Spotlight on Lyndhurst

PUBLISHED: 15:38 07 November 2011 | UPDATED: 20:15 20 February 2013

Tom Butcher & Edward Reach

Tom Butcher & Edward Reach

Far from being a forest through road, Lyndhurst is a constant hive of activity with a lively community spirit as Carole Varley discovered when she met a few of the village's businesses...

Spotlight on Lyndhurst

Far from being a forest through road, Lyndhurst is a constanthive of activity with a lively community spirit as Carole Varley discovered when she met a few of the villages businesses...

As the administrative centre of the New Forest, Lyndhurst has been considered its capital since the days when William the Conqueror was pulling on his hunting boots. Today, it is still a hub for the Forests many tourists and, with a historic heritage all of its own, having formed part of the dowry of no fewer than four medieval queens and being the final resting place of Alice Liddell, who inspired Lewis Carrolls Alice in Wonderland, Lyndhurst has more independent and quality shops, galleries, cafes, restaurants and pubs than a village of just under some 3,000 souls would usually warrant.

Daily essentials

Elizabeth Hopson who, together with her husband has been running Lyndhurst Trading Co Ltd at Budgens in the High Street for the past six years, agrees, For a village, its very busy. This is helped hugely by the tourists in all their forms, from the campers to the coach trips, and for that we are all very grateful. But thats not to say that there isnt a community spirit here far from it, in fact. Everybody knows everybody else and tries to help each other as much as they can.

Proudly displaying the New Forest Marque sign in the supermarket, which is the biggest in the Forest, and sourcing their meat, cheese and eggs locally when they can, Elizabeth continues, We endeavor to serve the community in many ways, such as helping our most elderly customers, who are particularly vulnerable and need a helping hand with their shopping.

They also have an excellent relationship with Lyndhurst Community Centre and have raised much-needed funds for many local charities and good causes from Marie Curie to the Make a Wish Foundation. Elizabeth says that they are also proud to have supported Click Sergeant and Barnados for many years as well as Combat Stress since 2006.

Fundamentally, we are a community store, so it is essential that we be involved in the community to put something back for all our year-round loyal customers, adds Elizabeth.

A real sparkler

Indeed, the village has proved so good to fine jewellers Christopher Stephens that they are opening another shop there. Started by husband-and-wife team Stephen and Suzanne Parks, who are both trained jewellers and goldsmiths (in fact they met at college) they share some of the highest qualifications in the business and are, according to Stephen, true jewellers, rather than people who just run a jewellery shop.

They opened their business in Lyndhurst about six years ago and still wax lyrical about the location.

Its beautiful here, somewhere people really can appreciate coming to. Buying an expensive piece of jewellery is an emotional experience and we want people to enjoy it, says Stephen.

Having previously worked for some of the most prestigious names in the business, in the West End of London and New York, they can manufacture a bespoke piece worked entirely from raw materials and rare gems (their specialty) costing many thousands of pounds, or people can come and choose a mount and a gem to suit their budget. They also sell antique jewellery - Stephens eyes lit up as he showed me a stupendous 1920 Cartier necklace costing... well, lets just say it was well beyond my budget.

Obviously, not all the items are so costly, but theres a certain quality that we wont go below. What weve made a reputation for is providing affordable, but quality pieces of jewellery, which is why we dont rely on volume, says Stephen. The big plus here is that we can give people time.

They are very excited about their new venture, Desire by Christopher Stephens, which takes a different direction. For a start, the shop has five times the space of their current premises and more of a boutique feel to it. It will be different and exciting, selling the sort of in-vogue luxury brands, such as Pandora, Thomas Sabo, Theo Fennel, Trollbeads and Tresor to name a few, that you dont usually find in a village environment. It will give us a bit more flexibility to offer fashionable and affordable, but still quality, jewellery, says Stephen.

In the frame

Appealing to the quality market is something that Tom Butcher and Edward Reach also rely on and, even though they opened their art gallery, The Lyndhurst Gallery, just over a year ago, they feel confident enough to say that, Lyndhurst seems to be a very good place to start a business.

Both aged 37 and coming from corporate backgrounds with a passion for art - we have been buying art for more than 10 years through family connections, they saw the gallery as a great opportunity to start their own business in something they enjoy and already it is exceeding expectations. It was the right decision, despite starting in a recession, says Tom.

As an independent enterprise dealing in affordable contemporary British art and limited editions, they say that they are under no restraint or restriction and the work they select for sale is based on experience and intuition, and drawn from established artists from all over the UK, as are their customers. The stunning location at the centre of the Forest is important to us, says Edward. People will make a special trip. They come here and connect with it.

Hidden treasures

Heather Hems also loves her New Forest location, having also opened her gallery and shop, The Blue Belle just over a year ago, principally as a vehicle to display her remarkable embroidery panels. There are 23 of them, varying in size up to about 8ft by 8ft, and they took her 17 years to complete, using a chain stitch on Irish linen. Heather, who was taught by her mother to embroider at the age of 10 in her native Sri Lanka, says that her vision was to produce a unique pictorial record, celebrating mankind and the amazing talents we as a race are blessed with.

Covering such themes as technology, sport and nature, they add up to a type of Bayeux tapestry of our times and draw the admiration of men and women, who come from far and wide to view them as their reputation spreads.

Although none of the panels are for sale, they were a real labour of love, says Heather, who wants to keep them together in the gallery for posterity - she will accept commissions and continues to embroider for the numerous cards, pictures, plate and cushion covers that are for sale. Every one of them is unique, yet amazingly affordable (I was so impressed, I bought some myself). She is helped in the shop by her daughter-in-law Della, who sources its other ranges of local craftswork and giftware, from handmade Isle of Wight glass to scented candles.

Heather, who sold her house in Essex in order to start the business, says, Everything is falling into place. Theres a wonderful community spirit here. All the retailers help each other. The gallery, meanwhile, has been visited by people from all over the country, all over the world, says Heather. Im just happy that people are able to see, enjoy and buy my work.

Local threads

Another relative newcomer to Lyndhurst is Sue Potts, whose shop Crojacks Clothing, opened 18 months ago. Sue, who sells quality lifestyle clothing and hails originally from Sheffield, describes Lyndhurst as a nice place to be. Theres still a community here. Already we have built up a following of customers. The locals are very supportive. They will come and try here first before they go anywhere else. We do have lots of tourists in the summer, but in the winter it is the loyalty of the locals that keeps us going.

As if on cue, one of Sues regulars, a dog breeder appeared and paid for several items, as they chatted about the imminent show she was attending. Lets just hope the hard work and effort pay off, she said. Thats something thats obviously working for Crojacks. Its not even as if theyre the only clothing store in town (well, village), either, although Sofikas caters for a slightly different clientele, stocking fashion brands such as Weird Fish and French Connection. The appropriately-named Sophie Draper has been running the shop successfully for the past five years.

I think it comes down to the personal service, more than anything, she explains. People like not to feel hassled by the hordes racing around. They know what theyre getting here.

As a retailer, one of Sophies favourite times of year has to be the run-up to Christmas, when the villages very active Chamber of Trade organises a fun day, when the lights go up, the shopkeepers don fancy dress and everyone gets talking over mulled wine and mince pies. Its very community-based, adds Sophie, Since we depend on our local trade, its so good to give something back. Its nice to let people know that were not just shopkeepers.

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