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

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The south Lincolnshire town is a destination with huge growth potential and local businesses are already striving to turn that potential into a reality.

An ongoing magnet for shoppers and tourists alike, the beautiful Georgian town remains a place where you can be sure of finding something out of the ordinary in terms of unique products, quirky enterprises, new ventures or unmissable entertainment with 600 listed buildings, five medieval churches and quaint hidden alleyways.

Behind the attractive shopfronts lie some great products and services, in a town which has long been home to family-run independents and new entrepreneurs out to make a name for themselves.

Naturally, there are branches of national stores too. Much is being done to ensure the businesses of the town have a voice that is heard and a major push is underway to ensure this South Lincolnshire market town becomes a ‘must visit’ shopping destination.

Stamford Chamber of Commerce is among those working hard to raise Stamford’s profile. Two and a half years ago, the Stamford Chamber of Trade and Commerce opted to merge with Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce and become part of the accredited Chamber network comprising thousands of companies across the UK.

The move provides businesses in Stamford with a voice that is heard in Whitehall, connections with companies across Peterborough and the wider Cambridgeshire area and new benefits including free legal advice and expenses protection, including tax investigations.

That’s not to say the Chamber has lost its local roots though and today the Stamford Chamber of Commerce committee meets regularly at The George Hotel to plough through many of the issues hindering business growth in the town and implement new initiatives to enable businesses to develop new opportunities.

Operations manager Emily Dawson said: “Over the past six months alone the Chamber has partnered with SKDC’s Enterprise Week initiative to provide an informative session on how businesses can raise their profile in the media, provided access to briefings from the Bank of England agents and offered insight into the consequences of the Chancellor’s budget.

“Furthermore, the committee has maintained close links with South Kesteven District Council, enabling Chamber members to continue to hold local policymakers to account and ensure that the right conditions are being fostered to facilitate the huge development opportunities Stamford has to offer.

“Today they’re working with Stamford FIRST to shape the vision for Stamford’s development over the next two decades, including tackling issues such as the lack of office space for growing companies and the need for social housing to support lower paid workers in the town.

“Those local connections are crucial. That’s why the Chamber hosts monthly informal networking evenings at The Crown Hotel, designed to connect business people together and provide a forum for new business opportunities to be raised.”

The free events, that are open to all businesses including non-members, take place from 5pm to 7pm on the first Wednesday of each month except August. The next one is on 6th July at The Crown Hotel.

“Our popular informal networking evenings continue to attract businesses of all sizes from a wide range of industry sectors and, most importantly, they’re completely free to attend.

“It’s a relaxed but effective way to learn more about the local business community and make new connections.”

Stamford FIRST is the ‘Stamford Neighbourhood Planning Forum’ – a community group working under the auspices of Stamford Town Council and formed to take responsibility for the creation of a Neighbourhood Plan which outlines the policies and aims for the town over the next twenty years.

This plan will be used to guide the work to be undertaken by Local Government bodies at all levels and their agents/contractors to ensure that Stamford remains a vibrant and delightful place to live, work in and visit.

A number of public meetings have been held with residents, community groups, and the Stamford Chamber of Commerce – Stamford FIRST to encourage local residents to complete a series of questionnaires. A further and more detailed questionnaire for residents will be issued this month and will cover a much broader range of issues and seek views on (amongst other things) highways and transport, the local economy, tourism, heritage and the environment, housing and education.

There is also a business focused questionnaire which gives the local business community the chance to give its views on Stamford’s future.

Stamford Chamber of Commerce chairman Richard Olsen said: “It’s crucially important that businesses are given the opportunity to feed into the plan and make sure that the measures that must be taken to create sustainable economic growth for the future are at its heart.

“This is a chance for businesses to influence the shape of the plan from the outset and we would encourage all businesses, whether members of the Chamber or not, to come along to this free event and show how integrally important the plan is to the future economy.”

South Kesteven District Council last year commissioned Savills to carry out a detailed study of what Stamford and other town centres in the district have to offer in terms of food shopping facilities.

It showed that Stamford was a very high quality town centre, with relatively high end retailers as well as being supported by a substantial and diverse leisure and service sector including numerous cafes and restaurants. The study concluded this reflected the attraction of Stamford as an historic market town with significant levels of visitor spend.

