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Words: Melanie Burton
Photography: Mick Fox and Lee Beel
Featured in the May 2013 issue

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Despite the economic recession continuing to bite, there is an air of optimism running along the East Coast as resorts open up for the new holiday season.

The staycation ethos still seems to be very much alive as more people prefer to holiday at home than go abroad and that is good news for the likes of Skegness, Ingoldmells, Sutton on Sea, Mablethorpe and the places in between.

Easter, traditionally the start of the new season for coastal resorts, proved to be disappointing for traders and holiday parks alike as the cold, windy weather kept people away.

But pre-bookings are looking good and with a number of new features introduced this year, hopes are high that day-trippers will flock to the seaside in droves.

Skegness town centre manager, Stefan Kraus said the town is looking forward to the summer.

“There are lots of exciting things happening and it is full steam ahead. Last year was a difficult year, but for Skegness it still worked well and pre-bookings are looking good for this summer.

“We are optimistic. Other places are struggling to keep their prices level. But Skegness offers really good value for money and this is one of our strengths. It is very affordable, it is very relaxing and it is very British.”

Skegness is ranked as the fifth most visited seaside resort in England by VisitEngland and is set to attract even more visitors this year after being selected as the base for the English national beach soccer team.

Plans have already been approved for a new beach sports arena near the pier on the main beach and it is expected to be launched to coincide with the start of the SO Festival which runs throughout East Lindsey from 20th June to 7th July.

“It will provide a new facility for beach soccer, volleyball and rugby and it could be the starting point for the redevelopment of the Promenade area up to the Pleasure Beach,” said Stefan.

“This whole area needs redeveloping and neighbouring businesses have joined up and are working towards a major redevelopment scheme.”

Another new attraction for the town is a go-kart track near the lifeboat station, which is scheduled to open on the Spring Bank Holiday weekend.

The family-themed race circuit will also boast an indoor seating area and a licensed American-themed diner on the first floor with views over the Skegness foreshore.

One feature of Skegness which brings visitors from near and far is The Lost World Adventure Park on North Shore, which has new features for this year.

Opposite is The Storehouse Coffee Shop, Skegness’s newest coffee shop, which offers a variety of specialist teas and a range of delights such as handmade sandwiches, paninis and locally produced cakes and soups.

News from the retail sector is also good, with new businesses taking up residence in the town and vacancy rates falling.

The town’s Hildreds Shopping Centre, which opened its doors to the public in 1988, welcomed two new businesses at the beginning of March and has announced that Home Bargains is relocating to a bigger unit.

Woodthorpe Garden Centre opened a small shop in the centre at Christmas, to see how busy they would be, and it proved so popular that they decided to take on a larger unit, which is able to offer visitors a wider range of seasonal goods for both the home and garden. 

Facial Attraction, which has been trading in Skegness for nine years and sells beauty products, cosmetics and perfumes, has moved from Lumley Road to a larger unit at the centre to provide more range and a better choice of product.

“Vacancy rates in the town are only four per cent outside the season and in season we have vacancy rates of nought per cent,” said Stefan.

“In other places, vacancy rates are about thirteen per cent to fourteen per cent because the town centres are being hit by the recession. But the retailers we have are small, individually owned and very customer-orientated.”

The thirty-room Grosvenor House Hotel, opposite the pier, is one of the big investors in the town and is under new ownership and management. It is a stone’s throw from the Embassy Theatre and a handy base for visiting the wildlife reserves at Gibraltar Point. In October it will be hosting the England Darts Masters event – the first time it has taken place in Skegness.

Other key events include the switching on of the Illuminations at the beginning of August, when former X Factor star Chico will be sparing time to do the honours; Skegness Carnival week is in the same month as well as the 105th anniversary of the town’s mascot, the Jolly Fisherman.

With Butlins and Fantasy Island introducing new features for the summer season, the area is right to be optimistic.

Mablethorpe is also hopeful of a good season as new businesses have set up shop and the number of day visitors has increased.

Town manager for Mablethorpe, Trusthorpe and Sutton on Sea, Karen Froggatt said Easter was a little disappointing, but that was down to the weather more than anything else.

“We saw less overnight stays all over the weekend but we saw more day visitors,” she said.

“Businesses that have been closed for some time are gaining a new lease of life, we have had a number of new businesses opening up and we haven’t really got many empty units. But the summer months are really important, so we are hoping for some good weather.”

The town now has a new farm shop selling fresh fruit and vegetables, a health food shop in Spanish City and a fresh fish shop in Victoria Road, which it has never had before.

“Yabbas has opened in the town, making use of an empty supermarket and there is a beautiful little café called the Lady Bees Cupcake Bakery which is very attractively done,” said Karen.

“From the point of view that we have new businesses and we haven’t really got many empty units, things are positive.

“We try and strengthen our events programme every year and the main ones this year are the sandcastle building competition, the lights switch-on, the Bathing Beauties Festival and the half marathon,” she said.

“They are the events that bring in the visitors and there is the feeling that the staycation is still popular.

“Mablethorpe and Sutton on Sea are very kind on people’s purses and the weather is so unpredictable that people are keeping their fingers crossed for some better weather.”

Another sign that things are looking up for Mablethorpe is the uptake at the weekly market, which now takes place in the High Street.

“We trialled it last year and got permission to close the High Street on a Thursday, so it makes it more of an event. Everything is going well and we have a waiting list of traders now,” said Karen.

The Dunes Complex on the beachfront has been under new management and the focus is now turning to opening up the theatre side of the building.

“It used to be a theatre and it is the biggest entertainment venue available in the town, so there will be plenty going on,” added Karen.

