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Words: Glynis Fox
Photography: Mick Fox, Painting by David Work
Featured in the January 2014 issue

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Multi-million pound investments promise to ensure that a Lincolnshire market town starts the year on a healthier and greener note.

A major revamp of Sleaford’s Leisure Centre has already seen a surge in people rushing to use its facilities. January is traditionally a month when people are determined to embark on a fitness plan in the wake of the festive period, so many more could soon be joining them.

The new green power Sleaford Renewable Energy Plant, which will be operated by Eco2 Lincs, is poised to begin supplying energy to the town. New housing is underway and recent arrivals on the business scene are making their mark.

There’s also lots to look forward to on the artistic and community fronts, with a new programme of attractions at the National Centre for Craft and Design and plans already drawn up for the town’s 2014 Carnival.

In the meantime, residents and businesses are waiting to see what will happen next in an ongoing drive to give the town another supermarket and redevelop Sleaford’s historic Bass Maltings.

In December a meeting of NKDC’s full Council, to decide whether or not to go ahead with the Compulsory Purchase of part of the Boston Road Recreation Ground, was postponed. This would pave the way for a new link road to a new Tesco and redevelopment of The Maltings. The meeting is now expected to take place in February.

NKDC said more time was needed for everyone involved in the plans to finalise and co-ordinate what needs to be done if it is decided that a Compulsory Purchase Order is necessary.

Meanwhile, the new-look Sleaford Leisure Centre is certainly making waves, thanks to a flood of users who have given it the firm thumbs up following the completion of a £2.85m revamp and its re-opening in October.

During its first month of operation almost 20,000 people used the centre’s remodelled pool, extended gym, enhanced dance studio, improved changing space and new family-friendly facilities. This was an increase of more than 100 per cent on a typical month before the work was carried out and 300 per cent up on the last month of trading prior to the refurbishment.

With many people now trying to stick to those New Year Resolutions, that upwards trend has every chance of continuing. Users now enjoy easier pool access and have the chance to use an extended gym, with twenty-three additional stations. Many people have already said the centre compares in quality to a private spa or five-star hotel.

Olympic medallist swimmer Sharron Davies MBE, who officially opened the facility, praised the Council for carrying out the revamp, after it became clear that a potential £6m rebuild was “unaffordable”.

She said: “It’s fantastic. I hear from so many people concerned that their local council wants to close their pools, so for one to be investing in its facilities is really impressive.

“It’s very short-sighted to close leisure facilities down. Exercise is so good for maintaining health, fitness and helping to fight obesity and it has to be better and cheaper in the long run to keep people healthy.”
NKDC Leader Councillor, Marion Brighton OBE, who is thrilled with what has been achieved, praised the team which worked on the leisure centre.

“They have transformed a pool with its origins in a riverside lido built in 1872 into a centre suited to the needs of modern families and inspiring for all generations to increase their participation and enjoyment of sport,” she said.

User Debbie Scott, who had previously been using a small pool elsewhere in the town, said: “It’s really been worth the wait. It’s hard to believe it’s the same place.”

The re-opening of the leisure centre included the unveiling of a spectacular mosaic, created by local residents in association with mosaic designer Alan Potter, and the planting of a community garden set up by the BBC, as part of a national programme with the Royal Horticultural Society.

The £165m Sleaford Renewable Energy Plant, which is supplying free heat to the Centre from the nearby biomass power station, is poised to become fully operational this month (January).

Thirty permanent on-site staff have been recruited, most of them local, but the Eco2 Lincs plant will also support fifty other jobs in haulage and other areas which are essential to its operations.

The plant has been tested with straw fuel over recent weeks, to ensure that it is ready to take 240,000 tonnes of the fuel per year. On-site barns will be able to hold a three day’s supply and additional supplies are being stored locally and transported daily.

The pipework has been been laid for a district heating scheme, ready for the supply of free heat to the town’s leisure centre, bowls and football clubs, William Alvey School and NKDC’s offices for the next twenty-five years.

The arrival of the straw-burning facility has also created further community benefits worth £280,000. These include support for apprenticeships, sustainability workshops, a public art installation and interactive whiteboards for Kirkby la Thorpe Primary School, as well as a general community fund for three years in Sleaford and Kirkby la Thorpe – all administered by the Sleaford REP Community Liaison Panel. The plant has also paid £200,000 to upgrade the footpath from Kirkby la Thorpe to Sleaford. This project is due to be completed early in 2014.

A circular sculpture inspired by turbine blades, flames and straw has been commissioned to go at the entrance to the new renewable energy plant – and this will hopefully be in place by the middle of February.
Sculptor Michael Condron’s design came top out of five shortlisted options, after twenty-one artists submitted concepts for the installation. Eco2 Lincs is financing the artwork as part of its community agreement.

This will be the latest in a series of artworks commissioned for Sleaford, focusing on the Navigation, the town’s links to the agricultural and seed industries and historical power sources.
NKDC is keen to expand its stock of social housing and has drawn up a £46 million programme to provide at least 300 new units over the next decade.

In late 2013 contractors demolished Bonner House, a former County Council-run care home in Mareham Lane, which NKDC bought from the authority. Now that site has been cleared and work is about to start on the creation of twenty-six new units.

On the community and arts fronts there are good things to look forward to as well. For example, 2013 saw the return of the Sleaford Carnival, after an absence of nearly twenty years, and it will be back again in 2014 – the date for everyone’s diaries is 13th July.

