High street shopping at Spondon, Borrowash and Ockbrook

PUBLISHED: 00:00 15 January 2019

Phil Vickers of Borrowash Hardware, where you can buy four candles and fork 'andles

Phil Vickers of Borrowash Hardware, where you can buy four candles and fork 'andles

Ashley Franklin Photography

Ashley Franklin travels east of the city to see what’s happening in the trading places/suburbs of Spondon, Borrowash and Ockbrook

Mark Goddard, owner of Lewis Interiors, Spondon with his daughter Hannah GoddardMark Goddard, owner of Lewis Interiors, Spondon with his daughter Hannah Goddard

As far back as 2011, Mary Portas declared that ‘the days of a high street populated by independent butchers, bakers and candlestick makers are, except in the most exceptional circumstances, over.’ If so, that makes the village of Spondon and the parish of Ockbrook & Borrowash exceptional. Both places have a butcher and baker and although you’ll not find a candlestick maker, you can still buy candles from the Borrowash and Spondon hardware stores.

The High Street may be in decline but I believe it’s affecting our towns and cities more than our suburbs and villages. And the reason? In one word: community.

‘Spondon shopkeepers enjoy being part of the community,’ states Mark Davis, who has run the opticians in the village for 38 years and chairs the Spondon Traders Association. ‘Key to our success is personal service. Customers matter here, and traders have successfully encouraged customers to think of Spondon as their village, a place in which they invest emotion.’

It helps that Spondon defiantly maintains its historical status as a village, aided by the presence of Victorian almshouses, stockingers’ cottages, handsome Georgian residences and even a thatched cottage and a village green.

Lee Wharton of Finest of Fish, BorrowashLee Wharton of Finest of Fish, Borrowash

‘Technically, Spondon is a suburb but it’s always had a village atmosphere,’ says Mark Goddard, who is currently celebrating 40 years as the owner of Lewis Interiors – suppliers of carpets, curtains, flooring, blinds, wallpaper and rugs, and happy to assist with colour schemes and design as well as installing and fitting. As Mark adds: ‘We’re a specialist, personal business that offers experience, expertise and reliability’ – which was pretty much a universal refrain.

Another oft-heard statement was that long-standing firms like Lewis Interiors win repeat business from successive generations of local families which, again, points to the strong community spirit.

This is certainly felt by Ruth Bartlett of the Co-op Funeral Service, which also has a branch in Borrowash. ‘People know me, I know them and it makes my job a vocation. We enhance memories and love for all the families we are privileged to look after and we pride ourselves on exceptional standards.’

Speaking of Spondon trade generally, Ruth believes that the ‘Shop Local’ campaign has been heartily embraced by this community. It is one of the reasons Greedy Pig recently took over the butcher’s shop. Latimer Higham, who bought the shop for stepson Joe, says: ‘Spondon people support their community with great loyalty.’ That loyalty has seen a doubling of turnover at Greedy Pig, greatly helped by a new modern look and, as Latimer believes, great displays of meat and home-made pies, pasties, sausage rolls and scotch eggs. ‘It pays to be well-stocked because customers eat with their eyes,’ Latimer cannily observes.

Customers’ eyes light up over at Bluebells Dairy where Rosemary and Geoff Brown and their family have created a nationally-known, multi-award winning business selling artisan ice cream. According to Rosemary, its huge popularity is down to ‘fresh milk and fresh cream and making small batches to give a much more intense, creamy flavour and a velvety texture.’ That exceptional quality saw them win a Best Flavour award in 2013 at a gelato festival in Italy, the acknowledged home of ice cream. Bluebells Dairy now supplies 150 wholesale producers and has expanded its site to become a tourist venue that is especially popular with children who can learn about farming, play in the Bale Mountain, and ride pedal tractors or go-karts. There’s also a large café area.

According to Rosemary, a significant factor in their growth has been their Spondon location: ‘We are so near to Derby and the A52 and M1 but so very much in the country, making us a perfect place for visitors.’

The accessibility of major road networks is one good reason why Go Dive – ‘the leading supplier of diver education and scuba equipment for the UK’ – chose Spondon as its location. Another reason is that although Go Dive couldn’t be much further from the coast, the store is only 30 minutes from Stoney Cove, the famous inland dive site in Leicestershire where their professional experts train divers. Also here in Spondon is Derby Runner, which claims to have ‘probably the best selection of running equipment in the Midlands.’

Ease of access has also helped to keep the area’s many pubs open though, again, this is a testament to community support. In Borrowash the Nag’s Head is promoted as a ‘community-focused pub’ while the Wilmot Arms has been hailed as ‘the people’s pub.’ Spondon has five pubs including the historic Malt Shovel, while Ockbrook houses four, including the Royal Oak, winners of CAMRA’s Country Pub of the Year award six times in the last eight years. Like the Oak, the Cross Keys is a cosy, traditional inn – also known as one of the most dog-friendly pubs in Britain – the Queen’s Head is a popular destination pub with plenty of room to dine and drink, and the White Swan is making its name as a tapas pub/restaurant, with glowing Trip Advisor reviews.

Sam Clarke, Lisa Owens and Susan Severn of Beau Belles Bridal shop, BorrowashSam Clarke, Lisa Owens and Susan Severn of Beau Belles Bridal shop, Borrowash

One customer review of The Apple Tree café and gift shop in Ockbrook declared it ‘the best teahouse in the world.’ It’s certainly one of the finest locally, winning Best Tearoom and Bistro in The East Midlands in the 2016 Food Awards England, and Best Tearoom in the coveted Derbyshire Life Food & Drink Awards the following year.

