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

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South Lincolnshire is home to a gem of a market town, which is bursting with interest for shoppers and visitors willing to take the time to go exploring.

In the town centre, you will find a wealth of niche traders, bustling markets, tourist attractions and interesting architecture whilst, on the edge of town, the Springfields complex is waiting to welcome you with big name stores and great conference facilities.

How do you do both in one day? You could park in town, enjoy a spot of retail therapy and then drive to Springfields. If it’s sunny, it’s tempting to walk between the two; or you could do things in style by cruising between the destinations aboard one of the local water taxis.

The taxi ride typically takes about thirty minutes and the service runs from April through to 26th October (weekends only in October) – operating between 10am and 5pm Monday to Friday and from 11am to 5pm on Sundays.

The secret is to allow yourself a few hours to make the most of this lovely destination, which also plays a key role when it comes to growing, processing and transporting the food we eat everyday. Twenty per cent of all the UK’s processed food passes through South Holland District, with hauliers moving more than one million tonnes of food a year from in and around the town.

For the newcomer, it can come as a surprise to find that Spalding has so many independent businesses, but it’s a real plus point for shoppers in search of something different, who also enjoy receiving top class service.

Many stores can be found in the little alleys and streets leading off the Market Place, which is packed with stalls on the town’s Tuesday and Saturday market days. A popular Farmers’ Market is a popular added attraction on the first Saturday of each month.

Spalding is perfect for exploring on foot. The impressive Grade I listed Ayscoughfee Hall Museum & Gardens in Churchgate and the fascinating Chain Bridge Forge in High Street (on the East banks of the River Welland) are a short stroll from the town centre.

In the heart of the town, interesting buildings include the multi-million pound Red Lion Centre, which is run by Boston College and which offers a wide range of courses. It is also home to a handful of small enterprises and the Sage Restaurant. Much older, but equally eyecatching, is the Grade II listed Spalding Gentlemen’s Society museum building in Broad Street. It is the home of a Society whose illustrious past members include Sir Isaac Newton and Lord Tennyson.

Although it houses some fascinating collections and welcomes visitors, students and researchers by arrangement, it is currently impossible for the building to be open to the public all day every day.

However, the Society has ambitions to expand, grow its membership and become more widely known in the future.

Visitors to Spalding should also check out the South Holland Centre, which offers everything from the latest films to live shows, workshops and clubs. It is also the place to pick-up local tourist and other information.

Spalding Chamber President, Phil Scarlett believes the town can hold its head high, as it emerges from the protracted recession and looks forward to brighter times.

He said: “The town has weathered the economic downturn relatively well. The number of empty shop units stands at about eight per cent, which is still below the national average.

“Private landlords own many of the properties and they have taken a creative approach to finding and retaining tenants. As a consequence, Spalding has a larger number of independent traders than many other places.”

As we went to press, Spalding Chamber was about to appoint a Town Centre Manager – a post which is being funded with the help of Section 106 development cash.

“This will be a three-year appointment and the new manager will initially focus on ways to bring the town’s businesses closer together. The Springfields complex currently attracts 2.6 million people every year, but very few of them make the trip from there into town, so we are looking to change that,” said Mr Scarlett.

“He or she will explore the current events which are staged in the town and look at producing a new programme of attractions for the future.”

This is vital as the town strives to raise its profile, following the loss of the Spalding Flower Festival – although the Tulipmania celebration at Springfields, which replaced it this year, still succeeded in attracting thousands of visitors.

Spalding Chamber has produced a new guide which really lifts the lid on its fascinating history. Compiled by REM Marketing’s Robyn Sinclair it features a variety of trails which encourage visitors to get exploring.

The Chamber is also working on a new town destination plan, which also aims to define and boost its visitor economy.

“Our Visit Spalding guide is packed with ideas. For instance, the Heritage Trail starts in Broad Street and takes in the Spalding Gentlemen’s Club, Coronation Bridge, Ayscoughfee Hall Museum and Gardens, the Chain Bridge Forge Museum and Springfields,” said Mr Scarlett.

“For the Family Fun Trail people will need transport, but they are spoilt for choice, with opportunities to visit the Fun Farm, Baytree Nurseries, the quizzical Maze in Maize, Scalextric track, Laserstorm and much more.”

For shopaholics, must-visit retailers include independent outlets, such as Hills department and furnishing stores, The Man’s Shop, Bookmark and scores more. Then there is the Springfields Outlet Shopping on the edge of town and even more options if you decide to move on to nearby Holbeach.

Other trails offer ideas for eating out, visiting churches, taking riverside walks or visiting nature reserves.

Springfields Outlet Shopping boasts fifty-five stores and there’s also the Festival Gardens to enjoy while you are in the area.

The Springfields Events and Conference Centre (owned by Springfields Horticultural Society – funds raised go towards the maintenance of its fifteen-acre show gardens) is also well worth discovering.

This is a popular venue for everyone from private party organisers to companies wishing to stage major conferences and awards ceremonies. Its events-packed calendar features lots of attractions, including the Spalding Antiques & Collectors’ Fair (29th June) to the Toy Collectors Fair (13th July) and Blokesfest, which takes place on 2nd and 3rd August. For more visit www.springfieldsevents.co.uk

INDEPENDENTS’ DAY
If you love shopping with individual and family-run businesses, Spalding has a wealth of them and they offer a wide variety of goods and services. And with Independents’ Day coming up on 4th July – the same day as the American Independence Day – people are being encouraged to support their homegrown traders, by buying locally.

Popular independents in Spalding include The Man’s Shop and Bookmark, both in The Crescent, and Gibbs Shoes in Hall Place. The town’s Hills department and furnishing stores are also family-owned.

