Businesses in Boroughbridge have been working together in a pioneering cooperative designed to boost the whole town’s fortunes. We have been speaking to the businesses behind the campaign to get more people to Love Boroughbridge.
Anyone who has spent any time in Boroughbridge over the last year will have noticed a change in the air. The streets have been busy, the shopkeepers have been cheerful and community groups have been doing more than ever to make it a great place to live, work or visit.
Although they would not take the credit, a lot of the positive feeling around town is thanks to a small but determined group of people who have ensured Boroughbridge remains thriving when other market towns across Yorkshire and the UK are struggling to draw the crowds they once had.
In fact, Love Boroughbridge – a cooperative of around 10 businesses – was formed for that very reason: to bring more attention to the town and to attract more visitors in order to help all the independent shops and services not just to survive, but to prosper.
The group’s origins are with Boroughbridge Chamber of Trade which, when the town was struggling against the lingering effects of the recession, decided to take immediate action.
Barbara Lambert-Hill, who was the Chamber’s president until the beginning of this year, said: “Our aim was to raise Boroughbridge’s profile.
“In late 2012, we decided to engage a public relations company to help us get started and give us some guidance.” After the Chamber’s six-month initiative ended, it would have been easy for enthusiasm to fizzle out. However, some of the forward-thinking businesses decided to keep the momentum up and see what else could be achieved – and Love Boroughbridge was born.
“It was a really important step forward for Boroughbridge and an unusual thing for a town to do…”
As well as working together on new projects and celebrating individual businesses’ achievements, they focused on raising awareness of the town and its many events.
Love Boroughbridge members have appeared in local, regional and national media, talking about the town’s thriving High Street which rarely has empty shops and boasts almost entirely independent businesses – something which many other towns can only dream of.
The cooperative itself attracted attention from the outset, demonstrating what could be achieved if local businesses worked together for the good of their town – one article even referred to the 10 member businesses as the ‘High Street Heroes’. “We get a lot of comments from people saying they keep seeing things about us in the local media,” said Barbara. “People in Ripon and Harrogate are saying, ‘Why can’t we be more like Boroughbridge?’”
Among the biggest achievements for Love Boroughbridge has been attracting the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, which came about through being in the right place at the right time – with a pie on hand.
Louise Leong, who owns Curvy Bridal and Joshua Adams, and Ella Georgia owner Sian Foster arranged to meet Small Business Saturday organisers in York before the Boroughbridge took part in the day itself, which encourages people to use local shops and services. They took a specially-made Small Business Saturday pie from Greenwood Butchers, which attracted attention from a government representative and allowed them to explain what Boroughbridge was doing.
As a result, the two women were invited to Downing Street to meet George Osborne and discuss the importance of small businesses to the UK economy.
Louise said: “We were kept very busy at Downing Street. We were having pictures taken in Number 11 but we were due to be in the Cabinet Office for a live internet chat and we were running late. Usually you would have to go outside to get between the two, but Sian and I were given special permission to run through the Prime Minister’s door from Number 11 to Number 10. That’s something I won’t forget in a hurry!”
After the success of Small Business Saturday, the members of Love Boroughbridge signed up for another national initiative, Phlok, to keep trade in the town.
Love Boroughbridge has been singing the praises of other organisations too, including the Boroughbridge Town Council, which has acquired the local car park from Harrogate Borough Council.
“It was a really important step forward for Boroughbridge and an unusual thing for a town to do, but it shows how strongly we all feel about taking control of our own destiny,” said Barbara. “With so many other towns having their free parking reduced or restricted, it’s fantastic to be able to say that parking will be free in Boroughbridge from now on.”
As well as important developments for the town, individual businesses have had their own success stories to share.
Greenwood Butchers won an impressive seven gold and four silver awards for its products at the recent British Pig Executive Roadshow in near-by Harrogate.
After a £150,000 refurbishment, The Crown Hotel won an award for its customer service, while Spear Travels also received an £80,000 investment from its parent company to mark its 30th anniversary and has expanded significantly.
When the owners of The Fruit Basket, decided to retire, it looked like the shop could be sold to a chain, ending many years of history. Fortunately, local couple Hugh Fink and Sharon Longcroft stepped in to keep the business going and maintain the independent tradition of the High Street.
Looking back, Love Boroughbridge has achieved an incredible amount in just six months. “The amount of attention we have been getting is incredible, from local papers and radio to regional and national television. We wouldn’t have this if it wasn’t for Love Boroughbridge,” said Louise.
“It just goes to show what a bit of positivity can do, along with a willingness to get involved and work together. Boroughbridge is being held up as an example of what can be achieved by independent businesses in small towns.”