Town is fertile ground for growth

Words by:
Melanie Burton
Featured in:
April 2013

The euphoria of last year’s Olympic Torch visit, which saw record numbers of people on the streets of the Fenland market town of Holbeach, has left a lasting mark on the community which turned out to welcome it.
An ambitious regeneration plan had already been drawn up when the Torch Relay arrived in the area on the final day of its tour through Lincolnshire last July and the challenge it faces now is how to create a lasting legacy from that inspirational day.

An estimated 10,000 people turned out to see the Torch as it progressed through the town – the highest number of people ever seen in Holbeach.

Work has already been done to recreate that atmosphere and increase footfall into the area and the result is a 6ft by 4ft Olympic Mosaic designed by students from the University Academy Holbeach, which will soon be going up in the town to provide a reminder of that memorable occasion.

That legacy event is coming to Holbeach on Sunday, 5th May with the launch of ‘Transported’, an inspirational and highly ambitious arts project that aims to increase participation in the arts.

This £2.6 million project will be launched in the beautiful surroundings of Carter’s Park, with artists, performers, music and what has been described as a very unusual ice-cream van.

It is also hoped that the project will boost trade and footfall in the town by utilising the few empty shops for exhibitions and displays of art and crafts, along with street performers to entertain shoppers.

Over the course of the event, views and ideas will be sought as part of the project consultation to help further develop a sustainable arts event for the longer term and in so doing increase participation in the arts and footfall into the town.

The strategic plan for Holbeach and its associated action plan will be taking forward ambitious proposals to regenerate the town centre, with a variety of designs and viability studies, which will be discussed over the next two months.

If all goes to plan, consultations with the parish council, local businesses, the business forum and the public will commence followed by a tender process and more detailed planning applications.

Major construction is now very visible at the University Academy Holbeach, off Park Road. This multi-million-pound project, which will see new classrooms and a new sports hall, will be completed in the autumn of 2014, providing a first-class education for students in the Holbeach area.

Sitting alongside the University of Lincoln (Holbeach Campus) students will have excellent career opportunities in conjunction with some major local companies such as Bakkavor and QV Foods and a much wider range of courses to choose from to further enhance their skills and future job prospects.

At the same time, traders have been doing their bit to think of what improvements would help boost the local economy.

Though the town’s Business Forum went through a sticky patch and was on the brink of folding, it is now pulling together again to make a concerted effort to breathe new life into the area.

Dave Hudson of TOTO Shoes was the person who helped get the Forum back on its feet. It was struggling to find a chairman until Mr Hudson put himself forward.

“We need to get the forum up and running at full strength again and also to get a lot more people involved in it,” said Mr Hudson. “It needs to be talking as one voice.”

As acting chairman and a shop owner, he is well aware that the challenge is to get people back into the town centre and get a diverse range of businesses trading. And the first job is to start by improving the dwindling market which gives Holbeach its identity.

Mr Hudson said: “Holbeach is a market town and it needs reviving. It can be a real bustling town. The people are here. What we have to do is get people to realise what there is to offer and get them back into the town.

“In the next few months we are going to try and revive the market. That’s the starting point. By encouraging people to take on a market stall, we are hoping they might be encouraged to take on more.

“We have made some approaches to the council to get a free rent period, so we can offer it to other traders in Lincolnshire, and then we hope to be able to hold a few speciality markets again, like a craft market and an antiques market. It’s all about getting people back into Holbeach.”

There are positive signs that things may be picking up, with a few new shops already opening, and the Forum hopes that if more stallholders grace the market, people will stay put for their shopping needs.

“I have a shoe shop in the middle of town. There’s a few new shops opened attracting a few more people. There are nice gardens and an historic church. People think there’s nothing for them in Holbeach but once they start looking at what there is, they end up coming back here,” said Mr Hudson.

There has been a market in Holbeach for more than 750 years and it is located on two sides of the church at Market Hill traffic lights.

“We get two or three stalls but nothing like we did fifteen years ago. That’s why we are looking to improve the market because, from a business point of view, that is the starting point.”

Mr Hudson and his wife, Debra have lived in Holbeach for more than thirty years. “We have seen the good times and the decline and we were in a position where we were able to take on a shop and give people what they wanted. Last year was incredible and there is always a stagnant period but we are all about positivity in Holbeach and we are confident about the future,” said Mr Hudson.

The town also has a couple of major events aimed at showcasing what Holbeach has to offer. As well as the successful Christmas Fayre, there is now an annual Midsummer Fayre taking place organised by the Rotary Club of Holbeach and supported by the Holbeach Business Forum.

In addition to these events, Holbeach has a wealth of history which is always a big attraction for visitors.

