New Northumbrian Food Hall aims to put the focus on county's produce

A vision which has been several years in the making is now just weeks away from becoming reality for an Alnwick businessman.

Wednesday, 4th December 2019, 9:52 am

Mark Turnbull’s new venture, the Northumbrian Food Hall, will open at the new Willowburn Retail Park in December.

As well as produce from the family’s butcher business – which will retain its shop in Alnwick town centre – the new outlet will focus on the best local produce Northumberland has to offer.

“We’re thinking of it a bit like a farm shop without a farm,” said Mark, as he took a break from supervising the shop-fitting process. “So, we’ve got the likes of Proof in the Pudding and Doddington Dairy lined up, along with a number of other members of the Produced in Northumberland scheme.

The Northumbrian Food Hall in Alnwick.

“We’ve made a lot of progress with the building work and fitting out in the last couple of weeks and it’s nice to see it coming together now.

“We’re aiming to be open for the first week in December, although that will depend on getting those finishing touches in place.

“That will be an important time for us in the lead up to Christmas so that’s what we’re aiming for, even if it causes a headache logistically with it being the busiest time of year for the town centre shop too.”

Turnbull’s was founded in 1880 and Mark is the fifth generation of his family to be involved, with his children, Dan and Lucy, the sixth.

Alnwick butcher Mark Turnbull at the site of his new Northumbrian Food Hall.

“We will definitely be keeping the town centre place but as much as we love our traditional butcher shop we have to future-proof ourselves going forward and, as everyone knows, the high street is changing rapidly,” he explained.

“Alnwick town centre is changing too so to get the opportunity to open up on the new retail park and have a foot in both camps made a lot of sense.”

The idea of a farm shop-style business has been in his mind for some time.

“Back in 2015, we looked at the site where Topps Tiles is now and had plans drawn up but it fell through,” he revealed. “I kept the plans on my desk though because I thought something else might come up and then this opportunity arose through Northumberland Estates and we jumped at it.

An artist's impression of the inside of the Northumbrian Food Hall.

“The town centre is still a vibrant place in the summer but, whether we like it or not, the retail environment has changed. We have free parking but getting parked is a different matter and there will be lots of it at the retail park.

“We used to have steady business at the town centre shop all year round but we have noticed seasonal spikes which is perhaps an indication that not as many locals are shopping in the town as there once were.”

Retail expert Mary Portas believes town centres need to become social spaces with leisure at their heart, a view Mark agrees with.

“She isn’t talking specifically about Alnwick but anyone can see that the town is changing and I would tend to agree with her view. If I look back 20 years there were very few residential parts of the town centre but that’s not the case now.

“I believe we can continue quite successfully with our little deli in the town centre but the Northumbrian Food Hall allows us to scale that up.

“I still see a bright future for Alnwick but it has to change.”

He points out that the new retail park is also within a rapidly developing part of the town, close to the industrial estate, new Duchess’s Community High School and a new housing estate.

“It gives us a hope that our deli will do nicely from lunchtime trade, as well as school drop-off and pick-up times,” said Mark, whose food hall will also include a cafe and has been built with a mezzanine to offer this side of the business scope for possible expansion in the future.

The food hall will create 20 new jobs and two recruitment days held earlier this month were a success in helping to fill those positions.

Planning permission for the retail park, which also includes an M&S Food Hall and Starbucks, was granted by county councillors in June 2018. Work on the new retail park began in January 2019.

Northumberland Estates is currently in negotiations with several other potential retail tenants including a well-known outdoor clothing brand and a popular footwear retailer, as well as other household names.

Last month, Anthony Cape, asset manager with Northumberland Estates, said: “We have been delighted with the interest this scheme has attracted from retailers right from the very beginning. As a result, upon completion the new retail park will offer a diverse mix of brand names and independent retailers.

“This is great news for Alnwick, particularly at a time when many towns are struggling to uphold a strong retail offer.

“Willowburn Retail Park will establish Alnwick as a destination shopping location for the surrounding area and create new employment opportunities for locals and, in general, have a positive effect on the local economy.”

It will have a total of 37,405 sq.ft. of retail floorspace, plus onsite parking for 200 vehicles.