Knaresborough’s spirit of independence is driving shops forward

The committee of BLOK (Business Ladies of Knaresborough). (Picture by Anthony Farrimond)
The committee of BLOK (Business Ladies of Knaresborough). (Picture by Anthony Farrimond)
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By Graham Chalmers

If there’s one town which does ‘community’ properly it’s Knaresborough.

Paul Sigsworth of Knaresborough Chamber of Trade with members of Knaresborough Spring Fayre working committee, Geoff Hurst, Jenny Hunter, Chris Parkin Carole Reid and Nigel Perry.(1505021AM5)

Paul Sigsworth of Knaresborough Chamber of Trade with members of Knaresborough Spring Fayre working committee, Geoff Hurst, Jenny Hunter, Chris Parkin Carole Reid and Nigel Perry.(1505021AM5)

The town may not have the major high street chains of other, bigger places. But it can boast of a growing independent shops sector promoted by relatively new groups such as VisitCastlegate and BLOK (Business Ladies of Knaresborough).

With the continuing support of Knaresborough Chamber of Trade and Commerce, Renaissance Knaresborough and more, shop occupancy rates are rising, as is car parking revenue, always a good sign.

It’s the sort of town that wins Welcome to Yorkshire’s Best Dressed Town in Yorkshire, which is exactly what happened in the build-up to last summer’s Tour de France.

That spirit of independence is also reflected in its business community, particularly its small shops which are now flying the flag with growing success.

Grassroots bodies thrive in the town, from the longs-standing Knaresborough Chamber of Trade, Knaresborough Lions and Renaissance Knaresborough to more recently-formed organisations such as BLOK (Business Ladies of Knaresborough) or VisitCastlegate.

The rapid scale of its progress can be judged by the popularity of the first VisitCastlegate day held earlier this month.

Part attempt to encourage everyone to ‘shop local’ and part celebration of the fact that their efforts were paying off, it attracted large numbers of people to enjoy a day of events and shopping.

All the shops took part, including Practical Magik, Honey Bees at Hannah’s, PedalHeads Cycles, Urban Fox Interiors, Green Dragon Crafts, Mungo Deli and Art in the Mill.

VisitCastlegate’s Andy Grinter said: “We’ve worked hard to rebuild a sense of community. In February 2014, there were seven empty shops. By March 2014 we had reached 100 per cent occupancy. I decided we need to celebrate the fact in a fun way because some people had been quick to herald the demise of the Castlegate area.”

Of course, that’s only part of Knaresborough’s shopping story. The fact is, empty premises still exist in parts of town and there is much work still to be done.

Knaresborough Chamber of Trade and Commerce believes the town is looking up partly because of the continuous effort from everyone, including itself and non-economic bodies such as the Lions and the Rotary.

Paul Sigsworth, member of the Chamber’s executive committee, said: “The independent businesses in Knaresborough are surviving this economic climate better than in most comparable market towns.

“It’s largely due to the fact Knaresborough is a popular tourist destination and the large number of community and event days we hold which keep people coming back here.”

Formed last year, Business Ladies of Knaresborough or BLOK, is made up of 45 women from a wide range of local shops and businesses.

BLOK’s vice chair Jacqui Cardini, who is also owner of One Stop Tutors, said: “Our aim is to provide a structured platform for business ladies who live or work in Knaresborough to share good practice and network locally.

“BLOK endeavours to break down barriers and encourage collaboration within the local business community.”

Recent months have seen the ladies of BLOK compete in the Bed Race, hold their second workshop at Hallies Bar in Knaresborough Market Place and a social event called BLOK Business Hour.

With a low comparatively low subscription rate, BLOK is already thriving but it’s not getting complacent; its members are well aware of how much hard work is required to maintain prosperity.

As well as VisitCastlegate, BLOK and the Chamber, the town also has another group championing the ‘global picture’.

Backed by Harrogate Borough Council, Renaissance Knaresborough may not quite have the deep pockets of the days when regional development agency Yorkshire Forward was going strong before being disbanded, but its vision of improving the town remains intact.

Mark Firth, its chair, said: “Our role is still to promote and develop the economy of Knaresborough. While our resources are limited, the group recognises the important role of local independent shops.”

Like BLOK, Renaissance Knaresborough says it’s keen to talk to other groups in Knaresborough about how to improve the town.

VisitCastlegate says it’s happy to get involved, too.

With this kind of community spirit, who can stop Knaresborough?