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Words: Melanie Burton
Photography: Mick Fox
Featured in the April 2016 issue

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Alford may be a small rural market town at the foot of the Lincolnshire Wolds but it has a big heart, a neverending spirit and a sense of togetherness which makes it unique.

At a time when places up and down the country are losing one facility after another due to ongoing budget cuts, Alford has become a town run by volunteers who have pulled together to ensure its fabric remains intact.

Town Mayor Sarah Devereux said what made Alford unique was that the community worked hard for each other and most people were involved with one project or another.

“Alford is a wonderful place. By far the biggest percentage of the things that go on in the town are run by volunteers. It is the community that does the work, the community volunteers that make the magic happen.

“If we want the services and want the facilities, we have to step up to the plate. And the people of Alford want to make it a thriving town and they care greatly about their environment. If they didn’t care we wouldn’t have the facilities we have.”

As chairman of the school governors, a town councillor and a district councillor, Councillor Devereux is heavily involved in various community activities and she loves spreading the word about what Alford has to offer.

“I am privileged to be representing Alford when I am out and about. It is a wonderful town to be in and a great place for children. I know that my children will be safe as there is always more than one pair of eyes on them. That is the safety and security the community brings.

“Alford is a town run by volunteers and it is a town where people care about each other and want to do things. They don’t do things begrudgingly, they do things because they care and that is what makes Alford an amazing place to live and to visit.”

Alford has a number of long-established groups, organisations and places of interest in the town but a number of new initiatives have recently been introduced which benefit all the community.

Alford Community Church (ACC) and ACCess which is the working name of Alford Community Church, provide a wide range of facilities and events for the local community throughout the week.

“They are really proactive in the town. They do a lot of things for the youngsters in the community and have just opened a new internet cafe to help people with their CVs and their job hunting,” said Mrs Devereux.

Another new initiative is the dementia support group which formed a few weeks ago and its cafe for dementia sufferers and their carers.

“Dementia doesn’t just affect the older generation. It is the carer that needs support, even if it is just a cup of coffee. You have people meeting up for a chat and it gives anyone that feeling of being part of something. They don’t suffer from the sense of exclusion which happens a lot in rural areas.

“You can have a quiet time but you don’t have to be lonely in Alford. It is not like other towns. If you walk through Alford people will say good morning to you. Sometimes that is the only interaction people have all day.”

Alford has often been thought of as a place holidaymakers and day-trippers travel through en route to the coast but it has plenty to offer visitors in its own right such as the Five-Sailed Windmill, the Memorial Park, the Manor House and the Corn Exchange.

“There is always something to do and now people are realising that Alford is a destination place not just a cut through to the coast. With the amount of activities going on and a number of key places to visit it makes Alford a vibrant town,” said Mrs Devereux.

“That is why you get such a mix of volunteers wanting to do things, wanting to put on events. People are having to step up to the plate and it is one thing that Alford does exceptionally well.

“It is not just pockets of people doing their own thing, it is a cohesive approach where people team together and work together and work for each other. It is a great community to be part of and people are proud to be part of the town.”

The Mayor’s views are echoed by fellow town councillor Richard Quantrell who is also chairman of the Memorial Park Trust and chairman of community group Focal Point which has just taken over the running of the town library.

“Alford is a volunteer-run town with support from Lincolnshire County Council and East Lindsey District Council. With more and more pressure being put on local authorities, in many cases we are having to take on the running of facilities ourselves and it may be the way other towns will have to go,” said Mr Quantrell.

“As money has got tighter and tighter, the district council and county council have had to decide where the money is going to go and Alford is that bit smaller than Horncastle, Mablethorpe and Louth so it has been below the cut-off point in terms of population to attract funding.”

Alford was granted a market charter by King Edward I in 1283 and became the market town serving the rural community with markets on Tuesdays and Fridays, cattle markets (now finished) and latterly craft markets.

The community has helped save several facilities for the town including the market, the children’s playground, now the Memorial Park, and most recently the library.

In September 2005 Alford Town Council became one of the first local town/parish councils to take over the management and running of its Friday market from the district council and less than a year later, it took over the running of the Tuesday market as well.

The library closed last September due to cost-cutting by Lincolnshire County Council. But it has now been reopened as a completely volunteer-run facility under the new name of Alford Focal Point.

“We have changed people’s idea of what a library should be. There was little comfortable seating. Library shelves were in straight rows and it felt very much that the only job the building was doing was providing shelves for people to choose books from,” said Mr Quantrell.

“We have created new seating areas – one for children with settees at both ends so parents and children can look at books together, and a separate seating area with comfortable chairs and armchairs around a mock fireplace.

“It has a feel of a gentlemen’s club and hotel foyer. We wanted it to be for more than just books.”

One thing that became clear when the Focal Point was being set up was that young mums in the town were keen for their children to learn to read and enjoy books and that there was nowhere for mums to volunteer.

