This year Love Bridgnorth and Buy Big in Bridgnorth has submitted an entry into the Great British High Street – large market town – Competition. Here’s what we told the judges….
Bridgnorth is a thriving market town sitting astride the River Severn serving a large hinterland of rural Shropshire and the urban West Midlands. Being just down river of the World Heritage Ironbridge Gorge it’s had to work hard to carve out its own identity. With markets on Saturdays in the high street and nearby Meredith’s Yard, a Farmer’s Market on Fridays and a Handmade Market on Sundays under the historic town hall, the town strives to combine tourism with being a ‘living and breathing’ real place to live, work and visit.
Bridgnorth’s Chamber of Commerce set up a Saturday Park and Ride scheme operating throughout the summer months, bringing visitors to the town centre and boosting the local economy. Its inaugural year of 2015 saw benefit to traders estimated at over £100,000. The scheme is run by volunteers and is free to use, being financed by monthly contributions from the town’s traders to ensure a sound financial footing.
With an emphasis on engaging and supporting local businesses, a ‘Shop Local’ campaign was launched for Christmas 2015 and now promotes late night shopping evenings with the wide and interesting mix of independent shops with entertainment and discounts to attract shoppers away from larger towns. There are also ‘pop up’ shops and art galleries utilising empty premises. All launched in 2015, on Facebook and Twitter there’s ‘Buy Big in Bridgnorth’ which runs competitions and promotes trade as does ‘Buy Me Local’ and ‘BridgnorthHour’ as well as ‘Love Bridgnorth’ which also has a website – to help promote events and good news for residents, businesses and visitors.
Trade is supported by events attracting visitors and residents alike. The Town Council Events Committee organises a Christmas Lighting Up Event, Carnival, St Georges Day Parade, Teddy Bears Picnic and several continental markets throughout the year – all of which attract thousands of visitors directly to the town’s beautiful high street.
Volunteers stage a free Music and Arts Festival in late August. Local pubs and venues host live music across 10 days, and has built to culminate in a large stage on the High Street and outdoor cinema screenings on the River Severn Quayside giving Bridgnorth a true festival feel.
For more formal music lovers Bridgnorth hosts the internationally acclaimed English Haydn Festival in June in its historic St Leonard’s Church. This festival, now in its 25th year, attracts visitors who return annually, staying in the town and surrounding villages giving many cafes, pubs and B&Bs a boost. This event is organised by volunteers and residents accommodate visiting musicians in their homes. There is a challenge to get this event to benefit the town more.
Further events and festivals: Christmas Market and May Day Market run by Bridgnorth Promotions whilst Bridgnorth Rugby Club hosts the ‘Rally in the Valley’- a vintage steam rally, a ‘SunFest’ of local live music, a ‘Scooter Fest’ and a huge Firework display. Further along the riverbank there is a ‘VDubs in the Valley’ live music event over a whole weekend which attracts VW enthusiasts from far and wide.
Other local sports clubs do their bit for the town; with a Fun Regatta organised by the Rowing Club and live music events at the Football and Cricket Clubs. Recently all the clubs combined to stage an ‘Inspired by Rio’ event to urge and challenge people to have a go at the many different sports and activities which are available locally.
Bridgnorth Rugby Club enjoys huge support and success in recent years, with a third of the population travelling to Twickenham to cheer the team in the final of the RFU Shield competition in May 2015. The club, which was named Shropshire’s Community Club of the year in 2015, recently hosted a business lunch to raise funds for the Park and Ride Scheme and encourage networking amongst the towns businesses.
The event that makes Bridgnorth stand out however is the unique ‘Bridgnorth Walk’. Held on the late May Bank Holiday this event has just celebrated its 50th walk. Organised by an army of marshalls and helpers from the town, it sees around 700 walkers set out from the High Street, walk to the top of the Brown Clee – the highest point in Shropshire – some 11 miles away and then return to a finish on the High Street. The walk raises in excess of £120,000 for charities, and unlike many other walks and runs, walkers choose whom they are raising money for. Participants range in age from 11 to 80+ and it feels as though the whole town in involved.
Bridgnorth boasts two railways; the historic Severn Valley Railway is the jewel in the town’s crown – and plans significant investment and development of its Bridgnorth Station and the funicular Cliff Railway – the largest inland of its type – originally built to move cargo from the busy River Severn port to the ‘high town’ centre.
Bridgnorth’s historic castle was reduced to just one leaning wall by Oliver Cromwell’s troops when they sacked the town. Today it’s surrounded by award winning gardens and Thomas Telford’s imposing St Marys Church. The planting throughout the town regularly wins accolades from the ‘Britain in Bloom’ judges and is sponsored by local businesses, as is the Tree of Light on the Quayside.
There are several chains in the town but predominantly the pubs, cafes and retailers are independent, as is the local cinema and the volunteer-run Theatre on the Steps. Some have been in the same family for generations, such as award winning Tanners Wines but the town certainly attracts new shops and traders with 12 new openings in the past 12 months and encouragement for young entrepreneurs. The Chamber of Commerce has now established links with the two secondary academies to assist students looking to set up businesses and many local companies offer apprenticeships.
This entry to the Best British High Street will be instrumental in bringing together the various groups who all work in the best interests of the town into one cohesive group working together for Bridgnorth.
Thanks to Ian Wilkins for this great photo of Bridgnorth in Carnival mode.