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Words: Melanie Burton
Photography: Mick Fox, Paintings: David Work
Featured in the December 2011 issue

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Major investment is being ploughed into the North Lincolnshire town of Scunthorpe to boost jobs, support local businesses and inject new life into the local economy.

Exciting developments are being planned which will lead to thousands of new jobs being created, more homes being built and increased town centre footfall.

Major employers Tata Steel is set to inject £1.5 million through its subsidiary UK Steel Enterprise into the North Lincolnshire and Scunthorpe economy with a three-part package of support for local businesses.

And the Government last month granted North Lincolnshire Council’s Regional Growth Fund application, which means over the next three years £10 million will be invested in the region.

On top of this, word on the street is that it has been a good trading year for the town’s independent retailers and more High Street names are setting up shop.

UK Steel Enterprise (UKSE) was established to help the economic regeneration of communities affected by changes in the steel industry. The £1.5m support is part of the company’s response to the restructuring affecting its Long Products business in Scunthorpe.

UKSE regional manager, and a member of the Economic Response Task Force, said: “This is a package of support to help boost businesses and employment in the local area.

“We want to help people to create new businesses and support existing companies in creating more jobs so that the local economy improves and the surrounding communities can prosper. If any local companies need finance to help them expand then we would like to hear from them.”

Part one of the package will provide support for existing businesses in the area that have the capacity to grow and take on more employees.

The second part will provide support for start-up businesses and to assist people looking to take on self-employment while the third part will offer assistance for community initiatives that support local regeneration.

The Regional Growth funding will be used to capitalise on the opportunities of the area in relation to offshore wind farm developments and the wider renewable sector.

It will also be used to help create new businesses and new employment opportunities and enable existing businesses to grow and diversify and assist small and medium-sized enterprises to improve business viability and efficiency.

North Lincolnshire Council also has an ambitious regeneration project in the pipeline called Lincolnshire Lakes.

Through the development of a number of lakes, 10,000 quality new houses, state-of-the-art office accommodation and leisure and sporting facilities, it is aiming to create a major new sustainable and ecological waterside neighbourhood on the western fringe of Scunthorpe.

In addition, more than 15,000 jobs are set to be created during the next ten years as part of a major economic investment on the South Humber Gateway that will also create thousands more temporary construction jobs.

Scunthorpe Market has also undergone major refurbishment, with a new entertainment area being created alongside an area of refurbished stalls. This has attracted many new traders to the market – and is proving popular with shoppers too.

The food hall, open six days a week, is now fully occupied, with the latest additions being a new florist and vegetable stall. With six butchers, a fishmonger, pie, bread and cake stalls, the market is tempting shoppers away from the supermarket and back to traditional high street shopping.

Another area ripe for development is the site of the old leisure centre which has been demolished following the opening of The Pods and Central Park sports facility. Work is underway to take down an old multi-storey car park and the council is now looking to work with developers and investors to create a town centre extension.

Tourism and town centre manager Christine Edwards said, like every other town in the country, there have been some retail closures on the High Street, such as TJ Hughes which scaled down its operations across the UK. But it had also seen some significant additions and expansions.

“Bhs outgrew its High Street store and developed a flagship anchor store in The Parishes shopping centre. This was the second of its concept stores opened in the UK and has extended the range of goods available to shoppers to include lighting, homewares and furniture. Retail giant Primark quickly acquired the vacant Bhs, recognising the investment potential of Scunthorpe for its growing chain,” she said.

Fallen Hero launched a brand new flagship store in The Parishes shopping centre in April in an expansion from its previous premises, which were no longer suitable to house the growing number of highly sought after brands it was adding to its portfolio.The expansion came after twenty-eight years trading in Scunthorpe town centre.

And quality independent jeweller, Coe and Co, expanded and opened a second shop on the High Street.

“The council continually monitors footfall in the town to establish shopping patterns and from March to June the footfall ‘percentage change’ - how many people are coming back to shop on the high street – was greater for Scunthorpe town centre than for any regional town or city,” said Christine.

