Such a key strategic position on the Western Approaches enabled the town to flourish during the mid-17th to 19th centuries when, as the designated Royal Packet Station, it played a vital communications role for the expanding British Empire.
During the Packet Ship era, an outward-looking Falmouth was home to over 20 consulates and today the town retains the same cosmopolitan air. Despite the recent global economic downturn and UK recession, Falmouth’s eclectic high street punches well above its weight, which adds significant appeal to the 1.2 million visitors it attracts annually.
Brightly painted buildings house a collection of artisan shops and niche independent operators, while the town also offers a burgeoning food and drink sector and creative industries scene. There is real variety and quirkiness to the retail offering – a business designing and manufacturing multi-million-pound superyachts sits comfortably alongside the UK’s oldest chandlery, while a recently-opened Japanese restaurant is less than two minutes’ walk away from a multi-award winning prosthetics and special effects studio that boasts clients from Hollywood and Bollywood. Move along the foreshore and you’ll discover the hub of Cornwall’s marine sector that is now one of the UK’s key influencers in terms of the development of marine renewables, engineering and design; shaping and driving products, services and solutions on a global level. Falmouth-based Fugro Seacore played a key role in raising the ill-fated Costa Concordia ship from the seabed, for example, and pioneering renewable energy devices are being tested in Falmouth Bay.
A port with a purpose, Falmouth strikes a successful balance between its multi-layered retail and business offering, and its strong sense of community. It is not for nothing that The Sunday Times cited Falmouth as one of the best places to live in Britain with its ‘eccentric and splendid surroundings’ and ‘international reputation for arts and media,’ which brings us to the influence of Falmouth University upon the town’s fortunes.
From its humble beginnings as an art school in 1902, it has evolved to become Falmouth University, which was recently ranked by The Sunday Times as the number one arts university in the UK. With one campus embedded in the heart of town and a second in nearby Penryn, Falmouth benefits from the wealth of artistic and original talent that is nurtured there as many graduates choose to stay and establish businesses in the town. This leads to a ‘creative corridor’ of start-ups and agencies, which adds a further dynamic to an already vibrant mix.
Sanders Shiers is one such example. Established by Falmouth University graduate, Alan Sanders in 2003, this high-end CGI illustration and animation agency has an impressive international portfolio that includes Conran, DDB and Taylor Wimpey. Sanders Shiers can offer world-class talent and professionalism from its Falmouth HQ to corporate clients across the globe – and enjoy the enviable lifestyle that Cornwall offers.
The rollout of Superfast broadband in Cornwall has helped to stimulate the growth of such businesses with Falmouth being one of the first towns in the UK to receive 95% coverage. Graduates, start-ups and would-be investors now view Falmouth as an increasingly attractive location to do business in and from. Where once the geographical distance to London and other centres of international commerce may have been a stumbling block to business growth, new technologies work very much in the town’s favour.
But it is also Falmouth’s strong sense of community that is very much at the heart of its growth and development. The recent passing of a much-admired police officer, PC Andy Hocking, brought over 6,000 people to Falmouth to walk ‘One Last Beat’, in memory of a man whose pride and passion for all things Falmouth struck a lasting chord with so many. This unique event was reported across the world’s media (a memorial walk among UK police ex-pats was even organised in Australia) and Falmouth works hard to foster and celebrate its supportive and positive community.
Staying with the community theme, Falmouth’s award-winning Cruise Ship Ambassador Scheme is the only such volunteer service in Europe. Established nearly 10 years ago, the ambassadors are largely retired residents of the town who provide an invaluable meet, greet and information service to the 20,000+ cruise visitors who disembark in the port each season. With £80 as the average day-spend of a single cruise liner passenger, the town’s Business Improvement District (BID) seeks to enhance their visitor experience by providing multi-language maps and guides, and complimentary shuttle buses so that they can explore all that the town has to offer.
The BID does much behind the scenes to drive Falmouth’s prosperity in partnership with Falmouth Town Council as part of a dynamic Town Team. Something of a trailblazer as the only such model operating in Cornwall, this Town Team comprises BID Manager, Richard Wilcox, supported by the BID’s Board of volunteer Directors, and Town Manager, Richard Gates, representing Falmouth Town Council, who work tirelessly to engage with and support Falmouth’s thriving community by coordinating and planning shared strategy.
