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

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While other small towns and cities are struggling to maintain their popularity in today’s tough economic climate, the historic market town of Newark-on-Trent continues to pull in the crowds.

Its eclectic mix of independent shops and national stores, together with its wealth of businesses and long and interesting history, means the ‘town on the Trent’ is the place to work, rest and play.

Much is being done to maintain Newark’s attractive reputation, from a planned £10 million investment in the economy from the local authority to improved rail and road links and more visitor attractions.

Business survival rates in the town, at 84 per cent, are higher than the national average of 81 per cent and unemployment figures stand at 5.8 per cent, which is lower than the national average of 7.7 per cent.

The town’s Business Club, under the chairmanship of James Fountain, has had a significant impact on the commercial vitality of the town and its influence extends across the East Midlands.

As chairman, James has, with the executive committee, lobbied hard for improved train services to and from Newark, resulting in a two-trains-per-hour service (for most of the day) between London King’s Cross and Newark Northgate and an additional evening service from Nottingham, together with a round trip between Lincoln and Newark Northgate.

The Business Club, which has more than 1,200 members, has also been at the forefront of encouraging inward investment to the town and is a founding partner in the Invest Newark and Sherwood initiative, a body set up to persuade businesses to relocate or to set up in Newark and the surrounding area.

Invest Newark and Sherwood offers a free and confidential service to businesses interested in moving to the area, and to existing businesses which are looking to expand.

It gives potential investors direct access to local authorities and the local business community and it provides a one-stop solution and introduction service.

Road communications are an essential part of Newark’s connectivity and the Business Club pressed hard for the dualling of the A46 from Newark to Leicester, which has had a very positive impact on businesses, visitors and commuters alike.

Newark Business Club prepared an innovative bid to become a Portas Pilot Town, recommending a Retail Mobile App with discount vouchers across many of the independent retailers together with a hopper bus service. And whilst the initial bid was not successful it helped secure a £10,000 grant to help revitalise the retail environment.

“The retail scene in Newark has weathered better than many in the area. There is an eclectic mix of independent and national stores together with some excellent cafés and nighttime culture,” said James.

“Newark is soon to be the home of a National Civil War Centre which will make it a destination for visitors from across the UK and this should be beneficial for many of the bed and breakfast establishments and hotels in the area.”

Another initiative to help traders in the town has come from Newark and Sherwood District Council in the form of a business loans scheme, Think BIG (Business Investment for Growth), to help firms struggling to secure finance from the banks.

Under the £2 million project, loans could be made available to companies in the district which employ more than five people and which have a turnover of more than £250,000.

Think BIG, which is aimed at the manufacturing, engineering, food, processing and distribution industries, rather than retail, is one of a number of projects being supported by the council to help Newark prosper.

The project is part of the council’s plans to invest £10m in Newark and Sherwood’s economy over the next three years.

The plans include an investment of around £5m to help ensure that the right infrastructure is available to assist growth in the area, helping long-term unemployed and young unemployed people through recruitment processes, as well as new apprenticeship opportunities in the council.

Family jeweller Moore & Scrupps is a popular feature of Newark’s business scene, and celebrated its tenth year in the town last year. Its Appletongate shop is run by Gill Moore, wife of John Moore – a partner in the business.

“We are pleased to say that our Newark shop has a regular, loyal clientele, as well as the newer customers which we continue to attract,” said John.

“We try to offer people an across-the-board range of jewellery and watches, popular brands such as Pandora – which now also includes watches – Couer De Lion, with its crystallised Swarovski elements and Ti Sento, which offers fashion-led quality.” 

There are a number of long-established shopkeepers in the town centre offering unique products and services which all helps Newark stand out from the crowd.

Jane Young ladies’ fashion house in Chain Lane has a nationwide reputation for service, quality and excellence, and serves clients from all over the British Isles. With more than fifty leading designer labels and sizes ranging from 8 to 22, customers can relax as they browse through the large, airy premises and coffee is always available.

Shirt Sleeves, in Middlegate, has been established for twenty-three years and has won three awards for outstanding customer service, voted for by its customers. It specialises in smart casual clothes that can be worn for a number of different occasions so customers can make the most of their wardrobe. 

Relative newcomer, Blessed Fashions arrived in Newark in 2011 and offers unique styles with top designer brands that are mainly seen in London. If you are looking for a stylish watch, jeweller Andrew Michaels in Stodman Street is another name to note, having served the town and surrounding area for more than thirty years.

Stray’s, on the corner of Boar Lane and Middlegate, is a family-owned-and-run business in the heart of the town and is a unique coffee bar, eatery, jazz haven and bookshop.

