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

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Community spirit is very much at the fore in the quaint, picturesque village of Woodhall Spa. So much so that it has just been voted best in Lincolnshire in its category in the Community Lincs’ Best Kept Village and Small Towns competition, for the first time in thirteen years – an achievement which has pleased residents, businesses and the parish council alike.

Parish councillor David Hill said: “There is a tremendous community spirit and people are prepared to work together for the benefit of the village. Everyone has done their bit and that is one of the things that helped us win the Best Kept Village competition.

“We are very pleased that the effort of everyone in making the village look so good has been recognised. It’s not just the parish council, it’s not individual, it is through community support.”

Described as an elegant inland resort, Woodhall Spa is not only a magnet for nature lovers, ramblers and campers, but heritage buffs, golfers and aviation enthusiasts as well.

It has strong links with the RAF’s famous 617 Squadron, the ‘Dambusters’, it is home to the Kinema in the Woods, the UK’s only fully-functioning cinema to employ back projection, and it boasts the smallest shoe shop in Britain.

Then there are its two top-class golf courses, the Hotchkin and the Bracken, and the fact that it is the base for the English Golf Union and the National Golf Centre and Academy, which means visitors come to Woodhall Spa from all over the world.

The Hotchkin is more than a century old and is ranked as the twenty-fifth best golf course in the world by Golf World magazine.

Director of Operations Richard Latham said: “The last few years have been pretty good. We certainly seem to be having people still wanting to play golf here.

“In terms of the local economy, we employ eighty people so we are one of the biggest employers in the area and in excess of 30,000 visitors come to the site for meetings, to play golf and attend functions. It means people come and stay here and use the local hotels as well as restaurants. It has a huge impact on the local economy.”

With a pro-active Chamber of Trade and Tourism, Woodhall Spa seems to be bucking the trend economically with all its retail units occupied, new businesses opening up and traders reporting a busy year.

Chamber chairman Emma Tatlow said: “The village is doing very well. It’s a vibrant economy at the moment and there’s a good community spirit. There are no empty retail units and people are investing in facilities.

“The purpose of the Chamber is to bring businesses together to promote trade in the village and to work more collectively together. There’s a good mentality among businesses; they know it is not about competing with each other, it is about working together.”

One of the Chamber’s first key projects is to produce a promotional leaflet outlining what Woodhall Spa has to offer.

“Our first initiative is to tell people outside Woodhall Spa why they should come here. The leaflet is a good marketing tool to bring all the key aspects together. Our next priority will be to run a loyalty card scheme giving customers a reason to continue to use the businesses in our area.”

The Chamber is also working with outside event organisers and a 1940s weekend is planned for July with activities across the village and at Thorpe Camp.

Much has been done to improve Woodhall Spa’s existing visitor attractions and new ones have also been introduced to cater for all interests.

The parish council took over the running of the village’s renowned Jubilee Park, with its outdoor heated swimming pool and sports facilities, last year.

Parish councillor David Hill said: “Support for the swimming pool and use of the caravan site was very good. Numbers were more than we originally expected and all in all it was a very successful season.”

Jubilee Park winter park manager Joe Stanhope said work has already begun on a new pool and paddling pool.

“It will have a new water feature and there will be a step down into the pool bay so swimmers won’t have to use the ladders anymore, which means it can be used by a wider community,” he said.

Jubilee Park plays host to a number of events throughout the year including a triathlon, a 10k road race and fun run and last month’s firework extravaganza, organised in conjunction with the adjoining Petwood Caravan Park, which was a big hit. And volunteers are already co-ordinating a big celebration around Jubilee Park to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in June.

Coronation Hall in Spa Road was also taken back under the management of the parish council last year and has undergone refurbishment work with a new roof, new windows, floor, boiler and toilets being installed.

Parish councillor Daphne Robinson, who is on the Coronation Hall committee, said: “It is run by trustees and it is now widely used and looking good. A lot of ballroom dancing takes place there and ex-professional ballroom dancers have used it and said it is the best dance floor in the county.”

Another attraction which it is hoped will be upgraded soon is the Cottage Museum and Tourist Centre in Broadway.

Once the bungalow home of John Wield, it was established as a museum in 1987 to preserve the community history of Woodhall Spa and its surrounding district. The bungalow, which was assembled in 1887, is a major exhibit.

Plans are in the pipeline for a £250,000 development of the museum over the next two years including the restoration of the bungalow itself and the renovation of outbuildings to provide work space and much needed archive storage.

David Hill added: “The museum has a lot of old records and with the new facilities they will be accessible to people wanting to do research on the village or on their ancestors. The plan is to rebuild the outbuildings so they will look much like they did 100 years ago.”

Other investment has been made in the village including a £1m development by Woodland Estates to create a brand new country park and camping and caravan site on Stixwould Road.
Woodhall Country Park has just completed its first full year in business and the signs are good.

Country Park manager, Ian Edmondson, said: “It’s going pretty well considering it was our first year. People come here to relax – to walk, to cycle, to enjoy nature and the wildlife.”

The park has worked closely with Natural England, the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, DEFRA, the RSPB and the former EMDA and has created two new lakes, meadows and natural areas for the wildlife as well as wetlands to attract the birds.

It has also teamed up with East Lindsey District Council to install three permissible footpaths alongside the park, one of which will join up with existing footpaths and the Viking Way to create a new eight-mile walk around the village with two new bird hides on the route.

“The park has helped boost the local economy. A lot of people come from other parts of the county as well as South Yorkshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire. We have even had French, Dutch and German visitors,” added Mr Edmondson.

He said the park does its best to support the village and local traders were used to develop the park.