“While there was a dip over the summer as people went away on holiday, the figure is rising once again. It is fantastic news that our independent retailers are doing well. At times such as this, things like quality and customer service really matter. People have a limited amount of money in their pocket and they want to spend it wisely.

“We see the growth of the general market as being vital to the success of the town centre as a whole. If we can persuade more people to do their weekly shop in the town centre, everyone will benefit.

“Scunthorpe is lucky to have quality independent shopping alongside high street names,” she added.

Another initiative to help boost the economy by encouraging more shoppers away from the out of town retail parks and back into the town centre was the introduction of one hour’s free car parking in Scunthorpe’s three most popular car parks.

Shoppers can also park for free on late night shopping dates in all car parks in Scunthorpe, Brigg and Ashby after 4pm. In The Parishes multi-storey, this applies from 4pm-8pm only.

Current chairman of the North Lincolnshire branch of the Hull and Humber Chamber of Commerce, Paul Cooper, who is also sales director of CJM Asset Management, said things were slightly improving in the Scunthorpe area.

“It’s been very difficult for retailers across the entire country but it is looking positive and hopeful. Scunthorpe holds its breath every time Tata Steel says there is going to be a press announcement but it has just committed to investment in the Scunthorpe works which is great.”

He said the green energy developments were attracting people from all over the world who were looking to the Humber estuary for potential factory sites.

“It’s all good news for Scunthorpe with all the interest in the Humber area. The local authority and businesses have come together and formed the Humber Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

“It is quite unique in that it is being organised and run by the Chamber of Commerce whereas elsewhere they are run by local government which is having to make cuts so they haven’t got any money. But the Chamber has already got funding from businesses, which will be ploughed back into the local economy.”

He said the LEP had made a successful bid to become an enterprise zone and it had secured 375 hectares in the Humber area.

“It is the largest enterprise zone in the country to date,” said Mr Cooper.

GOOGLE AWARD
Scunthorpe is leading the way in online commerce.

It has been crowned the UK’s top eTown by Internet search engine Google, beating 700 other towns and cities across the country for the honour.

At a time when the internet is spurring economic growth, this new Google award was designed to recognise those towns generating the highest growth in online commerce activity, driven by local businesses.

Google shortlisted twenty towns and then ranked them in terms of the percentage increase in local small and medium sized enterprises using AdWords over the last year.

Scunthorpe came out top with almost fifty per cent growth in 2010/2011, indicating that the town’s local entrepreneurial spirit and Internet savvy is boosting growth across the area.

The report, published by the Boston Consulting Group, predicted that the internet’s contribution to GDP will increase from 7.2 per cent today to ten per cent in 2015.

It says companies with an online presence grow at least four to eight times faster than those companies without.

Hull and Humber Chamber of Commerce’s North Lincolnshire branch chairman Paul Cooper said: “We are delighted that Scunthorpe’s local business owners are turning to the Internet to drive growth across the region and boost their sales.

“While the recession and other challenges have meant bad news for many businesses, many of Scunthorpe’s entrepreneurs have seized the opportunity to turn their businesses around, or start their own businesses from scratch, with the use of the internet and services like Google AdWords. With almost fifty per cent growth in the use of Google AdWords, the future of online business looks bright for Scunthorpe.”

Aden Priest has been a local photographer in Scunthorpe for seven years and set up his own business last year offering contemporary portrait photography and a wedding service.

“It is vital to have a strong online presence because that’s where the future is. About thirty per cent of my customers now come from Google so I’d definitely recommend that business owners get a website or boost their online offers,” said Mr Priest.

MP for Scunthorpe, Mr Nicholas Dakin said: “I am delighted to represent an area with such a growing online spirit. While we face many challenges on the jobs front locally it is great to see the Internet playing a key role in Scunthorpe’s economic growth, helping local businesses and entrepreneurs thrive, as well as contributing overall to the wider British economy.”

THE PARISHES SHOPPING CENTRE
It might have been a difficult year for the retail industry in general but The Parishes shopping centre in Scunthorpe remains upbeat about the future and is not going to let the credit crunch ruin its Christmas celebrations.