The Town Council is proactive in negotiating control of some of the town’s assets from Cornwall Council, actively champions local initiatives and provides vital infrastructure for events. The BID has helped the town’s businesses through challenging times by investing their levy payments in a colourful calendar of events, festivals and year-round initiatives to drive footfall and extend the season; a community-led branding project that identified target audiences; a national PR campaign that positions Falmouth as a valued proposition for high-yield consumers, lifestyle magazine and newspaper editors, as well as would-be investors; public realm enhancements; business upskilling programmes; and a dynamic destination website, www.falmouth.co.uk, backed by savvy social media campaigns. The fact that 87 per cent of Falmouth’s businesses voted in favour of a second five-year term for the BID – the strongest result in the region – says it all.
As part of its public realm programme, the BID has helped to ‘connect the dots’ of the town for visitors, given that the retail hub, harbour and beaches are situated along a linear coastal and harbour area. Businesses in the town centre and its stunning beaches are now clearly linked via bespoke, branded maps, trails, storytelling boards and supporting digital literature that seek to highlight Falmouth’s history, artistic pedigree and maritime heritage, and encourage visitors to explore and return.
Falmouth’s Town Team was also called upon by retail guru, Mary Portas to provide relevant research and insight to inform her government review of the British high street. Her report went on to recommend strategic operational management for the UK’s high streets; the empowering of successful Business Improvement Districts to become ‘Super-BIDs’, and highlighted ‘the sheer importance of community spirit and reinventing towns as destinations for socialising, culture, health, wellbeing, creativity and learning’ – all of which Falmouth has long known about and continues to deliver with aplomb.
Its year-round programme of festivals not only brings the local community together, but also encourages visitors to contribute significantly to the local economy. Last year’s Tall Ships Regatta, which was hosted by Falmouth for the sixth time in nearly 50 years, contributed £10M to the county’s coffers, for example.
To complement established events such as the Oyster Festival (October), the International Sea Shanty Festival (June) and Falmouth Week (August), the BID has developed new festivals to extend the season such as Spring Fest (March), Splash Creative (September), and this year’s ZestiFAL that celebrates wellbeing and getting active (July).
Falmouth has an empty vacant unit rate of under 5 per cent, well below the UK national average which is around 11%.
Sweetpea & Betty, a quirky, boutique establishment that sells French antiques and holds workshops on how to upcycle furniture has recently opened a second shop within the town. Willow & Stone, which offers high quality interior accessories such as door furniture, period fittings and chic homeware has opened another premises to enable it to distribute globally via its digital platforms. Artisan coffee house, Espressini, which The Independent hailed as one of the best coffee shops in the UK, has opened a second outlet in a different part of town, such is its popularity. Wild Pony, which trades in vintage apparel, relocated from Brighton to establish its cool clothing outlet and with increasing demand from Falmouth fashionistas, has recently unveiled a pop-up shop to entice yet more customers with its imaginative interiors and brand.
Bosun’s Locker Chandlery, the oldest in the country, has recently exchanged its secluded harbourside location to join the throng of Falmouth’s thriving high street, taking up residence in a prime retail location and rebranding to appeal to a cooler, contemporary customer as well as celebrate its traditional roots.
Multi-award winning Seasalt Clothing is a Cornish retail success story that also has its HQ in Falmouth. With a retail philosophy that is rooted in the creativity, maritime history and heritage of Cornwall, the company has expanded rapidly across the UK in recent years, with John Lewis and M&S among several major players who now stock the Seasalt range.
Falmouth offers the perfect environment for small and medium-sized enterprises looking to launch a new business or nurture a fledgling brand, as John and Hannah Hersey discovered when they launched their surfer chic café, Good Vibes. Inspired by their love of water sports and great food, their blend of locally-sourced ingredients, funky recipes, laidback atmosphere and colourful interior is hugely popular with surfers, students and high street shoppers alike. Like other businesses in the town, they have found their niche.
Amanzi offers African food made from local produce, with Cornish Biltong being a particular speciality. Wildebeest serves up delicious gluten free and vegan fare, often with an Asian and Cornish influence. The Wheelhouse and Rick Stein serve the finest Cornish seafood, Ciuri Ciuri delights customers with its Sicilian gelataria, and Earth & Sea offer an unusual sausage-making and eating experience.
Richard Wilcox, Falmouth Business Improvement District (BID) Manager, says: “We have much to be proud of and to celebrate here in Falmouth. We maximise our resources by thinking and working imaginatively, partnering with local organisations and volunteer groups to ensure that the town is a vibrant, year-round destination for visitors, residents and businesses alike. As Cornwall’s events hub, we’re constantly reviewing our offer, seeking to make the most of our natural setting and welcome visitors from all over the world. Successful high streets and communities are ones that combine local expertise, enthusiasm, pride and passion to best effect, and foster an environment that is conducive to creative thinking, and Falmouth has all that and more.”