Village hospitality and heritage

Words by:
Melanie Burton
Featured in:
December 2013

The Edwardian village of Woodhall Spa has such a unique character, visitors have been falling in love with it since it was first created and it has a legacy that still exists today.
Picturesque, with a vibrancy that befits a town rather than a village and with everything you could want on the doorstep, there is no wonder that its name is known far and wide.

Within a wooded area on the southern edge of the Lincolnshire Wolds, Woodhall Spa has a friendly active community, business fraternity and plenty going on throughout the year to attract visitors. Most people are familiar with the names Kinema in the Woods, Jubilee Park, the Petwood Hotel and the Cottage Museum, which are part of the village’s heritage but still as popular as ever. And the parish council has plans to ensure that Woodhall Spa continues to flourish well into the future.

Jubilee Park is a very popular destination for locals and visitors alike, especially in the summer months when the heated outdoor swimming pool is open.

Park manager, Joe Stanhope said final statistics were still being drawn up but 2013 has been a fantastic year.

“It has been a record-breaking year, for both the caravan site and the swimming pool and we have had success with the events we have been putting on through the summer,” he said.

“Thanks to the good weather for much of the summer, we have enjoyed an unprecedented number of admissions, revenues have exceeded budget figures for almost every month of the season – with July being exceptionally good – and the caravan site has also exceeded budget expectations, thanks in no small part to the improvements made in the shower block and our loyal customer base.”

It has been run by the parish council since April 2011 but moves are being made to develop a new charity to take over the management of the park to ensure its future prosperity.

“We are looking to put the park into a charitable trust at the start of next season to safeguard its future. It entails setting up a separate company which will lease the park from the parish council on a ninety-nine-year lease” said Joe.

There are also projects taking place to improve parts of the park’s heritage. An ambitious £5,000 scheme is underway to recreate the once-renowned Jubilee Park Rose Garden. Historically the Park rose gardens were a summer attraction enjoyed by many members of the local community and visitors. But sadly the borders are now in poor condition, due to disease and the age of many of the roses.

The Friends of Jubilee Park Group is behind the scheme and its grants co-ordinator, Julie Pole said: “Funding is going very well. We are just £1,000 short of our £5,000 target.

“We have enough to complete one whole area around the lawn but there is a circular border in the middle so we are hoping to get that done, as well as one of the other sides and on the pagoda as well.”

Obviously with Christmas just around the corner, the village is gearing up for its annual Christmas Fayre on 6th December which takes place on Station Road and The Broadway. There will be approximately sixty to eighty stalls plus street entertainment, late-night shopping, a parade and a carol service.

Another event that sees the village united is the 1940s Festival, which takes place in the summer and attracts thousands of visitors to the area.

Organiser and committee chairman, Simon Elmer said there have been two festivals so far and plans are already well underway for next year’s event. It takes place over the weekend of 19th and 20th July.

“Next year we are keeping the 1944 theme because 2014 is the 70th anniversary of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy and there were lots of significant things that happened in 1944,” he said. “We try and provide a wide range of events which hopefully will attract both ends of the spectrum, from the casual visitors and residents to the dedicated 1940s enthusiasts.”

The event not only brings history alive through its range of activities and attractions but it also has a significant impact on the local economy.

“The festival attracts between 3,000 and 4,000 people across the space of one weekend and the festival gets bigger every year,” said Simon.

“A lot of local people have family over for it and the hotels and campsites last year were fully booked for the weekend. We are expecting that to be the case this year and people are already booking their hotel accommodation for next year.”

One such hotel is The Petwood in Stixwould Road which was once home to the famous 617 Dambusters Squadron.

Hotel director, Emma Brealey said: “In addition to supporting the hugely successful 1940s Festival, The Petwood also has plans to commemorate the 70th anniversaries of D-Day and the sinking of the Tirpitz, with several lectures across the year.

“As usual there will be a range of exciting events throughout the year including live music, outdoor theatre shows of Sherlock Holmes and Much Ado About Nothing plus another Faulty Towers Dining Experience in September.”

The hotel is also hoping to restore its gardens to their original design.

“The Petwood’s gardens were designed by the renowned Edwardian landscape architect, Harold Peto. Planning permission was received earlier this year for the £1 million scheme and it is hoped that the final pieces of the plan, developed over two years, will come together by Christmas so work can start in the New Year.

“Once restored the gardens will add another dimension to Woodhall Spa’s already established tourism draw.”

Plans include re-landscaping the arrival and car parking areas, restoring stonework in the grounds, reinstating the Temple of Atalanta and the Jacobean Balustrade as well as enhancing the grounds with soft landscaping and planting from experts including a Chelsea gold winning designer.

One ‘jewel in the crown’ of Woodhall Spa is the delightful Cottage Museum which is situated at the far end of Iddesleigh Road and which opened in May 1987, on the same day as the dedication of the Dambusters Memorial in Royal Square.

It was the result of a fundraising effort by a dedicated team of volunteers to purchase the Bungalow, once the home of Thomas and Asenath Wield. Their son, John was a keen amateur photographer and his extensive collection of photographs forms the core of the museum displays to this day.

In 2012 the museum was completely refurbished thanks to a Heritage Lottery Fund Grant which allowed for the installation of thermal insulation, repair/replacement of the fabric of the building, where necessary, and the replacement of the dilapidated outbuildings, partially destroyed by an arson attack in 2010.

In their place is a suite of buildings, in the style of the originals, providing a community meeting room (which can be hired), a temperature controlled storage room, with roller racking for artefacts not currently on display, a general storage area and an IT room. The museum was also fitted out with a complete set of display cabinets and new displays.