“It can be very lonely on your own with a child all day so we are going to create a crèche upstairs. Having that facility not only gives us a source of volunteers but gives mums the opportunity to socialise if they feel isolated.”

There are lots of ideas buzzing around for the Focal Point, but one plan is to make part of the library a training and education suite with a computer area. Another community-run facility in the town is The Corn Exchange which was once Alford’s historic town hall.

Now owned and run by Alford Corn Exchange Community Group, the beautiful building has a large hall offering a cherry wood dancefloor which is perfect for ballroom dancing. It is lit by a large glass roof and has a stage with back access.

Chairman of the Trustees with the Alford Corn Exchange Community Group, Harry Dewick-Eisele said: “We can cater for bigger events and are host to many community groups. The hall can accommodate about 130 people seated and the stylish theatre bar offers a beautiful setting for coffee mornings and smaller groups. We also offer a modern meeting room for hire.”

Another community group, Alford Sports Hall Association, operates the Alford Sports Hall for the local community.

The Sports Hall was built in 1996 as the result of a ‘Chance to Share’ agreement between Lincolnshire County Council, John Spendluffe Technology College (JSTC) and the Alford Sports Hall Association (ASHA).

Recently JSTC has built a multi-use games area and ASHA is also currently managing activities on this site on behalf of JSTC.

Chairman of Alford Sports Hall Association, Pete Milson said: “It is a community sports hall. It is situated in the grounds of the John Spendluffe Technology College and is used by the students during the day in term time and by ASHA in the evening, weekends and during school holidays.

“A wide range of sporting activities happen within the hall (e.g. football, cricket, badminton, basketball and table tennis) and there is also a small but well-equipped gymnasium for personal training.

“ASHA also runs sporting activities for young people during the school holidays.”

ALFORD MANOR HOUSE
Built in 1611, Alford Manor House is a Grade II*-listed building providing facilities for hire and functions of all kinds (weddings, christenings, anniversaries and as a meeting place) throughout the year.

However, as a major visitor attraction in the area, the house is already awake after its winter break – but there has been no respite for the army of volunteers who manage the house and who have been preparing to host the range of activities planned for 2016.

Later this month the house will feature the third year of Alford Civic Trust’s World War One Centenary Exhibition: ‘Alford remembers 1914-1918’.

It is a highly-commended exhibition of memorabilia to remember the sacrifices of the people of the town and the area in the First World War. The exhibition will develop the theme of ‘Women at War’ with a reopening ceremony at The House on 29th April with the Trust’s latest vice-president, MP Victoria Atkin.

The Civic Trust and Alford Manor House volunteers host a full programme of functions and events right up until Christmas.

The renowned Alford Craft Market takes over the grounds on the August bank holiday. There are rallies and rural exhibitions, open-air theatre in July and August, talks and shows – and participation in the Heritage Open Weekend (10th and 11th September) – as well as Lincolnshire Day (30th September) and its very own Alford Manor House ‘Christmas extravaganza and tree festival’ (2nd December).

Situated at the rear of the seventeenth-century thatched manor is the Hackett Barn, which houses many of the town’s historic artefacts.

Complementing its extensive collection of rural and agricultural artefacts, the Hackett Barn Museum team continues to receive important items to restore and exhibit. These include a Massey Harris reaper binder, thought to be approximately 100 years old, that the team has restored to full working order and used in 2015 to produce some sheaves, and a rare 1957 Massey Harris combine harvester, which is currently undergoing restoration and which it is hoped will be running later this year.

The collection of stationary engines (including Lister, Petter and Ruston) are mostly now in working condition and will soon be displayed in the Coach House and the horsedrawn implements, wagons, carts and seed drills which all feature in the collection have been boosted recently by the acquisition of several ploughs.

During the Heritage Weekend the Museum will be open and will feature a Tractor Run on Saturday 10th September, with steam engines, vintage cars, stationary engines and tractors all on display. On Sunday 11th September there will be a Steam Threshing demonstration.

The Alford Manor House gardeners or ‘garden volunteers’ have been busy over the winter preparing for 2016, planting up a new bed with plants from a list Miss Dorothy Higgins had her gardener at the house send to her in France during the war years when she was a VAD nurse – so that she could recreate her own garden there.

A major restoration of the perennial flower border is underway to restore it as near as possible to the original designer’s plan and the medical herb bed is having attention where some of the plants have been lost and others outgrown their areas.

A new project for the year is developing the riverside wild garden into another attractive area for visitors. The Civic Trust volunteers also act as archivists – maintaining the archives, recording and preserving the history of the town and the district is vital.

The materials, painstakingly assessed and collated, range from agricultural implements to photographic glass plates and textiles – used to create displays of everyday life in a busy Lincolnshire town.

ALFORD CRAFT MARKET
Another fine example of successful community cohesion is Alford’s craft market, which has grown from small beginnings to become one of the longest-standing craft markets in the UK.

