Mr BIG encouraged traders to participate in a loyalty reward scheme this year, with cards being delivered to thousands of homes around Market Rasen in the weeks before the promotion began. Shoppers could collect stamps on their Christmas Tree card at participating shops, for spending £5 in the shop. The first prize in the draw was an amazing prize of £1000 travel voucher was very generously sponsored by Lincolnshire Co-operative, who have been so supportive of the town and town events to match the £500 donated by Mr BIG. Eleven of the high street retailers donated prizes to a minimum value of £50 each. “It was brilliant,” said Bridget Pitman-Brand, owner of the Market Rasen pet shop. “It really, really worked. People were coming into my shop to buy cat food simply because of the loyalty card – they usually buy elsewhere.” The big draw took place on Christmas Eve outside the Lincolnshire Co-operative Travel Shop in Market Rasen, and the first prize of a £1000 travel voucher was awarded to Vikki Bakin and a lot of other prizes were won by people all over the town.
On 29 May Mr Big was contacted by BBC Look North at 11.30am to field a representative to comment on that day’s national statistics around the Pilot. We did this within in the hour, with one of our volunteer directors spending a substantial amount of time with their team giving detail on why we believe the statistics are a mis-representation of the situation in our town.
However it appears we have been swept into a broader agenda as the prime-time show, which often reaches an audience of 500,000 people in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, painted a negative view that simply isn’t true in fact.
After a whole year of hard work and with some amazing achievements under our belts, we would hope that our local media representation would take a more responsible position. Sadly that hasn’t happened so we have to tell our own story.
According to the Guardian’s 29 May article “Market Rasen was the worst performer in terms of shops, with a 3.2 percentage point rise in empty stores between March 2012 and the same month this year, according to information collated by research firm The Local Data Company for the BBC Radio 4 programme You & Yours.”
So putting aside the fact that the Portas Pilot only began at the end of May 2012. Let’s look at the detail.
FACTS ON THE CLOSURES
The ‘closures’ are those stated in Local Data Company Portas 12 BBC You and Yours spread sheet. (It contains each of the 12 Portas Pilot towns so if any of the other Pilots or their local media would like a copy please get in touch).
Millcraft Bathrooms – not really a closure, in fact a smart recession-beating move to deal with the High Street overheads, Millcraft moved their bathroom showroom into the same premises as their Kitchen shop further up Queen Street. Their old premises was refurbished and opened on 1 May 2012 as Quintessential Beauty, a NEW beauty parlour opened during Market Rasen’s Portas Pilot first year.
Arena Café is closed as a café but it is being used for training and workshops by C G Partnership and has hosted several pop up events during the Portas Pilot first year including markets, art exhibitions and crafting workshops. After this valuable research, it will reopen soon as a NEW Learning & Arts Café.
Oxfam sadly did leave Market Rasen, but within weeks this main High Street retail unit has been refurbished and reopened by Age Concern UK. The original Age Concern unit on Union Street is due to open soon as a NEW Crafting Supplies shop selling wool etc to the talented artistic community that we’ve seen emerge during Market Rasen’s Arts Council England funded Arts & Crafts Festival 2013.
China Choice – was never open during the Portas Pilot. The refurbished Queen Street premises is now home to Wild One Tours, a fantastic motor cycling accessories retailer, serving our big biking community with branded leathers, helmets, boots and planning tours. Mike Coleman owner of Wild One Tours told us he opened in March 2012. He is in Local Data Company’s statistic as an opening yet China Choice the business he replaced is as a closure. Same shop, same premises so a bit misleading?
Urban Dollz was an end of line discounted fashion retail that was replaced by Primal Art Tattoo Studio moving two doors down to a larger premises. Likewise the Tattoo Parlour appears on the stats as both closure and opening. We would class that as a relocation. The original smaller premises is vacant and in need of refurbishment.
