Shipston injecting new energy into its elegant offer
Photo: Little Bird Soaps
"An amazing town – while it may look traditional at first glance, it is forward thinking and vibrant with an independent spirit."
Shipston-on-Stour is truly blessed by location. At the southern end of rural Warwickshire and the northern tip of the Cotswolds, it is a gorgeous small town, full of elegant, listed buildings. For centuries it has welcomed and charmed visitors. It is rich in history and heritage.
But Shipston is much more than easy on the eye. This is no sleepy rural small town. It is home to a wealth of vibrant independent businesses beating at the heart of their community – and right now those businesses are “energised” as they plan how to continue to take the local economy forward into the future.
Most importantly perhaps, it’s a town that remembers its key market – residents. It offers the perfect focal point for those wanting to access the town’s services and spend time in the many independent cafes and restaurants. There is a brilliant retail offer ranging from food, electrical and pet supplies, to clothing, gifts, floristry and home interiors: this place does just feel quite literally, like home.
Shipston is a town which is comfortable in its own skin. It doesn’t shout about itself which means that, tucked away between Stratford, Warwick and Oxford, it eludes many potential visitors. That is the passers-by's loss but, in these challenging days for high streets, it also denies the town’s traders an important dimension of their market. So those traders are now getting together to bring Shipston out from under the radar.
Stuart Walsh, owner of Shipston Spokes bicycle shop in Church Street, is delighted that the town unexpectedly popped onto his radar. Eager to relocate from a small town in Essex, he was told about a little place which is the northern gateway to the Cotswolds…and now he and his wife Sara each run a business there.
“We had never heard of Shipston,” said Stuart, “but a friend suggested it and, as soon as we saw it, we thought, ‘wow!’
"It has all the beauty of the Cotswolds but whereas other Cotswolds towns are full of big-name franchises, Shipston is full of independent shops which means it has totally retained its unique character.”
Those independent shops are now getting together. It’s time to bring Shipston’s light out from under the bushel and that mission is gaining a lot of traction around the town.
“Everyone is really energised by the idea of celebrating what we have got,” said Stuart. “I think all the local businesses realise how important our roles are. We all need to be ambassadors for Shipston. More and more people around the town are getting involved and it will only gather more momentum as we go. Local groups are keen to get involved too which is great.
“There is so much to be positive about in this town and positivity always attracts people to a place, whether its businesses or customers or visitors. It was hearing somebody saying how great Shipston is that sowed the seed for us to not only live here but to set up businesses here to.”
Warwickshire County Council is supporting the initiative by deploying highly-experienced retail consultant Kim Hulse on a short-term project in the town. Kim is working to bring together business stakeholders to open multiple channels of communication between the businesses and create new local visitor initiatives to complement all the existing events and projects.
“It’s such a pleasure to be working in Shipston,” said Kim. “It’s an amazing town – while it may look traditional at first glance, it is forward thinking and vibrant with an independent spirit. It is a hidden jewel with a Bohemian backdrop. With almost every shop being independent, Shipston really does have a unique offering. Businesses are invested and embedded in the town, knowing their customer well and that camaraderie shapes their offer as they can curate their range based on their customers’ preferences.
“The businesses also really value all the work that other community groups do for the benefit of the town, like the ever-popular food festivals and Shipston Proms. There is little you would want to change about Shipston – it’s just about giving the town a higher profile. It’s tucked away between Stratford-upon-Avon and Moreton-in-Mash and Stow, so a lot of people drive straight past it along the A429. They are missing a true hidden jewel.”
Wellbeing underpins many of the businesses and in a town surrounded by the rolling hills of south Warwickshire’s Cotswold landscape which provides access to National Cycle Network’s route 48 and an abundance of walking routes, this is but another part of the town’s offer.
A supportive environment will make all the difference.
“It’s great that Warwickshire County Council are supporting us,” said Stuart. “Running a small business can be hard work and pretty isolating, so it’s fantastic to feel supported, whether it’s by fellow businesses around you, or the local council."
Businesses are currently exploring project ideas within the wider community which will help them in their quest to be ambassadors for the town. This will include a shared message on how to tell the unique story of place to customers digitally so the town can continue its long history of offering unique and memorable experiences. Anyone interested in finding out more can contact firstname.lastname@example.org.