Hidden heart of Swanage launches new campaign to woo visitors

Independent and artisan businesses in a tucked away part of Swanage town centre in Dorset, are hoping a new initiative will help shoppers beat a path to their door.

The first stage of an ambitious plan is aimed at achieving greater awareness of the businesses in the retail area called the Heart of Swanage, located in the centre of the town.

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Java coffee house and Swanage Bay Fish are firm favourites once people have found them

Ambitious plan for shopping streets

Two thousand copies of a new map have been produced to attract customers towards the traders nestled around Commercial Road, Commercial Lane and Kings Road East.

The aim is for the campaign to eventually lead to the streets being tidied, signage from the main shopping streets of Station Road and Institute Road being improved and the shopping community be more involved in the town’s events.

It’s hoped that Swanage Christmas Market will be expanded into the streets behind Station Road, and by taking a greater part in summer festivals and the festive lights will help the Heart of Swanage beat more strongly.

Lucy Tidbury and Ned, in a quiet corner between Tilly Mead Courtyard and Daisy Mays Arcade

“Off the beaten track”

Andy Knill, who runs an art studio from Commercial Road, is leading the campaign and said:

“We are off the beaten track and get too many people – both locals and visitors – saying that they didn’t know we were here, so we want to promote the area far more strongly.

“We are small businesses and sole traders with some amazing skills and products, and not enough people realise what a wealth of talent we have in these streets.

“Yes, the cafes here are busy but even Chococo still needs to put signs up for people to find them, and they have been here 20 years, which says it all!

“If we do nothing we will remain invisible and there will be no point moaning about our problems, that will achieve nothing – so I decided it was time for action!”

Chococo has been on site for 20 years, but still needs signs to show people the way

Support from 31 businesses

An earlier attempt to draw attention to the area some years ago came to nothing and the idea fell by the wayside during the Covid years.

But when Andy Knill decided to revive the idea in early 2024, he received support from 31 of the 35 active businesses, who all made a small contribution to fund a print run for the maps and for window stickers to proudly proclaim the Heart of Swanage.

The map promotes all of the business who joined together, while leaving out the few which decided not to join the campaign – but the hope is that they will have a change of heart and come into the fold.

Art in the Heart of Swanage in the AndyKnillArt Studio

Focus on people behind the counters

Andy Knill said:

“We are starting a website, a Facebook page and an Instagram account and we will share each other’s posts and mention events which are happening in the area, then start to focus on the people behind the businesses.

“We are largely art, food and gift shops, but next to the Old Stables there’s a row of shops which are now offering nails, hair, ears, skincare and holistic therapies, so they are looking to develop some kind of joint identity.

“We are delighted to welcome businesses with a frontage on Kings Road East like JJ Moore and Old Harry’s maritime curios as we feel they are part of our community.

“Plus, the newly launched breakfast and brunch cafe Burnt Toast.”

Joanna, Natalia and Agnes welcome customers to The Old Stables delicatessen at the start of the Heart

“Love to make the area more welcoming”

Andy added:

“I went to the last council tourism meeting to talk up for this area about signage, as we hope we can find a better solution than A boards which can cause a nightmare for accessibility, while at Chamber of Trade meetings, the Heart of Swanage is now an item on the agenda.

“We can build awareness, get shops to work together and support each other, and try to make sure we hook into events in Swanage – the Christmas Fair used to come into this area and we would love to get it back.

“And we would love to make the roads more welcoming, as the paving is not the best and bin collections can look unsightly.

“This is probably going to be the hardest to achieve and will require thoughts and actions from us all, but other towns make really successful features of their independent quarters, and there’s no reason why the Heart of Swanage can’t do the same.”

Imagine Boutique is a popular clothing and accessories store in Tilly Mead Courtyard

JJ Moore butchers and Old Harry’s Maritime Curios are part of the Heart community in Kings Road East

“People just stumble on this area”

Lucy Tidbury runs Lucy’s Farm art shop on the corner of Tilly Mead Courtyard and said:

“We get a lot of holiday makers who just stumble on this area, but people do really love this area when they find it.

“This little area is perfect for the independents, but is not easy to find – it’s a Catch 22 in the end, if you are out on the high street you will get the footfall but also have to pay much more and a small business like mine simply could not afford it.

“My brand is quite well known around here and people will come and find me after they pick up my leaflets at local shows, so I don’t just rely on the passing trade.

“But the idea is to get more visitors, especially first time visitors to Swanage, to come and explore these shopping streets.”

Welcome to Lucy’s Farm, home of the famous Moo Selfies

Finding a hidden part of Swanage

Lucy added:

“There are signs up but people don’t always see them – perhaps the answer would be to have an archway to the entrance or something just a little bit more eye catching.

“The Information Centre is really good and will point people in this direction, and the various art galleries in town do try to share customers around – having other businesses tell people to come down to this area is really good.

“When customers find this area, they love it, they feel like they’ve discovered something special with unusual independent shops and say it’s really friendly down here.

“It’s like finding a hidden part of Swanage, and I think people love that sense of exploring when they’re on holiday, especially if it’s not beach weather.”

A collection of health and beauty businesses are building up a name for themselves

The Little Garden and Gift Shop provides a short cut through the shop into the Heart of Swanage

Welcome to the Heart

The 31 businesses currently in The Heart of Swanage include The Old Stables Delicatessen and Eaterie, Fusion Hairdressing, Clean Ears Purbeck, Purbeck Holistic Therapy, Buffmonger, Josh Hollingshead Gallery and Chococo.

The Andy Knill Art Studio, Art Workshop Swanage, Alison Strong Bespoke Dressmaker, The Little Garden and Gift Shop, Burnt Toast Dorset, Swanage Emporium and Swanage Models.

WPM Lettings, The Loft Swanage Community Centre, Purbeck Sounds Community Radio, Swan Ink Tattoo and Piercing Studio, Waffle Shake N Roll, Martin’s Purbeck Memories, Ocean Studio and The Beauty Room Swanage.

The Shed and Shed 2 copper and brass, Lucy’s Farm, Imagine Boutique, Java Independent Coffee House, JC Barbering, Swanage Bay Fish, Old Harry’s Maritime Curios and JJ Moore butchers.

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