Café boss’s action call as shoppers slip away from Grantham

Alastair Hawken
Alastair Hawken
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A leading retailer who is to close his cafe after 15 years says action is needed urgently to stem the flow of shoppers away from the town.

The call comes from businessman Alastair Hawken who will shut Panini in Westgate next month.

And the entrepreneur, who has revived England’s oldest biscuit brand, the Grantham Gingerbread, has issued a stinging criticism of the state of the town’s retail offering.

He says a dramatic decline in the number of people using the town centre is one of the key factors that has forced him to shut the café.

He added: “Businesses here are really suffering and have been suffering for some years.

“The Saturday economy 15 years ago was phenomenal but now it is not even on the radar.

“Grantham has a lot of work to do.”

He added: “We need new events to be held and new reasons for people to come back into the town centre.

“But even if the things were put in place now they would still take time to bear fruit.”

Mr Hawken also said there needed to be a new business plan for the town centre.

“The High Street is disgraceful and appalling. Many units are owned by pension funds that don’t mind if a unit stays empty.

“It needs ripping out, rebuilding and starting all over again.

“I think part of the problem is that the management of the town centre has never fallen within one person’s remit.”

Stuart Pigram, who heads up Go Grantham, which is driving the creation of a Business Improvement District (BID) to help revive the town’s fortunes, said: “Mr Hawken’s comments have been echoed by a number of other businesses. It is why we need the BID.

“Ninety four per cent of businesses that have completed our questionnaire say they are in favour of a BID.

“Hopefully in a year we should have the ability to start to deliver those improvements that businesses want the BID to deliver.”

South Kesteven District Council’s strategic director for development and growth, Steve Ingram, said: “Unfortunately many town centres are facing similar challenges in terms of attracting footfall and we are working hard, with all our partners, to improve Grantham’s retail offer.

“Whilst the closure of any established business is to be regretted our recent shop occupancy rate survey saw 88.2 per cent of retail units occupied in Grantham town centre, compared with a national average of 80.7 per cent.”