Stamford is the second largest settlement within South Kesteven and the vast majority of the town centre falls within a Conservation Area and includes a number of listed buildings.

The centre provides services to the local population of Stamford and small rural villages beyond but its historic status and the quality of its shopping environment also attracts visitors, the study reported.

Vacancy levels within the town centre were considerably less than the national average at only 6.7 per cent of units, compared to the national average of 12.40 per cent.

The study said: ‘The centre has a relatively wide range of services within it and this is reflected by the large number of public houses, restaurants, takeaways, property and professional services, health and beauty shops.

‘The appearance of the centre as a whole is very good; shop fronts are generally well kept, clean and tidy. The historic buildings contribute positively to the environmental quality and help to create a distinctive character. Streetscape is of a good standard and there is a range of street furniture.’

It concluded that Stamford town centre serves the day-to-day shopping and service needs of its local residents and also attracts a high number of visitors due to its history, the character and quality of its architecture and river setting.

NEW STORES
As well as the twenty-nine new small businesses that have opened in the Stamford Corn Exchange Theatre shopping arcade, the town has attracted a number of others.

Screwfix is celebrating after its most recent store opened its doors on Stamford Retail Park. It is part of the company’s nationwide store expansion plan, which saw the retailer open sixty new UK stores in 2015.

Another aspect of Screwfix’s nationwide stores initiative is that the company is looking to become actively involved with local charities through its own registered charity arm The Screwfix Foundation, which supports local charities and community projects with donations for projects involving fixing, repairing or maintaining buildings.

In addition, Stamford mayor John Dawson was called on to officially open a new Kent Blaxhill store, also on Stamford Trade Park.

Kent Blaxhill is an independent East Anglian decorative supplies company. The new Stamford store is the company’s eleventh branch.

The town has a significant retail and retail service sector. It is home to many independents and draws people from a wide area for the pleasure of shopping, often in traffic-free streets.

There are numerous gift shops, men’s and women’s outfitters, shoe shops and florists, as well as hair salons, beauty therapists and eateries.

National supermarkets Waitrose, Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Morrisons are represented and there are two retail parks on the outskirts of the town.

OVERSEAS TOURISM
Stamford and its speciality produce has received glowing praise from Italian and Spanish tourism experts following a visit to the town organised by VisitBritain.

The group of twenty overseas operators enjoyed a four-day familiarisation tour of the Midlands’ unseen visitor gems and were treated to a ‘Taste of Stamford’ lunch, a visit to Grimsthorpe Castle and a guided tour of Stamford with Blue Badge guide Jill Collinge.

Hambleton Bakery, which has a shop in Stamford serviced by its Exton bakery, served its distinctive Rutland Pippin savoury combining ham hock, Stilton cheese, apple and local sausagemeat, individual ploughmans parcels, a range of its artisan breads and delicious cakes.

Belvoir Cordials supplied some of its award-winning fruit drinks produced on the Belvoir estate.

South Kesteven District Council’s business manager for spatial and economic development, Roger Ranson said: “This was a fantastic opportunity for us to show off not only Stamford as Britain’s best place to live but also to give our guests a taste of the very best from local food producers.

VisitBritain Blue Badge Spanish guide Jean Bailo said she thought the visit had gone “brilliantly well”.

“This is the first time any of them have been to Stamford, and it’s my first visit too. I would like to have stayed longer. There are so many beautiful aspects to the town with its history, the number of churches and the shops, so we shall be back.”

The Cheese Cellar in St Mary’s Street, Stamford also provided fare. It opened its doors in December 2010 and offers a wide range of artisan cheeses, combined with a deli, chutneys, jams, crackers and pâtés and also offers an array of cheese gift items ranging from small to large items including cheese boards, hampers and bespoke gift boxes made up of personally chosen items from the shop.

CELEBRATIONS AT TOLETHORPE HALL
In the year we celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, the Stamford Shakespeare Company is marking the occasion with a production of The Tempest, Shakespeare’s final play, full of magic, treachery and comedy.

