Wickham Market and Felixstowe earn national praise in Great British High Street competition
- Credit: Gregg Brown
Two Suffolk communities have been praised for revitalising their high street “as a unique place for living, working and shopping”.
High-ranking entries in the third annual Great British High Street competition were announced this week, including Wickham Market in the village category and Felixstowe in the “rising star” section.
Organised by the Department for Communities and Local Government, a record 900 entries across 14 categories took part in this year’s competition, which aims to celebrate the “great work that is being done to revive, adapt and diversify the nation’s high streets”. Both Wickham Market and Felixstowe narrowly missed out on going through to the public vote to decide the overall winners, which will get a share of a £100,000 prize pot.
High streets minister Andrew Percy said: “Wickham Market and Felixstowe demonstrated many of the things we were looking for: a commitment to revitalising the high street as a unique place for living, working and shopping.
“They just missed out on the public vote this year but can take great pride in reaching the final five and being named one of Britain’s best high streets.”
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Ray Herring, leader of Suffolk Coastal District Council, added: “We’re delighted that both Wickham Market and Felixstowe have achieved these high rankings. It’s great news for the area to be given national recognition.
“Our market towns are a crucial part of our local economy and we’re proud to support them in building strong and resilient high streets.
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“We’ve worked closely with Wickham Market’s Town Team to help them build a previously empty shop in their high street into a community shop, we’ve also given support to help them to build a regular market that is now a thriving part of the town.
“Felixstowe has received a great deal of investment over the last few years and we are working with Felixstowe Forward to integrate the seafront with the high street – initiatives like providing free parking in the lead-up to Christmas and putting on late-night shopping are great incentives for local people and visitors to the high street.”
Wickham Market’s ‘vibrant spirit’ boosts village’s shopping offer
Businesses and community leaders in Wickham Market say team-working and a “vibrant spirit” has led to the success of their high street.
Wickham Market came fifth in the village category of the Great British High Street competition, narrowly missing out on going through to the public vote to decide the overall winner.
Organisers praised Wickham Market’s “commitment to revitalising the high street as a unique place for living, working and shopping”.
The accolade comes just four years after its retail centre suffered a major blow when the East of England Co-op relocated to new premises on the edge of the village, causing much concern in the community.
Since then, however, a variety of community groups and organisations have worked together to revitalise the village, bringing in new businesses and initiatives to support the high street.
A significant success was achieved earlier this year when the former Co-op site reopened as Inspirations, a community interest company, which now contains 22 small businesses, after being funded by 140 local people under the leadership of the Wickham Market Town Team.
Cath Caudwell, a member of the Town Team, said the organisation “demonstrates what can be achieved when different strands of a community work together to protect and develop their assets”.
Jacky Carpenter, who moved to Wickham Market two years ago and now runs 40degrees Candles at Inspirations, said the village “has it all”. “There’s such a vibrant community spirit here and fantastic loyalty to our own businesses and shops,” she added.
The Town Team has also set up a monthly market for the village, worked with Suffolk Coastal District Council to bring in a new parking regime in support of local businesses and developed new communications channels with the community.
Dick Jenkinson, chairman of Wickham Market Parish Council, said the high street award was “tremendously exciting” and a deserved reward to all those who had worked so hard. “A lot of people have put a lot of effort in and the reward is most welcome,” he added.
Bryan Hall, who was formerly Wickham Market’s district councillor and still works on community projects in the village, also welcomed the accolade.
“After the Co-op moved many people took the view that the only way forward was to build on the enthusiasm and commitment of local people,” he added.
The top three entrants in the villages section, which made it through to the public vote, are: Langport, Somerset; Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria; Pateley Bridge, North Yorkshire.
Felixstowe is a ‘rising star’
Multimillion-pound investment is turning Felixstowe’s fortunes around – and breathing new life into a seaside resort some felt was a little jaded and unloved.
In the past few years, its Edwardian and nationally-listed historic seafront gardens have been given a £4.8million facelift, £25m has been spent on transforming the South Seafront into homes and a beachside family park, and a new Premier Inn has opened to offer modern accommodation.
The Spa Pavilion theatre has reopened its doors, a seafront events arena and picnic space has replaced the dilapidated and much-criticised boating lake, and work is under way on a £3m revamp of its century-old pier.
Now the resort’s main shopping street - Hamilton Road - has been named as one of the top five up-and-coming town centres in the country – labelled as a “rising star”.
The judges of the Great British High Street competition were particularly impressed with the work being done to bring together the seafront and promenade and town centre through the new Visit Felixstowe brand.
Although Felixstowe is just at the beginning of its journey, they felt it could become a “strong contender” in the competition next year.
Helen Greengrass, Felixstowe Forward change director, said: “We are delighted that Felixstowe made the top five.
“It is a credit to the energy and enthusiasm of the town’s retailers and tourist providers, who have worked together on a number of initiatives which have focused on building on the growth and vitality of the town centre, as well as the link between the town centre and the seafront promenade.
“Felixstowe has an emerging town centre partnership, which has strengthened and promoted the Visit Felixstowe: Great Days by the Sea brand and is working on joint promotions, including making better use of the shared community space, The Triangle.
“We look forward to continuing to make Felixstowe the top shopping destination in Suffolk.”
The town centre now has a wide range of shops – from nationals to small, independent traders, coffee houses and restaurants - and events.
One independent trader, Carla Bark, who has just relaunched her shop as Lilac Wardbrobe as a vote of confidence in the town centre, said she certainly felt the tag of “rising star” was justified.
She said: “Hopefully the type of shops which are here now will encourage more people to come to the town. We need not only the lovely people who live here, but more visitors to spend in our shops – that extra from outside is so important.
“From the type of shops now, the level is rising and hopefully that – and the other work which has been and is being done around the town, such as the gardens and the pier – will make Felixstowe a destination place.
“There is still more which we can do to make people realise that we are not just a seafront but a town centre, too.”
She felt more promotion was still needed to make potential visitors aware of the changes, and also better edge-of-town signage to the town centre.
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