Trader calls on town to back independents

Caroline O'Neill, who runs Mannings in Alnwick.
Caroline O'Neill, who runs Mannings in Alnwick.

An Alnwick trader is urging retailers and residents to work together to retain the town’s independent shops and identity.

Caroline O’Neill, who runs pet and equestrian supplier Mannings of Alnwick on the Willowtree Industrial Estate, is concerned about the potential effects of the increasing number of chain stores that are aiming to set up shop in the town.

Caroline O'Neill, who runs Mannings in Alnwick.

Caroline O'Neill, who runs Mannings in Alnwick.

She took over the store in 2014 after 22 years in the RAF, which took her to Iraq, the Falkland Islands, Canada and RAF Boulmer, taking on a part-time member of staff within six months.

Caroline spoke out in light of national chain Pets At Home building a store on a site adjacent to Sainsbury’s, across the road from Mannings.

She has also lodged an objection to an application by Stephen Abbotts LLP, on behalf of WCF (West Cumberland Farmers) Ltd, which specialises in rural retailing and distribution, for a vacant industrial unit on the Sawmill Industrial Estate, highlighting the previous impact of large firms on small traders.

The plans, to change the building’s use to allow the stock and sale of a range of pet, footwear, equestrian, smallholder, gardening and wild-bird products as well as a new lighting column, fencing, pedestrian access path, car parking and external alterations, are recommended for approval at next Tuesday’s meeting of Northumberland County Council’s strategic planning committee.

Mannings of Alnwick has been established for a quarter-of-a-century and has built up a strong reputation for customer service.

Originally opened by Roger Manning as an agricultural merchant, the shop’s next owner diversified into pet supplies and Caroline has continued to grow this part of the business.

She said: “Mannings of Alnwick is a mainstay in the town.

“A big part of that is the personal touch – we know our customers, the names of their pets and we’re happy to carry your bags out to the car or order in specialist products or products that we do not normally stock.

“It’s all about old-fashioned personal service, which only independent businesses that aren’t part of a faceless chain can supply.”

Caroline is urging traders and residents to come together to fight off the threat of national chain stores and multi-nationals.

She is concerned they will change the face of the traditional market town, which is well-known for its independent businesses and the variety of goods and services they can provide.

Caroline said: “Alnwick has a lot to offer and local people and visitors want to see different, independent shops, know the owner and have that personal relationship with them.

“People come for more than just pet supplies, they come for a friendly chat and maybe a little advice with someone else that lives in, knows and loves the town as much as they do.

“We need to pool our resources and stand firm together to keep the identity of Alnwick as a place where people go because of its unique shops.

“I’d like to ask and encourage our customers, who enjoy our shop and customer service, to write to the council and put their objections to these huge shops coming into the town. We need to protect our heritage and support our local businesses.”