High Street Heroes of Boroughbridge
PUBLISHED: 20:39 26 November 2013 | UPDATED: 20:39 26 November 2013
Love is in the air in Boroughbridge, as Jo Haywood discovers
Mary Portas would click together her suede-booted heels in delight if she came to Boroughbridge, punching the air until her bracelets rattled and cracking a grin with a brightness only matched by her fiery red hair. The government’s high street regeneration tzar could learn a thing or two from the army of independent traders putting Boroughbridge on the retail map, perhaps even purloining a few of their pioneering initiatives to boost her own flagging flagship scheme.
The fact is that the shopkeepers and business owners of Boroughbridge love their town with a passion. So much so that 10 of them have pooled their resources to launch their own ‘Love Boroughbridge’ promotional co-operative, maintaining the momentum of a PR initiative previously developed by the hard-working Chamber of Trade.
Following on from the success of their Plot to Plate food and drink festival, a bizarre but eye-catching mannequin wedding, an Easter egg hunt with a giant rabbit and reams of positive media coverage, the 10 local leaders are working with Montpellier Media Services, a Harrogate-based PR agency, to up the profile of their beloved town still further.
‘Our aim is not just to generate new business, it’s about encouraging the whole town to work together to put Boroughbridge firmly on the map,’ said Louise Leong, owner of Curvy Bridal, secretary of the Chamber of Trade and spokesman for Love Boroughbridge.
‘We’re all very motivated as individuals, but I think it helps that we all get on wonderfully well and are genuinely friends who are happy to help each other out whenever we can. We share ideas and pool resources to ensure we don’t have any closed shops in the town.’
And they don’t. Not a single one. Which is an incredible achievement when you consider how many independent businesses are still being buffeted by aftershocks from the most recent recession, struggling to make ends meet while serving communities with considerably less disposable income.
Another incredible achievement worth noting is the town’s post office, a thriving success at a time when many others are barely surviving, run by Nigel and Karen Hamilton-Evans.
Nigel, a former Leeds United catering manager before taking over the Boroughbridge store 11 years ago, is a specialist greetings card mentor for the Post Office – a fact that is more than borne out by the packed displays in his shop and his impressive breadth of knowledge on the subject.
‘I have a great passion for what I do,’ he explained. ‘I firmly believe that if you’re knowledgeable about your stock and make your customers feel valued, not only will they come back but their family, friends and neighbours will too.
‘We want people to actively enjoy coming into the post office. For me, it’s a bit like theatre; we’re not just selling people things, we’re entertaining them. A good result for us is a customer who leaves our shop smiling.’
Nigel admits that he’s luckier than most as he has a loyal customer base and strong support from other businesses across the town. He’s confident that Boroughbridge Post Office is here to stay, which can’t be anything but good news for the community.
‘A good post office is more than just a shop; it’s the hub of the local community,’ he said. ‘We fulfil a social role by providing a friendly face across the counter whenever people need us. It might be their only bit of social interaction all day, so it’s up to us to make it worthwhile.’
There is a palpable atmosphere in Boroughbridge that this is a community that cares for its own. The active Chamber of Trade ensures every new shop and business owner gets a welcoming visit and offers of help and support virtually from the moment they flip the open sign on their first day.
‘I got a bouquet of flowers and lots of encouragement and support when I opened my shop six years ago,’ said Louise, who runs Joshua Adams Menswear and Baileys of Boroughbridge sweetshop with her husband as well as her own Curvy Bridal business. ‘I’ve lived in the area my whole life and thought I knew it well, but the town went up another notch in my estimation that day.’
And it’s not just new traders who receive a warm reception; new residents also get a welcome pack full of cards and discount vouchers for all manner of stores and services.
‘This gets them into town,’ said Louise, ‘and once they see what we have to offer, we know they’ll be back.’
If you still need an excuse to visit Boroughbridge, why not pop along for a spot of late night shopping on December 4th when the town will be transformed into a veritable Santa’s grotto of festive shenanigans, with all finds raised going to Boroughbridge Community Care.
Alternatively, you could always drop in on December 7th when the town is taking part in Small Business Saturday, a national initiative aimed at raising the profile of independent community businesses that might otherwise go unheralded.
‘The whole town is taking part,’ said Louise. ‘It’s vital that everyone is involved as the community is always stronger than the individual.’
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Boroughbridge’s big 10
The double-handful of businesses striving to raise their town’s profile under the Love Boroughbridge banner are: Curvy Bridal in Fishergate; Poplar Framing in Wetherby Road; The Crown Hotel on Horsefair; Urban Hair in High Street; Hair on the Square in St James’ Meadow; The Beauty Shop in High Street; Greenwoods Butchers on Horsefair Road; Winearray in High Street; Clean & Tidy in High Street; and Spear Travels in High Street.
They’re currently working on a number of projects for 2014 – including an inventive take on the Tour de France’s sojourn in Yorkshire next July – but are keeping them under wraps for now.
‘We’d love to be able to say more as the town is bursting with energy and deserves credit for its drive and approach, but the time will come soon when we can reveal all,’ said Steve Parsley, partner in Montpellier Media, PR advisor to the Love Boroughbridge co-operative.
Watch this space and we’ll keep you posted.