There are 2 dentists on the BBC You and Yours spreadsheet – J Jacobs and Advanced Dental. Whether or not you wish to class these as ‘stores’ is debatable. As they feature in the stats that are being used against us, let’s include them. We have been told that Jacobs is still in business as Wolds Dental Studio and we’re happy to report a NEW High Street dental practice called You Smile. Sadly not mentioned in the data but sure to be bringing useful additional footfall to people popping into Market Rasen for a check up and taking advantage of any of Market Rasen’s 6+ FREE car parks.
Little Orchard is sited as a closure but most of the people we spoke to couldn’t remember it being open at the beginning of the Pilot year. It was based in a tricky ‘retail space’ tucked on the back of the community hub. During the last year this challenging premises has opened and closed as a fruit and veg shop, ex-catalogue stock shop and pet supplies. (None of these feature on the statistics as openings.) The building is for sale with planning permission for houses on the car park outside so remains vacant. If anyone is interested, it would suit a retailer selling large commodity goods that need easy access to customer vehicles. It’s NOT a location that would attract browsing footfall.
Sofia’s Boutique was a dress shop that sadly closed but since then, the stunning Georgian building has been renovated top to bottom, including the two stories above. Now home to a new childrenswear retailer Little Milberry’s which features as an opening in the BBC’s figures.
Indulgence is a lovely little shop selling fragranced gifts, oil lamps, hand poured candles, bath and beauty products plus bags, scarves etc. Steve and Carol, who run the shop, love Market Rasen so much that they have moved 3 times in order to find the right premises to maximise its potential. They were kind enough to sell I LOVE MKT RSN merchandise online for us. So Steve was naturally concerned to be sited as a closure and only one opening! He left 31 Queen St on 1 May 2011 to move into 10a Queen St on 20 March 2012. Steve then opened in Market Place Walk on 2 April 2013 and is settling in nicely to his new location. Indulgence was very much open for business this weekend taking advantage of proximity to the Market Place by giving visitors to the Lions’ Annual Gardeners’ Fayre flyers.
Indulgence replaced Varlows at 10a Queen Street and Footprints on Market Place Walk, neither of which feature in the figures at all. Although Peter Scott shoe shop is mentioned as a closure (it was the previous incarnation of Footprints and definitely NOT open during the Pilot). 10a Queen Street is a lovely large retail space and has been very close to signing a number of fashion retailers as it has a great upstairs space too. Let’s hope the recent Market Rasen bashing hasn’t put them off.
The Rasen Farm Shop was a fruit and veg shop originally located at 6a Queen Street but forced to relocate to 14 Queen Street when the roof fell in. Sadly Kelly decided to come out of retail altogether and so Mr Big, using Portas Pilot funds, decided to fill a pivotal gap on the High Street with a fruit and veg shop that would mean people could buy meal solutions from our great local butchers Lancasters and fish from the market without having to resort to shopping in the supermarkets.
Plus it was the perfect opportunity to give the artisan producers (who have helped make Market Rasen Britain’s Best Small Speciality Market of the Year 2013) a route to retail as we pledged in our original Portas Pilot bid. Thanks to lots of hard graft by so many people, including great shop fit advice from Jayne Cartwright, the charity retail guru, NEW Greens of Lincolnshire opened in December 2012 at 14 Queen Street.
The shop makes its own exciting journey into private ownership from 1 June 2013 to Maria Pemberton who started her West Wold Deli on our very first Pop Up Market on 14 May 2012. Maria has moved from market to retail in 12 months of the Portas Pilot, supported by Mr Big and the people of Market Rasen. She is to retain employees and has even created a new paid role for a fantastic volunteer who enters paid employment for the very first time.
Despite featuring ‘as best practice’ in Mary Portas’ inspiring visit to Market Rasen in February 2012, and scoring 9/10 in Mary’s Telegraph column, Greens of Lincolnshire does not feature as an opening in the Local Company Data/BBC You and Yours stats at all. What a kick in the teeth for us to see the display we created and painted as volunteers being used as a backdrop for inaccurate graphics about Market Rasen’s empties. Gutted is an understatement.