The Company is also celebrating an incredible 40 years of performing at the beautiful and historic Tolethorpe Hall with a production of one of Shakespeare’s greatest works, the dark and powerful Macbeth, the first play ever staged there.

To commemorate this milestone there is a special gala night of Macbeth on 6th August. Tickets for this performance include a free programme and glass of champagne or a soft drink. There will also be pre-performance entertainment, including jugglers, jesters, fire eaters, medieval magicians and minstrels, a harpist and a falconer with birds of prey.

The third play this year is Alan Bennett’s wonderful adaptation of The Wind in the Willows, perfect fun for all the family.

The season has already opened to great acclaim and continues until 27th August, with performances every night (excluding Sundays) at 7.45pm and matinees every Saturday at 1.30pm. Tickets priced £10-£18 (£25 for gala night).

Box Office: 01780 756133. For information and online booking: www.stamfordshakespeare.co.uk

STAMFORD MARQUEE COMPANY
The Stamford Marquee Company was founded in 2010 to take advantage of a perceived gap in the market for the supply of high quality marquees and services into both the private and corporate event markets. The company specialises in hire for weddings, parties, corporate events and all types of outdoor occasions. Based in Stamford, Lincolnshire we work within a fifty-mile radius, but are prepared to travel further should the client/circumstances require.

The Stamford Marquee Company is built firmly on the pillars of quality, reliability, commitment and trust. From the moment we are engaged, we are committed to making your event a truly memorable and pleasurable occasion. We plan every detail and deliver our quality product in a timely and stress-free way. That’s stress-free to our client!

In a relatively short period of time we have built up an enviable reputation making us supplier of choice to amongst others Lincolnshire County Council. We have an ever growing list of corporate and private clients who will attest to our excellent service record, of which we are very proud.

STAMFORD RETAIL ARCADE
Small independent niche businesses have been given the opportunity to have a presence in Stamford town centre and help support the Corn Exchange Theatre at the same time.

A new retail shopping arcade has been opened on the ground floor of the theatre itself and it is proving to be a big hit.

The arcade – which features nine retail units, a cafe and twenty display cabinets which are all separate businesses – opened its doors to the public at the end of May and traders have not looked back.

General manager Judith Mackie said: “It is going very well. It is so different, it is quirky and it fits in with the character of Stamford.

“There is so much to see and lots of different products on offer. It is very nice for people to wander round, spend some time shopping and have a coffee.”

The charity decided not to rent the retail space out to one trader but to offer the opportunity to several different businesses.

“We are all about bringing people together so it seemed the right thing to do to slit it up into units rather than rent it out to one person,” said Judith.

“What is great about it is that it gives all these small businesses a place in the centre of Stamford which they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford.

“The theatre doesn’t have any funding whatsoever, so the rent from the arcade helps to support the theatre.”

Retailers at the arcade sell a wide variety of products including speciality teas, coffee and jams; haberdashery and craft supplies; children’s clothing and toys; jewellery; vinyl records; retro decor and furniture; antiques and collectables and children’s fancy dress and accessories.

“It is very diverse and there are some very original businesses, from jewellery made out of forks and spoons and exclusive handmade throws to a children’s pound corner,” said Judith.

COUNTRY TRADITIONALS
The UK’s largest importer of Polish pottery opened their second shop in Stamford, Lincolnshire in June 2014.

Their other shop, in Forest Row, East Sussex was established some twenty years ago.

All of the pottery is oven/Aga/microwave/dishwasher and freezer proof and is designed and made for everyday use. The patterns including flowers, spots, stars and hearts look best when all mixed together and will look stunning in both traditional and modern homes.

Country Traditionals buy their pottery from the world famous Ceramika Artystyczna pottery works in Poland. The quality is second to none; this why they have so many loyal customers that keep adding to their pottery year on year. You may have seen Country Traditionals at various country fairs and events including Burghley Horse Trials, Badminton, Hampton Court Flower Show and the Country Living Magazine shows. They also sell to 150 retail shops, across the UK.

A visit to their shop in Maiden Lane, Stamford is the best way to see and purchase this vast range of beautiful Polish pottery. www.countrytraditionals.co.uk Tel: 01780 755409.

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