose budding at Market Deeping, later getting a job at Geest in 1970. This job involved budding roses in a field opposite the seven-acre Baytree House small holding.
Reinhard decided to buy the house and in September 1970 started trading from a market stall on the side of the road.
Before long the small stall had become a shop with a selection of raised beds sporting various shrubs and plenty of roses and was the talk of the area. Word soon spread, more buildings were created and soon a café and tarmac car parks were added.
Forty years on, Baytree is one of the biggest garden centres in the UK with now more than 100 members of staff.
SOUTH HOLLAND ARTS CENTRE
Following the easing of restrictions, more arts venues are starting to reopen and have made a few changes along the way.
The South Holland Arts Centre in Spalding is no exception and is now home to a new business. Adam Noble, of Resolution Pubs, has introduced both his Italian restaurant brand Moninna’s and his Platter & Pour ‘grazing boards and cocktails’ brand to the Spalding town centre venue.
Originally from Spalding, Mr Noble said he was excited to be bringing his restaurant business to the town centre and to be working with the district council in the South Holland Centre.
He said: “It’s great to see some of the new businesses that have already opened – the revitalisation of the Red Lion and Oscars, two great businesses – and the work that has gone on at Hills.
“I think Spalding really has something to offer and I think our business will definitely help in the town centre.
“We are really looking forward to working with some of the community groups that use the centre and to cater for events and things that they may wish to use.”
Councillor Gary Taylor, Portfolio Holder for Communities and Facilities, said he was delighted with the arrival of the new business in the South Holland Centre.
“South Holland Centre is at the heart of our community,” he said. “We are passionate about this and the future of it – based on the employment opportunities now provided by working with this new businessman and also continue to work with theatre groups and community groups and provide live performances and cinema for the residents of South Holland and beyond.”
Depite the closure of Ayscoughfee Hall & Museum during lockdowns, the gardens remained open to the public as an outdoor space ideal for those seeking respite.
Councillor Taylor said: “The council decided to keep these gardens open for the past 18 months during the pandemic because it is an important asset to the community.”
Now the Hall & Museum have reopened and visitors are invited to visit and enjoy this asset, which is a jewel in the crown of Spalding town centre.
Spalding’s new Poundland shop, which opened at the beginning of September, marked a milestone for the company.
It is the company’s 400th shop with clothing and is also one of more than 200 to offer chilled and frozen food as part of its project Diamond Ice.
The 8,000-square-metre shop, which is housed in the former B&M Bargains unit employs 24 people, including eight temporary staff.
It also includes a PEP&CO shop-in-shop, which offers PEP&CO clothing for the whole family along with homeware.
Tim Bettley, commercial director at Poundland, said: “It’s great to reach the milestone of 400 PEP&CO shop-in-shops as we have steadily grown to be one of the UK’s biggest and most popular clothing retailers.
“What better way to do it than opening the new store in Spalding which will showcase the best of what Poundland has to offer.”
The country’s most popular discount retailer is ready to continue playing its role in the recovery from the pandemic by opening 25 to 30 Poundland and Dealz stores in the UK and Republic of Ireland in the 12 months up to 30th September 2021.
As an essential retailer, the majority of Poundland remained open throughout lockdown with 29 stores brought out of hibernation in February and the other 43 reopened on 12th April in England, Wales and the Republic of Ireland.
Barry Williams, Poundland managing director, said: “We are cracking on with our transformation programme and our investment in new stores, refurbishments, new ranges and distribution.
“With the challenges faced by high streets, that’s good news for our customers, our colleagues and our communities.”
Photographs: Mick Fox