P.G’s Nuts on Union Street sadly closed during the pilot. It subsequently reopened as a charity shop claiming to raise funds for Friends of St Andrew’s Hospice (despite being open for just a matter of weeks it features on the BBC spreadsheet). Once the charity denied any official involvement it folded fairly quickly to be replaced by Odds’an’Sods, selling value toys for Christmas.
We’ve had an email this week from a lady who has a womenswear shop in Brigg, “I have in fact found a suitable property in Market Rasen, its the one on Union Street, its used to be the old Nuts shop I believe.” She thinks this is the perfect space for her to open a second shop. Let’s hope so!
Blue River Jewellery (another double entry as closure and opening) is another lovely little indie shop where you can buy jewellery making supplies as well as beautiful rings, bracelets, necklaces etc and have repairs carried out by Wendy herself, who in fact relocated from 21 Queen Street to 6a Queen Street following its complete refurbishment.
Priceless Home Hardware appears as a closure and Jacques Home Hardware as an opening. The address is the same. So yes, it’s a rebrand. Rob Jacques launched the rebranding of his long established and successful independent hardware business over a fun weekend on 7/8 September 2012. He is also the owner of a small shop unit that housed ‘Curtain Creations’ on George Street. This doesn’t feature on the stats but talking to Rob over the weekend, it is available to rent and would make a fantastic start up retail unit at a very affordable price as it’s not on the main High Street.
Wrap and Roll Sandwich Bar didn’t manage to compete with one of Lincolnshire’s most established bakeries Starbucks and another relative newcomer Cooplands. Happily though the premises has been fully refurbished by NEW Lovelle Estate Agency – now the forth estate agency in Market Rasen. Not bad for a small rural market town that’s on its uppers, eh?
Likewise the final ‘closure’ on the list is First Choice Travel Shop, based in great High Street premises opposite the Market Place owned by the Lincolnshire Cooperative. Nationally First Choice folded but the premises was quickly replaced by Bowens Travel. Sadly the same thing happened and the group went bust also during the Pilot, but not mentioned in the figures. Happily for Market Rasen, in March this year, following a brief stint as a Pop up Art Gallery during our Arts Council England funded Arts & Crafts festival, this shop reopened it as a NEW Lincolnshire Co-operative Travel shop bringing fresh faces on to the High Street for services.
FACTS ON THE OPENINGS
So in addition to the ‘openings’ which were in reality relocations and rebranding not covered above, let’s say hello to Market Rasen’s new indie retailers the BBC and Local Data Company failed to mention:
NEW Bay Trading opened 29 October 2012 in the old Blue River shop at 21 Queen Street, we welcome a second retail outlet from Louth based Bay Team Products filling that gap on our High Street for equestrian products, much needed in our rural economy.
NEW Quintessential Beauty opened 1 May 2012 in the old Millcraft Bathrooms that relocated to kitchens.(Pictured above under facts on the space it replaced). Quintessential joins other hair and beauty retailers Touches Tanning, Style Studio, Total Beauty and Spring Beauty all trying new and innovative ways to attract and serve their clientele from a catchment area of 33,000 people.
NEW Bathroom Desires opened 1 March 2013 in the long term vacant Taal Indian restaurant – a key entrance to the town. Perfectly located near Peter Rhodes Electrical and Rhodes Fitted Kitchen, to provide a mini department store for homeowners looking to refurbish their properties. Ian Mcready has a lifetime’s experience in sourcing beautiful bathrooms ‘without the expensive flannel’.
NEW Lovelle Estate Agency opened 29 September 2012 to become the forth estate agent in town joining established agents Perkins George Mawer, Walters and John Taylors. With 66 new homes being built by Chestnut Homes within walking distance of the High Street there are clearly plenty of people who believe Market Rasen is worth investment. A quick call to Chestnut Homes revealed that within a day of Hunter’s Place in Market Rasen being on the website they had received 30 enquiries.