“The milk we sell comes from a local dairy, the eggs come from a nearby farm and the bread is made fresh in a bakery in the village. We are very much trying to use locally sourced produce,” said Mr Edmondson.

The park is also very keen to safeguard the environment.

“We have biomass boiler technology which heats our hot water and underground heating. For the development of the park, 600 trees had to be cut down but they were woodchipped and that’s what runs out biomass boiler. More than 15,000 trees have also been planted to compensate for those lost through the development of the park,” he added.

BEST KEPT VILLAGE
Hard work and community support paid off for the Wolds-edge village of Woodhall Spa after it was voted one of Lincolnshire’s best kept villages.

It won the large village category in the Community Lincs’ Best Kept Village and Small Towns competition, beating off tough competition to take the honour.

Competition co-ordinator Teresa Palmer said it was a great achievement.

“Woodhall Spa is steeped in history, with a growing population and so many visitors to the Kinema, Jubilee Park, the Golf Academy and many other tourist attractions. The residents have more than their fair share of challenges to keep the village clean and tidy.

“They have done exceptionally well and didn’t drop many points at all. You have to work very hard to win this award and they were up against some tough places but the judges could see there was a good community effort and that the community pulled together,” she said.

With 127 entries and three rounds of judging, the competition, run by Community Lincs and supported by East Lindsey District Council, Lincolnshire County Council and Pennells Garden Centres, is the largest of its kind in the country.

For winning its category, Woodhall Spa parish council received a special plaque and a commemorative tree which was planted in the village’s Royal Square at a celebratory ceremony during National Tree Week.

Parish councillor Mrs Daphne Robinson said the achievement was only made possible through the hard work of the many volunteers.

“There are quite a few people who work hard behind the scenes. We have litter pickers, we have a handyman that goes that extra mile, we have tub planters. There is a network of people who are prepared to do that bit extra. I think, as a community, we can feel very proud of ourselves.”

The village is now busy preparing for its Christmas Fayre which will take place on Friday, 9th December and will include a traditional festive street market, late night shopping and a procession and carol service in Royal Square, as well as a whole host of family attractions and Father Christmas.

BRITAIN’S SMALLEST SHOE SHOP
Woodhall Spa is a vibrant village with some interesting retailers and one in particular attracts its customers by the coachload.

Peter Scott Shoes, in The Broadway, is the smallest shoe shop in Britain – measuring only three feet deep at one end of the shop and ten feet at its widest point.

Owner Philip Simmons said: “We are long and narrow and shaped like a bit of Brie cheese. It is built on the railway station and used to be the booking office. At one time our shop used to open the other way, through the rear of the shop onto the platform as well.”

After ceasing to become a booking office at the beginning of the century, the premises have been used as a bank, jewellers and an electrical shop until twelve years ago when Mr Simmons opened the outlet as a shoe shop.

The main brand of footwear it stocks is called Hotter.

“They are a very comfortable make, made in Britain and people travel from Louth, Boston, Lincoln and Sleaford to the shop, mainly for Hotter shoes,” said Mr Simmons.

“A lot of coaches come through Woodhall Spa and they used to pull up outside the Golf Hotel. Now they tend to pull up outside our shop.”

The shop is open seven days a week all year round apart from Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day.

“We have had a remarkably good season. A lot of people are holidaying in Britain, there are two new holiday parks and woods. There’s a nice feel to the place and the refurbishment of two hotels has brought more visitors. We haven’t felt the effects of the recession this year.”

KINEMA IN THE WOODS
One of the treasures of Woodhall Spa is its eighty-nine-year-old cinema, which is tucked away at the centre of the aptly named Pinewoods.

The Kinema in the Woods was one of the first cinemas in Britain when it opened in 1922 and it remains the only fully-functioning cinema in the UK to employ back projection. Now it is has joined the digital age.

Manager Philip Jones explained: “We have had digital projectors installed which consist of a digital projector and server for each screen. The sound has also been upgraded to Dolby 5.1 from Dolby SR.

“The films will now be delivered on a hard drive which will be copied straight onto the server rather than the current 35mm film prints. The industry is going over to digital projection quite quickly at the moment, more than fifty per cent of the market is digital already and in a few years the production of 35mm film will cease.”

All the changes occurred behind the scenes so did not impact on cinema goers or the traditional cinema-going experience.

“There will be a noticeable improvement with the new digital sound systems and the advantage that digital prints have is that they remain reference quality no matter how many times they are shown, whereas 35mm film prints, being an analogue format, can degrade slightly over time as it picks up dust and dirt,” said Mr Jones.

The changes will also enable the Kinema in the Woods to show a larger range of screenings.

“We will be able to show a wider variety of specialist films - for example the film ‘Senna’ which was released earlier this year was only available digitally. We are also hoping, in the New Year, to start some opera and theatre screenings which are becoming popular in cinemas - for example the recent ‘Phantom of the Opera’ show which was beamed live to cinemas all over the country,” said Mr Jones.

In the meantime, there are a number of events scheduled in the run-up to Christmas. On 4th December at 1.30pm the annual Robert Wolfe Christmas Organ Concert will take place. On 7th December at 1.45pm it is the ‘Down Memory Lane Christmas Show’ which is a nostalgia show featuring resident organist Alan Underwood, vintage film clips, slides and a Christmas sing-along.

On 14th December at 2.15pm there is a showing of the classic Bing Crosby film ‘White Christmas’ which will also feature a Christmas sing-along and organ entertainment in the intermission.

Then on Christmas Eve at 4pm it is the ‘Kinema Christmas Eve Spectacular!’ which is a festive family event with a Christmas cartoon, Christmas sing-along, raffles and prizes, complimentary mince pies, hot drinks and a visit from Father Christmas.

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