NEW FACES FOR SHOPPERS
Sleaford, with its quirky hidden passageways, has always been a place where you can find unique, independent businesses offering their own personal brand of service, as well as national retailers.
Areas worth checking out include Millstream Square, the Bristol Arcade, White Hart Mews, Riverside Shopping Centre and Money’s Yard.

New life has recently been breathed into White Hart Mews, off Southgate, where you will find everything from a hairdressing salon to a tattooist, sports massage business and sewing alterations shop. One of its newer arrivals is Peter Rose of Range & Country Shooting Supplies, whose business address is actually Southgate, although the entrance to his store is within the Mews.

Peter, whose wife runs The Littlest Things shop in the town, decided to launch his business in Sleaford in order to fill a gap in the market and he is attracting customers from miles away.

“We sell everything from air rifles to shotguns and full-bore rifles, a range of ammunition and some outdoor clothing. People are travelling further to buy their supplies and I am serving people from Skegness, Boston and Grantham,” said Peter.

Of course there are many more independents in the town, including long-standing favourites, such as carpets and curtains specialist Bennett Panton and jeweller Moore & Scrupps.

Lincolnshire Chamber has recently increased its membership in the Sleaford area. The Chamber, which had been offering bi-monthly Business Forums, at The Barge & Bottle in the town,  now offers month get-togethers. Some take the form of breakfast-time meetings and others take place at lunchtime. Contact Rachel Mooney on 01522 846922 for information.

The Chamber is also working with North Kesteven District Council to encourage more small businesses to attend Meet the Buyer workshops and learn about opportunities to potentially provide their services to local authorities.

CRAFT MERGER
UK craft development agency Design Factory has been developing exceptional craft and design talent from the East Midlands since 2005. It also provides an international platform for designer/makers to achieve their ambitions.

Design Factory has now merged with the Sleaford based National Centre for Craft & Design (NCCD) providing a new and inspiring home for the UK’s craft and design sector.

And while it remains keen to encourage talent from Lincolnshire and the wider East Midlands, there is now an opportunity for makers from throughout the UK to join this initiative.

The membership scheme, which is synonymous with high quality, creativity, innovation and fresh design talent, offers six different levels of subscription. These are designed to suit the needs of emerging, new, mid-career and established makers and to support their professional development. Design Factory also welcomes enthusiasts, patrons, collectors, galleries and friends who share its commitment to craft.

NATIONAL CENTRE FOR CRAFT & DESIGN
Staff at Sleaford’s National Centre for Craft & Design (NCCD) are looking forward to welcoming even more visitors during 2014, as a new programme of exhibitions and attractions gets underway.

The centre’s marketing and communications manager, Rosamund Wells said: “Everyone is looking for an experience now – not just a show to see, or a place to eat – they want the whole package, something great to see, somewhere good to eat, a shop to browse at the end of day, something for the kids to do. That’s what we offer people – the whole package, a great arts experience.”

The NCCD’s contemporary Christmas craft market, gifted.13,  held at the end of November brought in around 3,000 visitors, continuing the increase in numbers that the Centre saw throughout the latter half of 2013. In fact, over 100,000 visitors enjoyed the NCCD during 2013.

“We’re hoping to increase our visitor footfall again this year, and to help achieve this we’ll be launching a brand new interactive website that’ll work across a wide range of digital platforms,” said Rosamund.

The NCCD, which sees itself as the ‘home’ of British craft and design, has recently celebrated its tenth birthday.

It claims to be the largest venue in England entirely dedicated to the exhibition, celebration and promotion of international and national craft and design, exhibiting the very best of contemporary artwork in these fields.

Five galleries run a rolling programme of up to twenty shows each year – and the curatorial team makes a real effort to produce shows which appeal to a wide audience base.

“Our video gaming exhibition, Revolution in the Bedroom, War in the Playground, brought in a new audience for us, one more engaged with technology. The exhibition was included as part of Lincoln’s Frequency Festival and the Nottingham based GameCity Festival,” said Rosamund.

“Lots of dads and their children enjoyed it together; dads getting misty-eyed thinking of their teenage years, and the kids amazed at the technology available then.” 

The 2014 Spring season at the NCCD reflects a wide variety of artistic worlds.

“Our aim is to engage with as many people as possible, both local and visitors from further afield. We aim to increase our engagement with the community and to enhance our standing as a positive benefit in North Kesteven – economically, socially and culturally. But we’re also aiming to increase our national profile,” said Rosamund.

Spring opens with Creating a Scene on 25th January, which takes a look at the art of contemporary set design across a variety of artistic disciplines, showing examples of the design process including sketches and working models as well as finished designs, theatre sets and even a whole theatre.

Rosamund said that outreach is a major part of the NCCD’s vision and visitors of all ages can also learn how to make what they see, by taking part in workshops, clubs, events and seminars.

“We’re already looking forward to our Easter weekend of free activities including an Easter Craft and Design Trail from 18th to 21st April and to our annual ‘woolly event’ enjoyed by hundreds, Keep Calm and Carry Yarn, which takes place on Saturday 24th May,” she said.

The NCCD is very open when it comes to collaborating with other organisations and individuals.

“We’re planning collaborative projects with artsNK, a team of diverse professionals who are committed to producing high quality arts experiences for the community of North Kesteven and beyond, and the Terry O’Toole Theatre in North Hykeham. And, of course, we work closely with Design Factory,” added Rosamund.

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