The museum’s Phil Groves said: “The museum is still run entirely by a team of volunteers dedicated to preserving the heritage of the unique village of Woodhall Spa for future generations to enjoy.

“The first season since the refurbished museum opened has seen record numbers of visitors, many of whom have recorded very positive comments in the Visitor Book. The museum has also promoted a series of Family Fun Days through the summer which have been very well attended and it is planned to run similar events next year.”

Despite all that is going on and its long heritage, the village is not one to rest on its laurels. The parish council is in the process of drawing up a Neighbourhood Development Plan which will form the basis of what the village’s future should look like.

It is in the process of analysing questionnaires which were sent out to the community in the summer, asking people what their aspirations and ideas are for the village.

It is hard to believe that Woodhall Spa is a village when you visit its ninety-year-old cinema, which is tucked away at the centre of the aptly named Pinewoods.

The Kinema in the Woods was one of the first cinemas in Britain when it opened in 1922 and it remains the only fully-functioning cinema in the UK to employ back projection. Visitors from all over the area fall in love with its uniqueness and return time and again to enjoy a cinema experience that is rare to find.

Manager, Philip Jones said it had been another successful year for the cinema.

“It’s been a fantastic year for us with numerous special events and showings alongside all the usual blockbusters. We were part of the Dambusters 70th anniversary celebrations and were honoured to be joined for a special Black Tie screening of the film by surviving Dambuster, Johnnie Johnson and daughter of Barnes Wallis, Mary Stopes-Roe.”

This year the Kinema was one of eight exhibitors across the country to be nominated for UK Cinema of The Year at the prestigious industry Screen Awards held in London in October and presented by Edith Bowman.

“Although we didn’t come away with the award, it was a coup just to be nominated. It was also a great networking opportunity to be able to attend the awards alongside some of the top people in the industry, from distribution and exhibition to promotion agencies,” said Philip.

Other innovations this year at the cinema include monthly showings of modern and cult classics, such as Ghostbusters and The Shining in the last few months, and Back to the Future and Die Hard before Christmas.

“We’ve expanded our always popular Christmas programming to include six classic films (It’s A Wonderful Life, White Christmas, Elf, Die Hard, Miracle on 34th Street and The Muppet Christmas Carol), our annual Christmas Organ Concert performed by Robert Wolfe, which is entering its twenty-fifth year, and our ‘Christmas Eve Spectacular’ celebration which has already sold out,” added Philip.

A visitor to Woodhall Spa fell in love with the place so much that she decided to set up a business in the village – and she has never looked back.

Hugo’s of Woodhall Spa in Station Road is a quality ladies fashion shop and owner Karen Rowlett said it prides itself on good service and looking after its customers.

Established for several years, it attracts people from far and wide, helping to put Woodhall Spa on the regional map and gets its name known to a wider audience.

“I love Woodhall Spa and the feel of the village. It is a very friendly, picturesque village and there is always something going on. It has a character all of its own and although it has that village feel to it, it has so much to offer,” said Karen.

“Which other village has its own cinema, deli shop, swimming pool, tennis courts and bowls club? We have the 617 Squadron and Woodhall Spa Golf Club is home to the National Golf Centre and it all helps to bring people into the village. That’s why I started a business here.”

Hugo’s of Woodhall Spa started life as a menswear shop but just over three years ago Karen and her husband Paul opened another shop called Chesters in the heart of the tourist area in uphill Lincoln and turned Hugo’s over to women’s fashion.

“Business has gone very well and I have a wide client base with customers coming from all over including Yorkshire,” said Karen. “I cater mainly for the mature lady and sell quality clothes in sizes eight to twenty, from everyday wear to mother-of-the-bride outfits. It is nice when you get to know your clients. Now when I go buying stock I will have someone in mind when I see a particular outfit.”

With fantastic weather during the summer, the continuing popularity of the staycation and plenty to offer on the doorstep, it has been a year to celebrate for Woodhall Spa’s five-star camping and caravan site, Woodhall Country Park.

Not only has it enjoyed a busy but successful holiday season, it has also added another top accolade to its list of awards and notched up a couple of firsts along the way.

The site, which only opened three years ago, has been voted Heart of England Campsite Of The Year for 2013 by the AA – recognition that it is the best in an area covering counties from Lincolnshire to the Welsh borders, down to Warwickshire, up to Yorkshire and across to Derbyshire.

The site’s high standards have previously been recognised, with the Park achieving and maintaining AA five pennant status and five stars from VisitBritain – the highest grading available through these national schemes.

Offering luxury touring and camping facilities in an eighty-acre site, Woodhall Country Park is set in woodland on the outskirts of Woodhall Spa. It was developed by Woodland Estates Ltd and opened in August 2010.

Manager, Ian Edmondson said it had been a good year for the park. “Compared to last year, it has been a very different season and we are really pleased. The fine weather has helped and it has been a good year. But we are getting re-entry customers which is very pleasing.

“Winning the AA campsite award for the Heart of England area is an honour and has given us great publicity. To get that positive feedback and recognition after four years’ hard work is fantastic.

“We are are the only site in Lincolnshire with five pennants from the AA and we are going from strength to strength.”

With state-of-the-art facilities, including sustainable buildings for amenities such as toilet blocks with under floor heating powered by a biomass boiler, the site has been developed in keeping with the natural surroundings.

Customers are also able to indulge themselves in a spot of ‘Glamping’ with recently introduced Sky Lodge camping pods nestled amongst the trees.

“They have proved very popular. We are the only place in the country where you can stay in one of these,” said Ian.

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