The Man’s Shop was originally started in 1960 by Jim Inkley, but his son Andrew and his wife Heather have been at the helm since Jim’s death.

From a distance, this double-fronted shop appears to be a very traditional gent’s outfitters. However, take a look in its windows or, better still, pop inside and you are in for a surprise. Gentlemen can expect to be spoilt for choice, because the quality and selection of the clothing on offer is impressive.

“It is important to be offering something different and not like the rest of the High Street. Our stock includes continental ranges like Meyer trousers, Fynch Hatton knitwear and Olymp shirts,” said Andrew.

“A couple of years ago we diversified into doing wedding hire. It is another string to our bow and it has attracted new customers. A lot of people are signposted to us by word of mouth, but we also attend wedding fairs.

“Our shop is based in a part of town where there are a lot of family-run independent businesses and the other thing we aim to provide is good service.”

It’s obviously working. Andrew and Heather regularly serve customers from Lincoln, Peterborough, Cambridge, Nottingham and Boston, as well as Spalding.

Christine Hanson owns Bookmark – which is much more than a bookshop. It also offers a huge range of greetings cards and gifts, runs its own book club and also has a cafe.

“We try and offers shoppers items that are not available everywhere else on the High Street and we deal with small suppliers in order to do that. Our newer lines include Tilnar Art products from Africa, which are all handmade, and Appletree ceramics which are crafted in Spain,” said Christine.

“The Tilnar Art products include soapstone figures, handmade and wooden sculptures. Recycled materials are also used and some pieces also result in a donation being made to the World Wildlife Fund.”

Christine is among business owners who are pleased that Spalding is getting a town centre manager.

SPALDING GENTLEMEN’S SOCIETY
More than 300 years after it was founded in 1710, by the antiquarian Maurice Johnson, Spalding Gentlemen’s Society is not only still going strong, it has major ambitions for the future.

The Society, whose illustrious early members included eminent Lincolnshire figures, such as Sir Isaac Newton and Lord Tennyson, is keen to grow its membership and show off its fascinating collections to many more people.

But the organisation faces physical and financial challenges.

Formed at an exciting time when world exploration, new scientific discoveries, cultural and social changes were causing a real buzz, members met weekly in Spalding to share their knowledge and correspond with individuals around the world.

Today the Society, which has its headquarters and museum in an impressive Grade II listed building in Broad Street, Spalding, continues to care for the cultural heritage of its amazing collections and it is working to encourage more people to take a keen interest in the arts, humanities and sciences.

Although it is still called Spalding Gentlemen’s Society, it has ‘modernised’.

In 2006 the Society – a registered charity and ‘not for profit’ company – decided to admit women. That was an important milestone, but a relatively small step in comparison to the ultimate ambitions of a Society with about 350 members spread over a wide area, from Spalding to Cambridge, Oxford, London and Edinburgh. 

The Society’s museum is a treasure house, with collections featuring coins, glassware, silverware, medals, stamps and more. It also has a fantastic library, making it of interest to people researching their family or local history, but visitors have to make appointments to look around.

The Society also hosts twelve popular lectures during the winter months. These take place at the Spalding Grammar School and, on average, attract an audience of more than seventy people.

The Society’s honorary secretary, Professor Chisholm said: “What we now want to do, is to be able to open to the general public in a way in which we are not able to at the moment. We want them to be able to visit us and not have to be taken around by a guide.

“The big problem is one of accommodation. Our current building is stuffed to the gunnels and we need more space. That might mean finding a second property, if only for storage purposes. We have no spare exhibition space to put items on show.

“It would be difficult to extend our current property, so we could stay in our exhibition building, move lock stock and barrel or run two establishments.

“Naturally funding is a problem.  Although we have just increased our annual membership fee to £60, we also have to meet our expenses. However, we have had initial discussions with the Heritage Lottery Fund, which is favourably disposed to our ideas.”

It has been suggested that the Society initially comes up with some smaller projects, whilst formulating its major concept for the future. The Society admits this is a longer term project and it could take about eight years to come to fruition.

SPRINGFIELDS EVENTS & CONFERENCE CENTRE
If you’re planning a corporate or private event, looking for a great day out or want to join a great party – why not check out what the Springfields Events & Conference Centre has to offer?

Chief executive David Norton is kept busy overseeing a superb range of facilities, which are conveniently close to the Springfields Outlet shopping complex and hotel accommodation.

“Our events centre is used as a venue for a wide range of activities, from fundraising balls, where we can seat up to 700 people, to small private dinners. We are also licensed for wedding ceremonies,” said David.

With the large Exhibition Hall, Marquee Suite and Patio Room – all of which are easily accessible at ground-floor level and come with the benefit of free on-site parking – there is something tailored to suit all occasions.

The Marquee Suite is primarily used as a wedding venue, and it has just been revamped, and boasts new cream lining.

The Springfields Events & Conference Centre is perfect for exhibitions and corporate-style celebrations, such as business awards ceremonies, but the experienced team at the venue is equally happy to cater for a small private group of, say, fifteen people.

The Centre is also a popular choice during the Christmas Party season and also hosts a year-round calendar of events for the general public, including party events with live music.

The private gardens lead through to the Springfields Festival Gardens, which extend to fifteen acres, with their pretty flowerbeds, fountains and woodland walk.

These provide a relaxing ‘breakout’ area for conference delegates and are also perfect for wedding photographs.

Springfields Events & Conference Centre is owned by Springfields Horticultural Society – the charity directs its funds towards the maintainence of the show gardens.

The Springfields Festival Gardens and Events Arena hosted Tulipmania – the replacement celebration for the former Spalding Flower Festival – which took place over the May Bank Holiday.

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