NEW Tradelight a trade lighting company who purchased the old Travis Perkins site on Oxford Street when they relocated and refurbished and old tractor sales depot on Walesby Road.
NEW Big Corner Shop opened by Mr Big in the Grade II listed Old Halifax building which has stood derelict until it was bought and renovated by Lindum Construction. The adjacent side to the shop is taken by Bridge McFarland Solicitors (if we’re counting dentists as shops then surely professional services count too). The Big Corner Shop opened on a Pilot model selling wares from fledgling retailers on a 3 month trial to cover costs. It provides a route to market for 30+ retailers and is now changing to a model where 2 of the 3 rooms are dedicated paid retailer space with the 3rd providing volunteer run selling space for a fee + commission. Above the shop are 4 offices, housing a variety of professional services business employing staff and housing the Mr Big Town Centre Manager and Apprentice.
OPENING IN JUNE
Sweet Beginnings Photography opening imminently at 31 Queen Street brings a contemporary family photography studio onto the High Street. Having met Sharon and Paul on Saturday as they put the finishing touches to a refurbished interior, they had already started networking with other Market Rasen businesses on cross selling opportunities. Just the sort of dynamic approach we need.
Craft Supplies shop will fill the space left by Age Concern moving up space left by Oxfam.
ADDITIONAL SPACES FILLED
King Street was left vacant by Lincolnshire County Council relocating Social Services out of town. This lovely old building has been bought by Lindum Construction, refurbished as offices and is now home to 4 professional services businesses adding to the lunch time and after work economy.
There are currently 4 vacant main High Street premises due to the very recent closure of Scoops and the relocation of Indulgence and The Ironing Board to more affordable premises, in addition to the old Tattoo Studio.
We attempt to keep a record of our empties on this blog and will update this as often as we can to fill gaps that are not just about High Street retail but about any business or organisation that wants to set up in a Market Rasen postcode. You will be assured of a warm welcome and as much support as the town can give you. We’d love to see the Square Bar, owned by Lincolnshire Coop on the Market Place filled with something truly innovative and engaging for the community. Any ideas?
The challenges continue to be huge especially when already stretched volunteer directors are now having to deal with fall out from supporters and volunteers who can’t understand why we would be would be involved in reporting that has done our town down.
Our personal learnings from a year of hard slog on the High Street has been that halting decline and promoting growth may appear to be about retail premises and footfall on the surface. But the reality is that in order to create an environment for growth, you have to create confidence. That is our task here at MR BIG and the irresponsible reporting last week in the press, local TV, national radio and online media has undoubtedly been a set back we could well do without.
If you are someone who has contributed to this particular round of Portas bashing, think about how damaging it is and how it creates hard work for over stretched town teams. Ask yourself what you are doing to help. What are you spending on your local High Street each week?
If anyone in the media (thanks Market Rasen Mail for being the first to get in touch) is interested in reporting the facts and meeting some of the NEW businesses here in Market Rasen that didn’t make it on Local Data Company’s figures, then please contact us to discover why they believe that our lovely Lincolnshire market town is worth their investment.
Whilst other Pilot towns have struggled with red-tape, we have forged ahead to make positive change. So much so that our good work has been recognised with an award in the last month that sees us as one of only 7 High Street recognised for innovation.
If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem, so if all you want to do is knock this town and its hard working people, we’d kindly ask you to stay away. Market Rasen is going places with or without your help.
The source of Market Rasen Guide’s up to the minute data is walking up and down the high street, talking to shop owners between 29 May and 4 June. Time we’d really rather have spent on delivering our 4 big ideas, preparing for Indie Retail Month in July and working on High Street X-Fund projects.