Another popular independent business is the Ann et Vin award-winning wine shop situated on Castle Gate, which is stocked with distinctive, affordable wines. It also incorporates the Courtyard wine bar.

Iceland has opened a new food store in the town in the revamped Netto premises on London Road creating thirty full- and part-time jobs with staff recruited locally.

And Newark’s Tourist Information Centre has moved from the Gilstrap Centre to the Keeper’s Cottage on the Great North Road.

TREATS TO TEMPT SHOPPERS
The Buttermarket is Newark-on-Trent’s only indoor shopping centre and is based in the heart of the town, behind the Town Hall.It has a diverse range of independent outlets and well-known retail names.

Though converted into a shopping centre in 1990, it is full of history and there has been commercial trading there since 1798 when it was used as Newark’s meat market.

Open six days a week, it has a number of popular retail outlets ranging from men’s and ladies’ fashion, hair and beauty and bridalwear to gifts and crafts, outdoor clothing and food and drink.

It continues to grow in popularity with both shoppers and tenants and its convenient location provides a handy link between the Market Place and Middlegate.

Many of the stores in the centre are independently owned and they mainly comprise small businesses that work hard to give customers something they can’t get elsewhere – whether that is products or services. And this has been key to its continued popularity.

Centre manager, Martin Rendle said: “The Buttermarket has always offered shoppers something slightly different to the ‘identikit’ High Streets of many towns and cities.

“With almost all of our traders being independently run, The Buttermarket has something unique compared to many other shopping centres and this continues to stand us in good stead.”

Easter was disappointing for many places because of the weather but The Buttermarket didn’t fare too badly.

“It goes without saying that the weather this Easter had an impact on everyone. However, our location right in the centre of town, and the fact we are an indoor centre, has been a real benefit and we have really managed to hold our own,” said Martin.

Changes at The Buttermarket include new owners for the café who are already expanding the business and there are plans for a new deli to tempt visitors, selling the very best meats, cheeses and other treats from around the world.

With the Newark Food Festival taking place on 15th June in the town centre, there will be a vast array of stalls selling tasty local food produce and The Buttermarket is to host the ‘Bake Off’ competition. Entrants will be invited to bring their best baked goodies in for judging and the winner will be crowned Newark’s Best Baker. It is also hoping to reintroduce live music within the centre.

Newark’s range of independent traders has helped build up its unique reputation and no-one rests on their laurels.

“Newark has something special in its range of independent traders.These smaller businesses not only provide shoppers with more choice but have the ability to react faster than the huge chains to general market conditions and circumstances specific to this area,” said Martin.

“Within the town as a whole a huge effort is being made to attract visitors. Events such as the Food Festival and the summer Newark Festival, at which Madness will play, can only be a good thing.”

CIVIL WAR CENTRE
Newark has a long and varied history, dating back to Roman times. During the English Civil War it was besieged by Parliamentary forces and had to be relieved by Prince Rupert, in a battle known as the Relief of Newark.

Now the pivotal role it played in that historic event has led to it being selected to be the home of a National Civil War Centre and museum.

A £3.2 million Heritage Lottery grant has already been awarded towards the cost of the £5.4m project which will see the town’s Old Magnus Buildings developed into a new museum and civil war centre.

The project will transform the Grade II listed former school buildings on Appletongate, Newark, into a nationally recognised centre for learning about the conflict.

Working with architects Purcell, development work is anticipated to take two years and the museum is due to open in September 2014 with an exhibition commemorating the centenary of World War I.

Further exhibition galleries will focus on the local history of the towns and villages of this area. The Newark Torc will be displayed in the centre – the first time it will be in the district after being loaned to the British Museum in London.

The centre is set to attract more than 60,000 visitors each year by providing a museum and events programme with national interest around civil war history.

The museum will link the Queen’s Sconce, Newark Castle and the district’s general heritage. A further 17,000 people will be involved in living history days, a conference programme, and through events and activities for the public.

Project manager, Bryony Robins, said: “This is an exciting project that will provide a state-of-the-art museum, restore important heritage buildings and bring history to life.

The project is more than a museum, it’s the development of a site that will become a resource for the people of Newark and Sherwood and a national tourist attraction.

“We hope to stage musical performances and readings in partnership with other local organisations and businesses. During the development we will hold open days so people can see the work in progress and learn about heritage skills.

“Placements will be created for apprentices from local colleges to learn about specialist heritage construction skills.”

The museum will house a café within the historic Tudor Hall, linking to the courtyard garden. Features such as the historic graffiti and possible historic painting will be conserved, displayed and interpreted for visitors.

The museum will also have a community room for evening talks and museum friends’ activities, a meeting room and a learning space in the old gymnasium.

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