Kettering has its buzz back as town named one of UK's most entrepreneurial
When big name retailers shut their doors it's easy for a town to slide towards becoming somewhere nobody wants to shop.
It's a problem Kettering has faced in recent years with M&S, New Look, Topshop, Burton, Pandora, Game, Goldsmiths and more all deciding they no longer wanted a store here.
But an army of independent traders have stepped forward to get the town back on its feet, taking on empty units and setting up web-based firms despite the challenges and risks posed by the Covid pandemic.
In fact so many new businesses have opened that Kettering has been named the UK's second most entrepreneurial town in a number-crunching study.
One man on a mission to bring life to our town centre is popular butcher Jamie Cooper, who owns Jamie's Quality Butchers in Gold Street.
Since August 2020 he has either opened or jointly-opened D&J Discount Store, Jamie's Pet Store, Little Eats cafe and The Christmas Shop - and he has more plans in the pipeline for 2022.
He said: "All you hear is people moaning about the town but Kettering is a lot more than just charity shops.
"There's so many good little independents here that are better than the brands."
Davina Parkhouse owns quirky High Street boutique The Bean Hive, which currently houses 12 independent traders under one roof.
She said Covid-19 has made people think about their life and give something new a go, with small units being snapped up when they become empty.
And, having opened in 2018, she's finally starting to see a difference in Kettering's town centre.
She said: "We can feel that there's a really positive buzz about the town at the minute, probably for the first time since we've been here."
Kettering was ranked the second most entrepreneurial town in the UK - being pipped to top spot by nearby Northampton - in analysis by business insurers Superscript.
They used Office for National statistics (ONS) data to compare the number of businesses in 2021 to the 2020 figure, before looking at population data to generate a 'business per capita' score on which each town was ranked.
ONS figures show the number of firms in the Kettering district in 2021 is 4,475, up from 4,120 last year.
Kettering MP Philip Hollobone said: "It’s absolutely fantastic that Kettering has been identified as the second most entrepreneurial town in the whole country.
"As Britain bounces back from the pandemic it’s clear that Kettering is leading the way with our local rich vein of entrepreneurial talent driving recovery forwards. Local people doing great things in our local community and setting up exciting start-up businesses, providing new products and services for local people, is the reason our town is a beacon of hope and optimism going forward.
"There are always doom-mongers and gloomsters out there but our local entrepreneurs, using their own initiative and hard work, are focused on drive and positivity to make the years ahead better than the years behind.”
It's not just people opening shops which make the town so entrepreneurial - with firms such as Saul Hughes' CBD oil business BIFLI making their mark online.
But there's lots of reasons to be positive about the future of Kettering's town centre.
The newly-opened Butterwick cakery has brought a buzz to the Market Place, which already features popular Kino Lounge, the roar-some Jurassic Grill and a big name in Prezzo.
The iconic Royal Hotel is under new ownership, with hopes it will become a community hub.
Plans are in place to breathe new life into the old Gala Bingo hall, which put Kettering on the map for the wrong reasons when a £3m cannabis factory was found there. A planning application submitted to North Northamptonshire Council outlined a plan to turn it into a food court with a rooftop restaurant.
There's been a resurgence at shopping quarter The Yards where several independent traders are housed including Burger Mania, Illicit skate shop and the Refill Van, which opened earlier this year.
And Market Street is thriving, with yet more independent traders choosing it as their new home.
They include Jason Tagg who opened Vinyl Coffee - a coffee shop which also sells records - last month.
The shop has had a great response since it opened and has been busy.
Jason, who is from Earls Barton, said: "We chose Kettering for two reasons. The rent is really good and quite low compared to a lot of other area.
"And it's got a nice community feel to it. When you walk through the town it does not feel dilapidated."
Just up the street is Toy Box, which has won a number of awards since it opened its doors in 2018.
Owner Serrina Budworth wanted to open a shop which sold traditional and wooden toys and she's glad she chose Kettering as the place to do it.
She said: "Even though Kettering’s population has grown substantially, it still has the heart of a market town.
"I always believed that if you offered the local people a traditional service that they would support you.
"There are a number of independent retailers in and around Market Street who have opened good quality shops and have engaged with the public, who in turn have really supported us."
Simon Cox, founding member of the Kettering Town Centre Partnership, said: "People often look at a high street and judge it on how it was 20 years ago.
"Sometimes the smaller shops get overlooked but over the past two-and-a-half years we've seen an explosion of independents opening up in Kettering which has been fantastic.
"The future is going to be about the independents."