Four years ago Malton set out with ambitious plans to reverse its fortunes by becoming the Food Capital of Yorkshire. Sarah Freeman returns to the market town to see if it succeeded.
It’s shortly after 10.30am and in Malton’s Talbot Yard Aldo Valerio is busy packaging the day’s batch of freshly made pasta. Out the back, a tray of vegetable lasagne is about to go into the oven and various fridges and freezers contain the orders for a string of nearby restaurants and farm shops.
Aldo wasn’t born in Malton, he doesn’t even have any direct ties to the place. However, so impressed was he by the market town’s foodie ambitions that six months ago he shifted part of the family business, founded by his father and uncles in the 1960s, 180 miles north from Bedford.
“We’ve always had a distribution operation in Leeds, so I’ve come to know this part of the world quite well,” says Aldo, who now lives in Ryedale during the week. “This place is bigger than the one I had in Bedford, the rent’s cheaper and the people are friendlier. I go back to see the family at weekends and right now it’s an arrangement which suits us all.”
Aldo credits the move, at least in part, to a series of meetings he had with Tom Naylor Leyland who has helped mastermind Malton’s recent renaissance. Under the banner of the Fitzwilliam Estate, the Naylor Leylands own around 60 per cent of the commercial property in Malton.
Much of it has been in the family since the early 18th century, but in recent years they have taken a new approach to the portfolio, which has seen 10 new independent businesses open or relocate to the market town since the start of this year alone.
The seeds of the revival were sown with the launch of the first Food Lovers Festival in 2009 and when guest chef Antonio Carluccio declared Malton the Food Capital of Yorkshire, those at the estate decided to take the title and run with it. Four years on, the festival now attracts in excess of 30,000 visitors, there is a monthly farmers’ market and September will see the return of the Game and Seafood Festival. Allied to those events has been a determination to bring empty buildings back into use and Talbot Yard has been the latest significant development.
Just around the corner from Aldo’s pasta business, there’s the Bluebird Bakery, which supplies the bread for the Talbot Hotel opposite and across the courtyard the Groovy Moo Ice Cream parlour does brisk business even when the sun doesn’t shine.
Add in Paul Pott’s butchery and the cafe and coffee roasters Roost and Talbot Yard is fast becoming a tourist attraction in its own right.
“Even in the short time I’ve been here, I’ve seen a town which is definitely on the up,” says Mark Brayshaw, who became the estate’s project and development manager eight months ago. “The initial idea may have been to turn Malton into a hub for artisan food producers, but it has created a much wider ripple effect.”
Just a short walk from Talbot Yard is Market Place where buildings are gradually being painted in a palette of pastel colours and the various flower displays should ensure a good showing in this year’s Britain in Bloom competition.
It’s here where Will Mellor decided to open the interiors store Hare and Wilde a few months ago, where Lisa Tyler and Jo Jarrett chose to launch their new estate agency Willowgreen and where next week, Chris Welford and David Turner are due to serve the first customers at the YO Bakehouse cafe.
“Malton definitely seems to attracting an influx of people from outside the town,” says Lisa, who has already sold five properties in the same number of weeks. “These are not transient folk, these are people who are wanting to put down roots. They have looked around at numerous locations and have decided that they like what they see in Malton.
“It’s perhaps not hard to see why. The property here is significantly cheaper than York and yet it’s just a 20 minute train journey away. The schools are good, the town has a real sense of community spirit and you’re also just a short drive from some of Yorkshrie’s most beautiful countryside.”
Last year, Ryedale featured in the Halifax Quality of Life top 50 places to live in the UK, but the campaign to transform the fortunes of the market town, which boasts Selina Scott amongst its residents, has not always been easy. For a number of years many of the independent traders feared their efforts might be kyboshed by the arrival of supermarket giant Tesco which wanted to build a store on Malton’s Wentworth car park.
It took seven years and two public enquiries before the Government threw out the application earlier this year and now another contentious chapter will soon come to a close. When the Fitzwilliam Estate announced it would not be renewing the 50 year lease on the town’s livestock market when it expired in 2008 it sparked a series of heated debates. A well-supported petition, saw the market secure a short-term lease while a permanent solution could be found. After much head-scratching on both sides, it was decided to build a brand new market just down the road at Eden Camp.
The move will free up the land for further retail development and the possibility of a small scale Waitrose or Booths supermarket and while there are still a few who lament the loss of the livestock market, most seem content by the outcome.
One of those who has witnessed the reversal of fortunes in Malton is Rory Queen. He and his partner Jackie Scott run the Chapter One bistro and 10 weeks ago they opened the Chapter Two bar. Formerly the King’s Head, which closed a few years earlier, the pub dates back to the 1600s and occupies a prime location on the Market Place.
“The biggest change for Malton has definitely been the change in attitude,” says Rory, who began his career in hospitality as a teenage pot washer when the Talbot Hotel was owned by Trusthouse Forte. “Malton potentially has a massive catchment area, but for far too long it was overshadowed by Helmsley and Pickering.
“When we took over this place it was pretty grim, but we knew there was a gap in the market for a really good pub. A lot of the locals have thanked us for giving them somewhere to drink. They’ve told us that we have given them back their pub, which is lovely to hear.
“The next hurdle we need to address as a town is Sundays. I stand here and watch car after car pulling into town, but when they see not much is open they turn around and drive somewhere else. We recently took the decision to close the bistro on Sundays because financially it just didn’t make sense, but collectively we do need to look again.
“Sunday could be our busiest day for trade and if we don’t give people a reason to visit they will find somewhere else to spend their money. Malton has so much going for it now and we have to make sure that we let people know just what this town has to offer.”