Last year it took a giant step into the future by opening a craft market shop in Alford Market Place in April, quickly followed by a craft market centre – completed in October and funded by a £9,000 Big Lottery Fund community project grant.

The funding enabled the conversion of two practically derelict rooms at the rear of the shop into rooms suitable for craft lessons to take place.

Alford Craft Market chairman, Priscilla McGirr said: “We are a non-profit organisation and are all volunteers. It is not a business, we are doing it for the craftspeople of the town.

“The shop has been open for a year now and that has done very well. We are thrilled with the way it has been utilised by locals and visitors alike and we are astonished by the response from people to our craft classes, which we have been running since October.

“There is a lot going on and we are still finding out what people want to do.”

There could also be further expansion on the horizon, with the possible conversion of the Old Bakehouse, a building also tucked away behind the shop, into a pottery and glass studio, following the craft market’s participation in the Big Lottery Fund The People’s Project Competition which carried a prize of £40,000.

“The funding would be used to renovate and equip the Old Bakehouse as a Pottery and Glass Studio.This means we would be able to offer classes in pottery, glass blowing, glass fusing, and glass beadmaking, in addition to the many craft classes we already run, and will double the amount of space we have for workshops and provide useful outside space in the form of a grassy area for breaks inbetween learning,” said Priscilla.

Alford Craft Market was established in 1974 as a venue where Lincolnshire craftsmen, makers and artists could gather and sell their work, offering the public something different, handmade with love and dedication in a variety of disciplines: ceramic, wood, iron, glass, textile etc.

Music, theatre and specialist makers have also been encouraged to join and display their skills.

SAFETY FIRST… SAFELINCS LTD IN ALFORD
Alford is often described as a little market town on the edge of the Wolds, but hidden here is one of the UK’s largest fire safety providers. Safelincs Ltd offers a huge range of fire safety related products and services, over 4,000 in fact.

Founded in 2001 by MD Harry Dewick-Eisele and now employing 30 staff, Safelincs is growing fast.

Harry said: “I started Safelincs as a small project and am delighted with our growth. I love Alford and am proud to be one of the main employers in the town.

“I think our success is down to the outstanding customer service we provide; not only that, we also have a large team of web developers, which keeps us abreast of our competitors.”

Safelincs offer great job opportunities too, with rewarding development prospects. Harry told us: “We enjoy seeing our employees grow and develop, and encourage staff to train and progress within the business.

“The fact that we have numerous staff that have worked with us for over ten years speaks for itself.”

Safelincs has just employed a further four members of staff and are always looking to recruit the right people.

HALF MOON HOTEL
Alford’s historic Half Moon Hotel is in the hands of new owners for the first time in 44 years. The listed building, which has a history going back some 400 years, had been owned and run by Dave and Jill Dixon since 1971. But last August, Wiltshire couple Bob and Dawn Gooderson took over at the helm after getting bored with retirement.

“We sold our catering company in Wiltshire in February 2010 but got bored with being retired so decided to go and do something else,” said Bob who has been in the industry since he was 24.

“We looked at about 50 different places all over the country and produced a database. It took about two years to find something that ticked most of the boxes but this was the one we chose and we are more than happy with our choice.”

The West Street inn has 16 en-suite bedrooms including singles, doubles, twins and family rooms, a large car park at the rear of the property which can safely accommodate 20 vehicles, an à la carte restaurant and a lounge bar.

“We have started some general maintenance but we are happy with the way it is and are not planning any major changes,” said Bob, who met Dawn when he lived in South Africa for 45 years.

EGG-CELLING FAMILY BUSINESS - PROVENANCE AT THE HEART
Did you know that Lincolnshire is home to one of the UK’s largest egg producers and packers?

When it comes to sourcing the freshest, highest quality, British eggs from an independent family business look no further than your doorstep and select locally produced Fairburn’s Lincolnshire Free Range Eggs from Alford based LJ Fairburn & Son.

Back in 1951 the business was established by Grandfather Leslie James Fairburn. With just £150 and 150 chickens the business was born. Over 60 years on the third generation is at the helm. Headed up by Daniel Fairburn, his two sisters Caroline and Sarah and his wife Sarah-Louise, the business is a major player in the British egg laying industry.

Fairburn’s has grown significantly but is still a true family farming enterprise. Production, milling and packing facilities are all managed within a 25-mile radius and the family are still in control of every process from day-old chick to the family fridge. The family commitment has always been to reinvest in the business to ensure it continues successfully for future generations.

Daniel Fairburn, managing director said: “We take pride in our eggs having genuine provenance and great taste. We develop bespoke diets for our chickens and have a passion for what we do – ensuring that the highest standards of care are in place across our farms. Family values are at the heart of everything we do and despite dramatic business transformation those values remain, helping us to deliver great tasting eggs locally and across the country.”

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