How Malmesbury is preparing to emerge from lockdown

The historic Malmesbury Abbey and the town in spring sunshine in the Cotswolds (photo: Getty Images)

The historic Malmesbury Abbey and the town in spring sunshine in the Cotswolds (photo: Getty Images) - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Modern-day Malmesbury has a positive vision of the future and innovative plans to boost the town’s economy as the lockdown is lifted

Tracy with the grave of Hannah Twynnoy, killed by a tiger in 1703 (photo: Tracy Spiers)

Tracy with the grave of Hannah Twynnoy, killed by a tiger in 1703 (photo: Tracy Spiers) - Credit: Archant

It’s a community with soul and those who work here say it’s like a giant supermarket without a roof as it has everything. Malmesbury may be famous for its rich and quirky history, but it is very much a town of the modern-age as well as one with a positive vision for the future.

In fact it’s the smallest town in England to have its very own gift card, whereby locals encourage each other to invest their money back into their High Street shops. And in light of the current climate it will prove a strong weapon in keeping the local economy above water. In the past few months it has been working for the good of all. It has been knitting independents together, making folk realise what riches they have on their doorstep and encouraging the local economy to thrive.

As England’s oldest continually inhabited town, Malmesbury has the accolade of being ‘Queen of Hilltop Towns,’ and has a rich history stretching back over 1,000 years. Modern excavations have revealed Iron Age Fort remains which dates its original settlement to 500 BC, although official records traced town roots back to the 5th century. Also home to England’s oldest hotel, the Old Bell – which celebrates its 800th anniversary this year, having provided bed and board since 1220 – Malmesbury is a fascinating mix of 17th and 18th century shops and inns serving customers in the imposing shadow of its beautiful 7th century abbey.

Incidentally both the Old Bell and the abbey are on board with the gift card initiative which seeks to celebrate every kind of business in town – candles, coffee and clothes; paints, plants and pampering; dinner, drinks and decorating and so on.

The idea is to ‘shop local, spend local,’ by carrying ‘a little piece of Malmesbury in your pocket’ – a pre-paid MasterCard which enables customers to spend online or in local businesses. It is not just about buying, it is also about enjoying the social aspects and experiences the town has to offer.

Tracy with Sarah Wilde, chairman of the Malmesbury Town Team, and Lesley Wood, Malmesbury Marketing

Tracy with Sarah Wilde, chairman of the Malmesbury Town Team, and Lesley Wood, Malmesbury Marketing & PR, before Covid-19 social distancing measures were in place (photo: Tracy Spiers) - Credit: Archant

“You can choose any card amount from £5 to £500 to give to friends, family or colleagues and they can then enjoy spending it in any one of the shops and businesses in Malmesbury who have signed up to the scheme,” says Lesley Wood, Malmesbury Marketing and PR.

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“We are hoping employers will buy the cards for their employees as incentives. They also make a great gift for teachers and colleagues.”

The initiative was organised by Malmesbury Town Team, which seeks to preserve the town’s heritage and quality of life by creating a collaborative environment so that businesses, tourism, art and music can thrive and ensure Malmesbury stays appealing to visitors.

“It helps remind people that there is lots more in the High Street that they realise. We are very lucky that we have many independent shops,” says Sarah Wilde, chairman of Malmesbury Town Team. “There is a lot of positivity and loyalty about town and it gives people an excuse to do what they want to do and support their local shops.”

Emily Hepworth, owner of Persephone Violet (photo: Tracy Spiers)

Emily Hepworth, owner of Persephone Violet (photo: Tracy Spiers) - Credit: Archant

So far 34 businesses have signed up to the town’s card scheme – the software for which is created by Miconex - first launched in Perth. Malmesbury is the smallest town involved. The town’s card carries the prefix ‘experience’ by encouraging people to have a taste of the town via ‘shop, eat, gifts and events.’ It goes hand-in-hand with a useful illustrated town map which inspires folk to discover Malmesbury with the key words being: vibrant, treasured and historic.

“Alongside the ‘Experience Malmesbury’ and ‘Discover Malmesbury,’ we want to launch an augmented reality browser called ‘Explore Malmesbury,’ which people can look at on their phones. It will show videos, important information and audio to help people get the most out of being here,” explains Lesley.

