MALTON AND PICKERING: Sarah Todd reports on two neighbours showing the way forward for market towns. Pictures by Gerard Binks.
THERE was a time when the neighbouring North Yorkshire market towns of Pickering and Malton had very little in common.
Malton was the archetypal rural town where it could be hard to find so much as a cup of tea – never mind a warm welcome – on a Sunday.
In stark contrast Pickering has always had the knack of knowing how to charm its visitors.
But while Pickering goes from strength to strength as a top tourist destination, popular place to live and all-round beacon among country towns, a revolution has been quietly taking place in Malton.
The Ryedale town has had something of a personality transplant and seems to have gone from a take-us-as-you-find-us sort of place to putting on special events and helping new business start-ups.
There are restaurants galore; a new one opened just the other month. A few days before that there was the relaunch of a revamped bar. A hotel, The Mount, is about to re-open after years of desolation and 14 new shops and an art gallery have opened since April last year.
Top foodies such as Rosemary Shrager, Brian Turner and Tom Parker Bowles have become patrons of an annual festival of local produce that has grown beyond all recognition. There were 10,000 visitors to this year’s event and a follow-up Malton Food Lovers Market is planned for November 5.
It’s a similar, but more established, success story in Pickering. The town is in the happy and very rare position of having all shop premises occupied. While the Government has felt the need to call on retail guru Mary Portas to advise on reviving Britain’s high streets, this town, at the gateway to the moors, is managing very well by itself.
The group Action for Market Towns confirms that of its 441 members there were only two others apart from Pickering with full occupancy of shops.
“Both these market towns are in Cheshire and I am not aware of any others across the country,” says the group’s Mike King. “This makes Pickering pretty unique, in Yorkshire and the UK.”
Events such as August’s Traction Engine Rally and the War Weekend, which takes place in October and brings 20,000 people to the town, ensure the volume of visitors.
But it’s not a case of a town resting on its laurels. More recent events, such as the 60s Weekend in June, are constantly being reviewed and improved.
There’s also a jazz festival, walking festival, World Mountain Bike Championships in Dalby Forest and a new offering – the Pumpkin Pageant. Retailers have also come together to market the town on the internet, in an Exclusively Pickering initiative.
The spring board for Malton’s renaissance seems to have been the long-campaigned for introduction of free short stay parking for shoppers. As well as tempting trade back from the big retail complexes on the outskirts of York it has been a great PR coup for Fitzwilliam Estates, the town’s major landlord.
Apart from parking wrangles, there used to be a notion that – apart from raking in the rent – the family behind the estate had little interest in the town, residing as they do in Cambridgeshire.
Sir Philip Naylor-Leyland and his wife, Lady Isabella, took the first steps in integrating themselves with the locals by rolling their sleeves up and becoming figureheads of the first Malton Food Festival.
The couple’s love-in with the town has warmed further. Their son Tom, heir to the estate, has brought his bride to live in the town and can often be spotted chatting to prospective new tenants or simply shopping.
“I first came to Malton in 2009 because of the Food Festival and was incredibly impressed,” says Tom.
“All the family gets involved. Last year my mother ran a stall on the market and Alice, now my wife, managed to bake 300 cupcakes using the oven in the flat I was living in at the time.
“I am really enjoying what I am doing now and I sincerely believe that my future now lies here and hopefully I will be able to bring my own family up in this fantastic part of the country.”
For further information visit www.welovemalton.co.uk and www.pickering.uk.net
Malton and Pickering have sporting prowess in common.
Malton is home to Champion Flat Jockey Paul Hanagan and Irish Open winning golfer Simon Dyson.
Pickering produced Olympic hopeful 400-metre sprinter Richard Buck and is home to professional snooker player Paul Davison.