Awards and accolades have come thick and fast ever since Lucy Cassar opened the Apple Tree in 2012. ‘I only wanted to open a small gift shop,’ she admits, ‘but because I hated the clinical silence of a gift shop, I thought I’d open a café as well.’ Lucy describes it as ‘a quintessentially English teahouse,’ modelled on Lucy’s visits to her Nan, ‘where there was always tea in bone china and oodles of cake.’ As I look around, there is a dizzying variety of china, all donated by customers. As for the cakes, they have been described as ‘inventive’ and ‘exceedingly yummy’.

Lucy has consolidated her success with bistro nights, wine and gin tastings, a book club and even Afternoon Tea singalongs with vintage vocalist Rose Devine. They also sell their own blended loose leaf tea with delightful names like Positivitea, Agilitea and Productivitea, the gift shop continues to ‘offer gifts you won’t find on the High Street’, and there are expansion plans afoot.

There’s a smattering of small businesses in Ockbrook, including the family-run Patrick’s Blinds, Hillway Kennels – ‘deluxe accommodation for happy dogs and cats’ – and the Ockbrook Boarding Cattery – ‘a home from home experience for cats of all ages’.

James Gent, Kian Oakton and Ellie Groombridge of Collyer's Nurseries, BorrowashJames Gent, Kian Oakton and Ellie Groombridge of Collyer's Nurseries, Borrowash

Education is big business in this village with Ockbrook School regarded as one of the finest independent schools in the UK. The last Independent Schools Inspectorate commended the ‘excellent pastoral care, educational provision and academic performance’, which has seen 35 per cent of pupils gaining A* to A and 65 per cent A* to B at A Level maintained over the last five years.

As headmaster Tom Brooksby declares: ‘Our success is testament to the dedicated work of my staff, the strong support of the governing body and our parents and, most of all, to our wonderful pupils.’ With ‘first class boarding provision’ and moving to fully co-educational five years ago, it’s no wonder Tom believes the school is ‘going from strength to strength’, adding ‘the potent mix of excellent teaching, small class sizes and an inspirational setting will continue to be a recipe for success long into the future.’

Although Borrowash is in the same parish as Ockbrook, the village has more in common with Spondon, not least in its High Street provision. They each have a Co-op, butcher, Birds Bakery, pharmacy, travel agent, estate agent, hardware shop, bridal store, funeral services, cafés and charity shops. Although this may not sound very exciting, these are the kinds of outlets that bring shoppers in, and encourage specialist shops to move in, too.

The presence of a Co-op, butcher and bakery was a factor in Lee Wharton opening his shop Finest of Fish recently. On a traditional home-made fish counter, I could smell the sea as I gazed at halibut, skate wing, scallops, salmon fillet, lobster and dressed crab, all caught in the seas off Ilfracombe where Lee’s fishing family live. Lee is a voluble exponent of fresh fish. He has turned one elderly customer into a lover of lobster while another who professed to only knowing how to cook smoked haddock has been given cookery tips and now buys something different every week.

One reason Lee loves Borrowash is echoed by other traders: ‘The rates are reasonable and the parking is free.’ This has helped Phil Vickers to run his hardware shop for 35 years, and for Kim Millington to see her bridal shop Beau Belles thrive. Also, as Kim explains, ‘a bridal shop is a destination shop so we didn’t need to be in the city; Borrowash has proved very accessible and I believe all retail units are full here. How many towns and villages can say that?’

Beau Belles has recently expanded across two full floors with a design room and luxury fitting room upstairs in addition to five bridal changing rooms downstairs. Their range of prom gown/evening wear selection has also grown and they sell to over 30 schools.

Around the corner, Little Tinkers Top 2 Toe is a charming shop that sells ‘affordable designer wear’ for 0-12 year olds, various toys and children’s gifts. Owner Shurrelle Harrington invested all her savings in the shop, which opened last April. ‘I had no retail experience so it’s been a steep learning curve,’ she admits, ‘but I’ve got customers from far and wide, many of whom call this shop “a hidden gem”, and Borrowash traders and residents have made me feel so welcome.’

Close by is The Curtain Workshop where Alison Wood produces quality curtains, soft furnishings, pelmets and blinds and also offers an upholstery service. Alison loves Borrowash, not least because ‘local shops 
work together and recommend each other.’

Amanda Reeve, who runs the Bugs Tucker Café (a ‘rainforest-themed coffee shop’ complete with live insects), told me that Borrowash traders regularly get together to discuss ways of improving the shopping streets.

Another popular café, the Pip Tree is a welcomingly light, airy space in the grounds of Collyer’s Nurseries, an 80-year-old family business which is more nursery than garden centre. ‘We like to keep it plant-based,’ says Kian Oakton. ‘We are all about our vast range of plants, shrubs and trees. 30 per cent of our plants are grown here, cared for by knowledgeable staff. We have an especially good selection of Japanese maple.’

It’s heartening to see the parish of Ockbrook & Borrowash and the village of Spondon in robust retail health. Both Borrowash and Spondon have enjoyed a well-supported Christmas Lights-on event and while the future of High Street shopping is concerning, there’s much optimism in these parts. As Lee Wharton of Finest of Fish comments: ‘One reason I came to Borrowash was that I heard that residents campaigned to bring a Birds Bakery here. That says so much about the community. You just know that people in Borrowash want their shops to succeed and that they will always shop locally.’

Mark Davis of the Spondon Traders Association told me that their Christmas Lights switch-on, Spondon Alight, was their most successful yet and there are plans to bring a street market-cum-Charter Fair in the summer. ‘We have worked hard to make Spondon a pleasant place to visit, and by ensuring that the social spaces are clean, safe and accessible to all and the facilities are available, we believe we are moving in the right direction.’

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