Victoria Parry owns one of Malmesbury’s newest businesses, The Cake Tin, which provides a shop front for all those who enjoy baking, but provides a cake and icing service as well as workshops for those wanting to perfect or learn new skills. She opened her shop in December ready for the late night shopping event and supports the gift card.

“It’s great that the money can stay within the town. It’s a bit like recycling it.”

Emily Hepworth opened her florist shop Persephone Violet three years ago.

Julian Butler, manager of E & S Shops Ltd (photo: Tracy Spiers)

Julian Butler, manager of E & S Shops Ltd (photo: Tracy Spiers) - Credit: Archant

“I love the community of Malmesbury, its people and it makes a huge difference to the town when there is vibrancy. We have so many independents shops here.

“It’s a really great idea, it keeps the money in the town. To have a gift card where you can spend £5 here and £5 there on things you want, yet it has to be spent in Malmesbury has to be a good thing.”

Her sentiments are echoed by Clare Clilverd, manager of French Grey.

“It’s a wonderful venture and a great way to get people into our unique independent attractive High Street and encourage them to buy local,” she says.

As I talk with Julian Butler, manager of E & S Shops Ltd which sells garden equipment and provides a paint mixing and key cutting service, he has just served a customer who has used the gift card to buy one of the shop’s promotions.

“Malmesbury is my home town. Somebody once said to me that if it had a roof on it, Malmesbury High Street could be a shopping mall; there is very little you can’t buy here. The people care about their town.

King Athelstan’s memorial (photo: Tracy Spiers)

King Athelstan’s memorial (photo: Tracy Spiers) - Credit: Archant

“I think this initiative helps the community appreciate the shops it has. The card helps keep the town vibrant because people are spending their money in the town.”

Richard Walker, with his fetching boater, is a great advocate for friendly personal customer service. His dad set up Leonard Walker family Butcher over 40 years ago, and Richard has been working here for 36 years.

“It was a butchers before that – we think there has been one here for about 120 years, perhaps even before that. Before we had shops, a butcher was on this site.”

On late-night shopping at Christmas time, Richard cooks 300 burgers in two hours to raise money for charity and is proud of his town.

“We are lucky to have the community we have and we need to keep hold of it. Malmesbury has got soul. Lots of towns would be jealous of us. I think this gift card is a great idea. I have had a few spend it with me. It’s all what community is about – keeping it in Malmesbury,” adds Richard.

“Malmesbury is a supermarket without a roof. It’s got everything here and there’s not a lot you can’t buy.”

Malmesbury gift cards on display (photo: Tracy Spiers)

Malmesbury gift cards on display (photo: Tracy Spiers) - Credit: Archant

Quirky facts about Malmesbury:

• Athelstan, the first king of all England and grandson of Alfred the Great is buried in Malmesbury Abbey grounds.

• Abbey Gardens is world famous for its lovely five acres of gardens, a feast of formal landscaping and wild spaces dotted with fishponds that cascade into a valley carved by a tributary of the River Avon.

Malmesbury Abbey (photo: Tracy Spiers)

Malmesbury Abbey (photo: Tracy Spiers) - Credit: Archant

• Malmesbury has an elaborately engraved 15th-century market cross, one of the best preserved of its kind in the country.

• One of the first recorded human flights was made by Eilmer the Monk, who launched himself from the roof of the old Malmesbury Abbey with a pair of wings strapped to his arms and feet. This took place sometime between 995 and 1010 AD. He landed about 200 metres away breaking both his legs but surviving.

• Malmesbury has an unusual story relating to the first person to be killed by a tiger, namely an inn servant called Hannah Twynnoy. She had been teasing the animal, part of a travelling wild beast show, when it escaped from its cage on October 23, 1703 and mauled her to death. Her grave is in the churchyard at Malmesbury Abbey

• Thomas Hobbes, founding father of British political philosophy, whose most famous work Leviathan is still required reading for students was born in 1588 in Malmesbury.

• Malmesbury natives are known as Jackdaws, believed to come from the Jackdaws who made their home at the abbey.

• High tech firm Dyson has made Malmesbury its home.

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