A number of Roman and Romano-British pottery finds have been made in and about the town and its market charter was awarded in 1252 to Thomas de Moulton, a local baron.

All Saints’ Church was built in the fourteenth century and incorporated parts of de Moulton’s ruined castle, while the associated All Saints’ Hospital, for a warden and fifteen poor persons, was founded by Sir John of Kirton, in 1351.

It had ceased to exist before the suppression of chantries and hospitals. The antiquarian, William Stukeley reported that his father removed the ruins from the site now occupied by the Chequers Inn.

Until the beginning of the nineteenth century, the sea came to within two miles (3.2 km) of the town and there were severe floods recorded in the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries.

The land drainage programmes of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries moved the coastline of the Wash to nine miles (14 km) away, leaving Holbeach surrounded by more than 23,000 acres (93 km2) of reclaimed fertile agricultural land.

The Spalding and Norwich Railway (later incorporated in the Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway) opened Holbeach railway station in 1862. Like the rest of the M&GN route it closed to passengers in 1959 (before the Beeching Axe) and the line closed entirely in 1965.

The nineteenth century also saw the building of several small churches, including a Wesleyan and a Baptist chapel.

Preserving the town’s heritage is the number one focus for the Holbeach & District Civic Society and it has been for nearly twenty-six years.

It was formed by a group of residents in 1987 with the aim of preserving the area’s buildings of architectural and historic interest. And although members are not as young as they used to be, their dedication and enthusiasm for their cause is as energetic as ever.

Chairman, Roger Taylor, who classes himself as part of the Society’s youth element, because he is in his sixties, said: “What we try to do for the town is retain its old heart. We have an eleventh-century church in the centre of town and some nice buildings and we try to maintain the period appearance within the conservation area. We have a large conservation heart to the town and we keep an eye on planning in it.”

The Society also works hard to honour the town’s famous sons by putting up plaques as a tribute to their achievements.

“We have just started the ball rolling to get a plaque for William Stukeley, who was from Holbeach and was a friend of Sir Isaac Newton. He was also one of the founders of the Antiquity Society of London,” said Mr Taylor.

“We try to encourage people to visit Holbeach and we are looking to promote our Olympians, like Geoff Capes and Stuart Storey, who are good supporters of their home town.”

William Stukeley pioneered the archaeological investigation of the prehistoric monuments of Stonehenge and Avebury and was also one of the first biographers of Sir Isaac Newton.

He was the first secretary of the Antiquity Society which is a learned society charged by its Royal Charter of 1751 with ‘the encouragement, advancement and furtherance of the study and knowledge of the antiquities and history of this and other countries’.

The Civic Society meets once a month during the winter period and has outings during the summer. Fellow member, Bill Belsham, who is eighty-two, said Holbeach used to be a self-contained little town where you could buy anything you wanted.

“We had eleven grocers down the High Street, five or six bakers and four of five butchers. It is twice as large as it was.”

The launch event for this new arts project for the communities of Boston and South Holland will take place on Sunday, 5th May at Carter’s Park in Holbeach.

The organisers want to take the elitism out of art and will bring arts experiences to food factories, bus stops, school gates and parks around Boston and South Holland.

“It’s very definitely about doing things differently, about getting new people to experience great art, performances, dance, digital projection, as well as more traditional art forms and crafts,” explained the organisers.

To this end, apart from the launch and unveiling of a ‘celebrated’ customised ‘Arts’ ice cream van, there will also be a spectacular aerial performance; an artist ‘Transported Experience’ market; school parades with processions, costumes and music; live music; street performance and lots of flags and bunting!

Transported also includes plans for community-based environment projects, festivals, exhibitions and performances in libraries and other less common venues, all of which will be informed by ten weeks of consultation with the residents of the Districts.

A consortium has been specifically created to make sure relevant skills and knowledge are on hand to shape the programme. The consortium includes: Lincolnshire Community and Voluntary services, to make sure community groups get involved and are aware of what’s happening; Lincs Artist Forum, to make sure there is creative thinking at the heart of the programme; and artsNK, an experienced arts development organisation, to manage the team, which will be based in Boston and South Holland, so that the programme will be delivered effectively.

A new website will be launched as a platform for people to stay updated as the programme takes shape and to access the job opportunities, artist commissions and artist training initiatives.

Never miss a copy!

Big savings when you take out a subscription.

VOTE FOR YOUR FAVOURITE IN THE CATEGORY BEST RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR! We need your nominations – Celebrating Lincolnshire’s food, drink and hospitality businesses in our Taste of Excellence Food and Drink Awards 2024. Click here to vote date for nominations 31st August 2024. ... See MoreSee Less