Why 'Making Axminster Great Again' is number one priority for traders and townsfolk alike

  Posted: 02.07.20 at 13:03 by Philip Evans

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Apart from market day, shopping in Axminster is a relatively quiet experience. That’s the way it is in small, inland towns. That’s part of its charm. If you want crowds, go to Exeter.

For the past three months, of course, Axminster has been pretty much like a ghost town with all the shops closed for coronavirus lockdown.

Owning a shop in the town centre is not the path to great riches, and with a number of trading premises lying empty, one wonders whether some of the smaller shops will ever open their doors again.

But in the main they have. And whilst the crowds have not been exactly rushing to Trinity Square, it was good to see them back in business. Small but important steps.

With the pubs and cafés opening in the next few days, there is an expectation that more shoppers will be venturing out.

I spent a couple of hours in Axminster this morning and it was great to see the town bustling again with the street market stalls doing brisk business (scroll through photos above).

Brisk business for stallholders at Axminster Market

Chatting to some of the shopkeepers, I was more than impressed with their universal belief that good times will return to the Axminster high street.

Their morale has obviously been boosted by the opening of Louise Walls’ Lou La Belle ladies’ fashion shop in Trinity House.

Louise is no stranger to the Axminster trading community, having successfully run Labels For Less just around the corner on Victoria Place.

Her new shop has been finished to a very high standard and is the first of a number of new outlets which will be opening at Trinity House over the coming months, and which will transform the look of the square.

The former department store was acquired after closure by Axminster Property, whose managing director Ian Styles, the former boss at Axminster Power Tools, was given the honour of officially opening Lou La Belle.

A one-way system in operation with social distancing at Axminster Market

The development of Trinity House in such a prime town centre position will almost certainly be the catalyst in re-establishing Axminster as a vibrant trading community.

One thing of which you can be assured is that, with Ian Styles at the helm, the new Trinity House will be finished to the highest of standards which will ensure a high profile for his tenants.

Mr Styles has since confirmed that all the other units at Trinity House, with the exception of one small office, have now been let. A wonderful achievement in the current financial climate.

Whilst recognising it was a difficult time to open a new business, Mr Styles was confident that Axminster had a “bright future” and if the community and business worked together they could overcome the current challenges.

His latest social media posting is tagged “making Axminster great again”. That’s a great ambition.

Unlike many other local towns, Axminster still has a Chamber of Commerce, although they have not been meeting during lockdown.
When I was a young reporter working for Pulman’s Weekly News, the Chamber of Commerce, with Mr H.R. 'Lord Jeff' Jeffery at the helm, was the town’s most influential organisation.

Today’s body, led by long-term chairman Shane Morgan, does not have the same clout but it’s important that it stays in being to ensure the trading community always has a voice.

There will be concern that so many town centre premises remain unoccupied, giving the impression that the town is more run-down than it really is.

But there has been a number of business successes in recent years, including Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s out-of-town River Cottage and his town centre restaurant, the refurbishment of The George Hotel, the arrival of Costa Coffee and the wonderful non-for profit Community Waffle House.

Other initiatives like the Totally Locally Axminster are doing a good job in bringing local shops together with their marketing initiatives.

Inland towns never get the same high profile as the seaside resorts but when it comes to community spirit, Axminster bows before no one.

The success of the ACER initiative to look after the town's elderly and infirm during lockdown has been a good example of this and the Light Up Axminster initiatives in recent times have proved that the townsfolk certainly know how to have a good time.

When I was reporting on Axminster events in the early 1970s, the late Frank Rowe, Mr Axminster in all respects, always insisted I called Axminster Carnival the “Best In The West”.

Bridgewater might have had something to say about this but whilst we may not see it this year, carnival night is still something special and something to which locals look forward.

In fact, Axminster has much to recommend it – as a home and workplace.

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SPORT IN AXMINSTER

One area in which Axminster does excel is its sporting facilities, second to none in the area.

Sport may be temporarily on hold at the moment, but there will be no lack of opportunities when the whistle blows again.

No one knows when local football will start again but when it does Axminster Town Football Club are well prepared.

Recent social media postings show just what good shape their main playing pitch is for their 2020-21 South West Peninsular Premier Division, the highest standard at which the club has ever played.

Other good news from Tiger Way is the decision to reform the Axminster Reserves side with the former Upottery manager Dan Prettejohn having been appointed as manager, and a sign of manager Josh Stunnell's determination to deliver silver to Tiger Way is demonstrated by the appointment of Darren Rozier as first team goalkeeping coach.

No news yet on when Axminster Cricket Club will be able to commence Devon League fixtures at the Cloakham Lawn sports centres which also provides excellent facilities for Axminster Bowls Club (both indoor and out) and Millwey Rise Football Club.

The Flamingo Pool at Axminster recently received an £8,000 grant from Sport England to help with overheads during lockdown but the Axe Valley Swimming Association, which runs the pool, still don’t know when they can reopen their doors again.

The doors remain firmly locked at Axe Valley Sports Centre situated on the Axe Valley Academy complex as is the 3G pitches will be big demand when local sports is able to get going again.

And finally, congratulations to my former teammate Les Bounds who has just celebrated his 70th birthday. We played on each flank for Axminster Town in the early 1970s and Les has played a big part in the running of the Tigers ever since since he first pulled on an amber and black shirt.

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