CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Yorkshire Life today CLICK HERE

The country’s best shop and the best high street – how does Helmsley do it?

00:00 16 March 2016

Market Square

Helmsley Market Square

Joan Russell Photography

Jo Haywood visits the award winning market town

There's a good variety of specialist shopping in HelmsleyThere's a good variety of specialist shopping in Helmsley

Chipping Norton’s high street is very nice. And Colne’s quirky shops certainly impress. But, to be honest, they’re both a bit blah when compared with Helmsley.

As a county, we don’t like to brag – OK, we do a bit, but only because Yorkshire is so utterly brilliant – but when it comes to high streets, we’re home to the very best.

Helmsley in North Yorkshire beat off stiff competition from the likes of Chipping Norton in the Cotswolds and Colne in Lancashire at the recent Great British High Street awards, taking the coveted top spot in the market town category – and bagging itself a share of the £80,000 prize pot into the bargain.

But for the hard-working community, ably led by Helmsley in Business, it’s obviously more about love than money.

Helmsley Castle is a great starting point for visitorsHelmsley Castle is a great starting point for visitors

‘This was our chance to share our beautiful home town with a wider audience,’ said Lizzie Rohan, chairman of Helmsley in Business and owner of No 54, a five-star B&B in Bondgate. ‘Helmsley is completely out of the ordinary – a really special place to live in and to visit. Now more people than ever know we’re here.’

A record number of 230 high streets entered the competition, attracting more than 200,000 votes across seven categories. The judges were particularly impressed by Helmsley’s independent spirit, the range of events it hosts throughout the year, it’s pioneering schemes (like it’s new motorhome parking project) and its campaigning capabilities via its website – its 3,800+ Twitter followers, its 700+ Facebook followers and the 300+ press pieces it generated in the run-up to the awards.

High Streets minister Marcus Jones praised the competition generally for raising awareness of great British high streets and adding to the momentum which has seen a 30 per cent increase in investment in property in the last year, a fall in town centre vacancy rates to less than ten per cent and a bump in retail sales for the longest period on record.

He also had positive words for Helmsley’s own high streeters in particular: ‘Their innovative ideas and hard work on the ground really made them stand out. We’ll be sharing their excellent example to help others learn from their success.’

The win was obviously well-deserved, but it didn’t come easy. Helmsley in Business has been doggedly raising the town’s profile since its inception in 2012, bringing the community together into one cohesive engine powering it forward from good to great to the best of the best.

‘We’ve built up a real momentum that’s still propelling us along,’ said Carolyn Frank, a founder member of Helmsley in Business and co-owner of Libby Butler Jewellers in Borogate. ‘There’s a great vibe about the place; it’s absolutely buzzing.

‘Since we formed the group in 2012, it’s brought businesses and the whole community together. A lot of high streets are eerily similar, but Helmsley is packed with special, independent businesses stocking non-branded products that you can’t find elsewhere.

‘People use the word unique far too much, but in Helmsley’s case it’s absolutely true.’

The town benefits from a number of assets over and above its range of shops. Visitors are also drawn to its castle, its recently-redeveloped walled garden, the International Centre for Birds of Prey at Duncombe Park, the award-winning Verbena Spa at the Feversham Arms Hotel and the seemingly boundless hospitality of the Black Swan Hotel. Oh, and did we mention that Helmsley is also home to the country’s best small shop?

Hunters of Helmsley, a family-run delicatessen in Market Place, was one of 20 small shops invited to the House of Commons in recognition of the work they did to enrich their community. While there, owners Chris and Christine Garnett were awarded the accolade of Britain’s Best Small Shop.

Perhaps not surprisingly, they’re also founder members of Helmsley in Business. So, what are the benefits of such a band of business brothers (and sisters)?

‘Working together benefits us all,’ said Carolyn. ‘It means we can promote the town with one strong voice while building a better community for those of us who live as well as work here.

‘I know it might seem a little sad, but even when we get a rare day off, my partner Andy and I rarely leave Helmsley because everything we want is right here. The furthest I get is usually the Verbena Spa.’

Lizzie is equally passionate about her adopted home town. Originally from north Lincolnshire, she arrived in Helmsley 12 years ago, exhausted and looking for a rural retreat after working for Formula 1 in London.

‘Helmsley provided the perfect antidote,’ she said. ‘It’s such a special place with an amazingly upbeat community.

‘It can be lonely and isolating running your own business, but not here. We have an amazing support system, encouraging each other, working together and reaping the rewards of everyone’s success.

‘We all sing from the same hymn sheet and the result is extremely beneficial to everyone.’

Last year was pivotal for Helmsley, and 2016 looks set to follow suit. There’s a packed programme of events already in place to ensure the positive momentum continues, most notably the Tour de Yorkshire, which pedals furiously into town on May 1st.

‘It’s going to be a town-wide celebration,’ said Lizzie. ‘It’s going to mean huge amounts of work, but that’s something we’re used to.’

It will also mean, of course, that even more people will get to know about this already tremendously popular market town, providing another potential boost for local business owners and the tourist trade across the surrounding North York Moors National Park.

‘People often use the town as a base to explore the national park and, once they do, they’re hooked,’ said Carolyn. ‘Visitors come back again and again and we see the same faces every year, which is lovely because it means we can greet them by name and they begin to feel like old friends.

‘It’s funny, you know, there are several people who I thought actually lived here because I saw them so much, but it turns out they’re just very keen visitors.’

Tell us what makes your high street so special by sharing your thoughts at, on Twitter @Yorkshire_Life or by writing to Yorkshire Life, PO Box 163, Ripon, North Yorkshire, HG4 9AG.


Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Yorkshire Life visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Yorkshire Life staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Yorkshire Life account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from Yorkshire Life


Treat yourself to a digital subscription with Yorkshire Life.

Read more

With Halloween approaching, Jo Haywood catches a spooky play that started life in Scarborough.

Read more

Aerial video captures the spectacular sunrise at Malham Cove

Read more

Columnist Lisa Byrne shares some spooky experiences as she prepares for Hallowe’en.

Read more
Yesterday, 00:00

They’re the go-to creature when it comes to adding a touch of horror, but bats have a softer side too, and are even good to have around. Tom Marshall from the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust explains.

Read more
Yorkshire Wildlife
Wed, 00:00

Guests join us for lunch at a restaurant that’s the bedrock of Ben Rhydding

Report by Jo Haywood Photographs by Andy Bulmer

Read more
Yorkshire Life Luncheon Ilkley
Wed, 00:00

Angela Cooke, who lives in Doncaster with her husband Peter and son Daniel, tells us how two incredible dogs have changed her life

Read more
Tue, 15:12

Hull is the UK’s City of Culture in 2017, as the city plans for an exciting 365 days full of exciting and inspirational events.

Read more
Mon, 10:27

Freedom Studios are a theatre company that give us a different view to how we watch theatre. Rob Gemmell spreaks to Co-Artistic Director, Alex Chisholm, and writer, Tajinder Singh Heyer, about their new play that sees Bradford witness the end of the world.

Read more
Mon, 10:00

With Christmas just around the corner, what better way to soak up the magic than at your local Christmas market?

Read more

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad
Yorkshire Life Application Link

Follow us on Twitter

Like us on Facebook

Local Business Directory

Yorkshire's trusted business finder

Job search in your local area

Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search