Around Christmas time last year, we drew up a bid and submitted it to government, explaining some of the great things we’ve achieved in Market Rasen and outlining some further ideas we would like to implement to continue our journey to re-invigorate the High Street.
We were one of 55 towns who applied (and submitted videos) and only 7 towns were given the award. In the words of our representative from Government – we are a truly exceptional town. We asked for £79K, But we were awarded £101,057. . .and it’s taken us a little while to find out why, which is why we’ve not been super-quick to announce the details of the win. We wanted to get our facts straight.
So here they are.
Our bid was formed from the ideas laid down in our town transformation plan, written with the input of traders and business people back in February 2012. It builds on the four promises laid down in our Portas bid: Town Tidy Up, Markets, Shopping and Marketing and Promotion to drive footfall.
This bid includes a host of activites, they include:
Town Tidy Up
‘Operation Ice Cream’ which will create a fund to help shop owners and businesses repaint their shop frontages
- Gardening initiatives, including community groups and schools to improve unloved areas of the town
- Love Your Street – a scheme to encourage groups to ‘adopt’ and care for areas of our town
- Management fund to ensure we can continue to host BIG monthly markets and to continue to fund our Town Centre Manager for a 2nd year
- Funds to try new and different markets formats to keep things fresh and exciting
- Work with local councils and transport providers to provide market day buses and trains from Lincoln and Grimsby.
- Community cafe with gallery space and family friendly facilities and visitor information.
- Personal shopping service and outreach for vulnerable people and people without access to transport.
- Develop overnight accommodation provision and ensure our visitors have a VIP experience
- Formal support package for start-up businesses
- Improving the visitor experience through signage and information.
- Shop Local campaign
- Regional tourist promotions to create a branded offer to visitors, showcasing our towns assets including Racecourse, outdoor activities as a Lincolnshire Wolds Town, Biker events, Food Tourism etc.
- Promote Market Rasen and surrounding villages regionally as cultural destination for arts and crafts
As you can see, there’s a lot to do here and the money we’ve won is allocated in small portions against each of these activities, so we need to think carefully about what projects we undertake in what order.
There is no deadline on when we spend the money and we’ve still got approximately 50% of our Portas funds left – so there are plenty of projects on the go already.
We were keen to understand why the Government had awarded us an extra £22K. The answer is that these funds are there to help us make our projects sustainable – so to pay for the people resources required to keep things moving, but also to help us spread news of our projects by networking with other town teams. They are not to be allocated to new and additional projects to those outlined in our bid.
In the couple of weeks since the X Fund win was announced in the national media, I’ve been approached by a handful of concerned townspeople, who were worried or unclear about the purpose and remit of MR BIG. First, a number of people expressed concern about the idea of having a ‘community cafe’ as part of our plans and that it would encroach on other eateries in town. To be clear – there is a limited budget of £10K against this activity and the focus will be on creating a family-friendly environment that fulfils a number of different functions for residents and visitors. The location and format of this initiative is not agreed and the opportunity will be tendered out at a date tbc for local businesses or groups to ‘bid’ to take this activity forward.
Secondly, I’ve been asked on many occasions for MR BIG to extend the scope of works to tackle a host of different issues the town faces. Again, we want to be clear that as a business improvement group there is a limit and focus to our remit that is around regenerating our High Street and businesses within Market Rasen. Activities that encourage business growth will continue to be our primary focus. Whilst these may have benefits to the overall community as a whole, our Group is not a catch-all for every issue our town faces.
Our Board takes time and care to ensure that we remain true to the vision we set right at the outset at the beginning of 2012 – which was to make Market Rasen a more inviting place to be and to drive the footfall on the High Street that will benefit local businesses so that they, in turn can invest in our town.
In light of recent feedback from our members, we will be looking to meet with them more regularly and informally over the months ahead, so we can continue to canvass the views, opinions and ideas that have been critical to our success thus far.
Sara Scott – Chair MR BIG