It has some extra festive treats in store for shoppers throughout December including a ‘Christmas Toy Trail’, where children have the opportunity to help Santa find his lost toys, save Christmas and win a Nintendo 3DS.

An Ice Man human statue will also be visiting the centre to amuse the crowds and there will be free face painting activities.

Alongside North Lincolnshire Council and The Foundry shopping centre, The Parishes will also be hosting a variety of street entertainment including ‘Snow and Ice’ and ‘Santa and Elf’ themed weekends.

Centre manager at The Parishes, Tony Pickering, said: “We are excited to team up with other businesses to give local people a Christmas to remember.

“We are delighted to go that extra mile for our shoppers, adding value to their shopping experience. We have lots going on every weekend throughout December to entertain the kids, with attractive events and competitions.”

Though visitor numbers have changed very little compared to 2010, this year has seen many changes which have had a major effect on the retail industry.

“Starting with an early summer, a major dip in the economy, retail businesses falling into administration, redundancies, rising fuel costs, domestic utilities increases, to name but a few, have had a major effect on disposable income and how people spend,” said Mr Pickering.

“But at The Parishes shopping centre we try to remain positive in offering something for everyone. These are indeed difficult times for retail. However, there is plenty on offer in the lead up to Christmas with lots of bargains to be had by everyone.”

The departure of TJ Hughes was a major blow for the centre and for Scunthorpe town centre as well and coincided with the loss of a couple of local businesses around the same period.

“However, we are looking to see the arrival of a further two offers occupying our units in the near future, with a possible third under discussion, so on a positive note there is still business interest in joining The Parishes,” said Mr Pickering.

BATHS HALL EVENTS
It may have been open for less than a month, but Scunthorpe’s new entertainment centre, Baths Hall,
has a busy festive period ahead.

Mayor of North Lincolnshire, councillor Keith Vickers, formally opened the venue on 7th November and the curtain went up on its first show featuring top comedian Bill Bailey four days later.

An investment of £15.3 million from North Lincolnshire Council has seen these state-of-the-art premises constructed in just eighteenth months, on the site of the former Scunthorpe Youth Centre and Baths Hall.

The new venue includes an auditorium to cater for seated audiences of more than a 1,000 people, with a capacity of up to 2,000 for standing events.

Its design, led by North Lincolnshire Council’s own architects, also incorporates cutting edge eco-friendly technology.

First opening in 1931 as a public baths, the former Baths Hall became a local legend from the 1970s on with bands including The Kinks and The Levellers performing, as well as regular appearances by John Peel.

The original 1930s frontage and part of the building behind it has been retained in the new centre.

It is being managed by SMG (UK) Ltd, the largest operators of sports and entertainment venues in the UK and Europe, working in partnership with the building’s owner, North Lincolnshire Council.

Shows being presented over the next few weeks include the heartwarming rags-to-riches musical ‘Annie’, starring the hilarious Su Pollard from 6th-11th December, the defining voice of contemporary English folk music, Kate Rusby, on 17th December and ‘Christmas with the Rat Pack’ on 22nd December – a production that celebrates the singing talents of the legendary trio Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis and Dean Martin.

Another new venue, which is helping to put Scunthorpe on the entertainment and leisure map, is the futuristic new leisure centre in the heart of Scunthorpe, The Pods and Central Park development.

The building comprises a series of five interconnecting domes coated in materials including cedar shingles, turf-like sedum plants, plastic, glass and metal.

It houses a twenty-five-metre swimming pool, a smaller training pool, state-of-the-art gym, dance studio, six-court sports hall, café and a crèche.

As part of the project, Central Park, which is the town’s largest park, has also been rejuvenated to the tune of £2m. It features beautiful ornamental gardens and a fountain. There is also a brand new children’s play area which includes a trampoline, nine-metre space net, disabled access roundabout and The Nutshell Cafe. In addition there is a large sports area with football pitches, a small woodland, trim trail and an orienteering course.

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