LOWNDES IS YOUNG AT HEART
Towns which have independently owned businesses seem to have fared better than others during the recession and Skegness is no exception.

Take child and babywear retailer R Lowndes of Skegness, located in Lumley Road, which is proud to be celebrating ninety-three years in business this year.

It is still known for its service and quality as it was when it first opened its doors back in 1920.

Lowndes offers thousands of different products in its independent department store and it likes to keep up with the times.

It has a vast array of traditional games, which have been played for generations, with a new retro finish, and also stocks traditional toys including Beatrix Potter, to up to date Thomas the Tank Engine, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Fireman Sam and Tree Fu Tom to mention a few.

Lowndes’s jigsaw range is second to none with hundreds of different varieties waiting to be unwrapped and put together.

Anne Roberjot, who is the granddaughter of the founder Roland Lowndes, said: “We have thirty-three years of experience in the children’s clothes department from babywear, starting at prem including organic, to our specialist range of christening and occasion wear and we travel the world to bring up-to-date fashions and designs for all ages, up to fourteen years.

“We are the East Coast’s favourite store for toys, games, clothes and much more and we hear many of our customers saying we are like an Aladdin’s Cave.

“We like to keep up with new trends and, with the new launch of our baby shower ranges, we offer our new mums to be a full range of baby shower partywear and gifts all ready for their new arrival.”

The store is currently very excited about producing its first very own Limited Edition Teddy Bear called ‘Betty Bear’ at a cost of £11.99, a percentage of which will be going to the NSPCC charity, which the store supports.

SUTTON ON SEA
Sutton on Sea may be the place to go for a quiet, relaxing holiday but it is far from being a sleepy backwater.

There are a number of shops that cater for all basic shopping and there are also quite a few specialist outlets, including a butcher, two hardware stores, a mobility showroom, a farm shop in Sandilands, a florist and a furniture shop.

Sutton on Sea also has three estate agents and two firms of solicitors.

Once again its beach, along with those at nearby Mablethorpe, Anderby Creek and Moggs Eye has been given the top rating for the quality of its bathing water by the annual Good Beach Guide. It was ‘recommended’ by the Marine Conservation Society for its excellent seawater quality.

This year just over half of UK beaches passed, a fall of more than 100 on the previous year, and Lincolnshire was the only county in the country to be given a 100 per cent recommended status for all its beaches.

The town has a strong sense of community and working together, which is underlined by the fact that many of its businesses have been part of its fabric for a long time.

Bennetts Butchers in the High Street was established in 1959 and is one of the town’s longest-established businesses. It sells locally produced fresh meats, including beef, lamb, pork, poultry and even game when it is in season.

Another family business that has been in the town for decades is Squire Furnishings, which has been trading on the Lincolnshire coast for three generations. As well as being the area’s premier furniture retailer, it also caters for the seasonal holiday trade with specialist items such as custom size caravan beds and mattresses, all types of flooring, compact suites and sofa-beds.

Sutton is also home to the country’s longest running youth club, the Meridale Mid Youth Club, which has been going for forty-eight years, with the same youth worker in charge.

It started out in 1965 in Meridale Hall, which had been used by council workers as an equipment store.

Centre manager and youth worker in charge, John Monk said: “I have the luxury of being able to look back and gauge the effect the Meridale has had on young people and the influence it has had on the town through the generations

“The youth club was an important part of life to the youngsters. It’s not just a youth club. It is maintaining its popularity by maintaining its deep roots in the community.”

The Meridale Centre has also become synonymous with exhibitions. The last one, in January – to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the 1953 East Coast floods saw more – than 3,000 visitors come to the town over one weekend.

The youth club and community centre is run by the Meridale Organisation, which is now a registered charity.

Another project on the go at the moment is the community garden, to the rear of the centre. It is planned to be a focal point of the town and there will be raised flower beds, fencing, a safe, controlled play area for youngsters and a sports area. It will also be wheelchair friendly.

It is also hoped that an information centre can be set up at the Meridale Hall, offering information on anything from bus timetables to holiday places. It will be a lost property point, somewhere to go for non-emergency issues, pensions and medical advice and a place for councillors’ surgeries.

HAMES CHOCOLATE CAFE
As a seaside resort Skegness has many cafés, restaurants and eateries but chocolate lovers are bound to flock to one in particular.

Hames Chocolate Café in the High Street, as its name indicates, is a coffee shop with a twist.

You can relax in comfortable surroundings and watch the chocolatiers make chocolates and fudge with real cream, or you can participate in a chocolate-making adventure.

The café has been open for just over a year but it has already made its mark.

Owner, Carol Oldbury said: “It has gone really well and we are getting more and more customers. Our aim is to make it a destination place to visit.

“It is unique to Skegness and when people think of Skegness we want them to think of Hames Chocolate Cafe.”

The outlet organises a number of chocolate-themed workshops and chocolate-making courses and also holds chocolate hen parties, when people can make chocolate handbags, shoes or filled chocolates.

There is also the chance to have a chocolate birthday party, cocktail party or just have some chocolate fondue fun. The gift shop allows you to buy your favourite chocolates too.

Hames Chocolates is a family firm set up by caterers, Edward and Marlene Hames back in the 1970s. Over the years the business evolved into retail and then the manufacturing of chocolates and sweets.

The business is now run by Edward and Marlene’s daughter Carol who, together with her husband, chocolatier Andrew Oldbury, has evolved the business even further.

The Skegness based firm now has two factories, one making rock and hard candy and the other chocolates. Plans are afoot to expand the chocolate factory to twice its current size.

“It’s a nice place to visit, it has a nice environment and we don’t close until the last customer goes. Our hours are 8am to 6pm but if there are still people about then we stay open until they have left,” said Carol.

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