As people start to embark on their festive shopping sprees, local traders and Sarah-Jane Adams, Director of RTW Together Business Improvement District, tell SO magazine why it’s never been more important – or fun – to support the town’s retailers…
Some very dapperly-dressed ladies and gentlemen were seen greeting local folk in Royal Tunbridge Wells recently. They were spotted holding open the doors of many of our independent emporiums with a flourish and tipping their top hats to anyone who walked by. But what could they be doing?
Well in fact, these charming visitors had been summoned by the RTW Together Business Improvement District in order to go out-and-about and explore the many treats on offer at many of our town centre businesses as part of their ‘Very Royal Christmas’ promotional campaign.
“Royal Tunbridge Wells is a magical place at Christmas. Its royal heritage, historic buildings, independent retailers, food and drink spots, cobbled walkways and tucked away treasures are all part of its undeniable festive charm”
With a series of adverts and a regal festive film, this marketing message will demonstrate that come reign or shine, there are plenty of merry treats to delight in Royal Tunbridge Wells town centre.
And whether you plan to shop ‘til you drop, take in a festive show, savour foodie offerings, or perhaps even make a Christmas wreath, there’s something waiting for you here, whether you’re local or visiting for the day.
“We’re a royal spa town with a rich history of merriment and festive celebration, so we wanted to showcase that with our Christmas campaign this year,” says BID Director Sarah-Jane Adams.
“Visitors and residents alike can also enjoy the town centre’s Christmas lights, provided and funded by RTW Together for the second year running. While many assume the lights are delivered by the local Council, they are actually now installed and paid for by the Business Improvement District, on behalf of town centre businesses,” Sarah-Jane explains.
When it comes to shopping, Royal Tunbridge Wells has got something for every taste, interest, and budget. At Fenwick Tunbridge Wells, visitors can expect to see a beautifully curated collection in their Christmas shop of special decorations, too-good-to-eat candy canes and gingerbread houses, garlands and wreaths. There are also plenty of faux Christmas trees, as well as an irresistible display of hampers, full to the brim with premium wines, cheeses, snacks, and other deliciously festive foods. For gifts of all shapes and sizes, Fenwick offers a variety of carefully-selected items to delight your loved ones, from functional yet stylish kitchen and homewares, to high-end fashion and accessories, beauty, skincare, and fragrance in the dedicated beauty hall, and high-quality outerwear for every occasion.
Simon Youden of Fenwick Royal Tunbridge Wells tells us: “Royal Tunbridge Wells is a beautiful town to shop and spend time in, from The Pantiles right up to the top of town. We want to encourage the local community and visitors to shop local and help our town to keep flourishing and thriving this Christmas and beyond.
“We’re really looking to engage with the local community this year and partner with other local businesses throughout the festive period,” Simon continues. “The RTW Together Business Improvement District really helps us to do that – it brings us all together and helps make the town a nice place to shop.”
“We want to encourage the local community and visitors to shop local to keep Tunbridge Wells flourishing and thriving this Christmas and beyond”
If you’re in the market for something a little more sparkly, then Walsh Bros on Mount Pleasant Road has some truly magnificent pieces to pique your interest. Housed in an historic art-deco building, the local independent jeweller offers a dazzling collection of modern, antique, and vintage jewels procured and curated by the Walsh Bros team through their expert eyes. One such antique piece is a very special 1920s diamond and platinum tiara that once belonged to a Viscountess, sourced by Walsh Bros and lovingly stored in its original display box.
“It’s all about boutique, independent shopping in Royal Tunbridge Wells – we offer something different,” says Alexia Taylor, who has been part of the Walsh Bros team for over ten years. “Whatever you’re looking for, there will be something for you.
“Christmas is a lovely time of year because we get to spend a lot of time with people as they choose special gifts for the people they love,” Alexia continues.
“For us, it’s the same at Christmas time as it is all year round – we offer the best service possible and we help people to make the best choices, whether that’s sourcing a specific item for them, or choosing from our own collection.”
For a unique mix of crafts and floral workshops, handcrafted artisan food, drinks, and gifts, and a spectacular Christmas-themed window display that will get you in the festive mood, The Cove on the High Street offers a very special shopping experience. Festooned in floral garlands, the shop has all of your Christmas needs covered, from seasonal floral bouquets and dried flowers, to hampers, hand-picked wines and spirits, Christmas cards, chocolate, coffee, and ceramics.
Visitors can even turn their hand to Christmas wreath-making, arranging their own hand-tied bouquets, or creating a stunning Christmas centrepiece under co-founder Amy Lethbridge’s expert guidance, who runs a programme of tailored workshops to encourage you to get creative. Participants learn a new skill with a glass of local sparkling wine in hand, and after the hard work is done, they’re treated to a tasting board of independently created vodka, gin, and rum to enjoy.
“We love trading in Royal Tunbridge Wells – there are so many independent shops, and everyone is friendly. There’s a lovely atmosphere to the town centre,” Amy says. “For us, RTW Together’s support at Christmas is really important, it’s such a critical time of year for all the local businesses. Everybody needs that extra support at this time of year!
“We’re really ramping things up for the festive period – we’re running wreath-making and Christmas table decoration workshops, and we’re going to be at a few local artisan fairs and events. We’ve also teamed up with local charity Hospice in the Weald to run a stall at their fair, which is really exciting.”
With big brands also key to this shopping destination, Lush Tunbridge Wells is bringing festive back with its iconic cult product Snow Fairy, plus a host of colourful and sweet-smelling gift sets that will bring endless scented joy to any bath bomb lover. Located in Royal Victoria Place shopping centre, Lush is a veritable Santa’s workshop of Christmas-themed bath bombs, shower gels, body scrubs, and other pampering products to make your bathroom smell as quintessentially festive as possible.
Alongside its pioneering beauty products, Lush is also a well-known advocate against animal testing and packaging waste in the cosmetics industry. To combat the overconsumption of packaging and wrapping paper that we often see at Christmas, the Royal Tunbridge Wells store offers customers zero waste options, selling many of its products ‘naked’ to the consumer without any packaging or gift wrapping. The shop also offers fabric wrap in a variety of fun prints and colours, designed to be reused time and time again when the dreaded Christmas wrapping comes around. Eco buyers will likely also be familiar with ethical store the Zero Waste Company in The Pantiles.
“RTW Together’s support at Christmas is really important, it’s such a critical time of year for all the local businesses. Everybody needs that extra support”
“Christmas is always an exciting time at Lush, but this year we’ve launched two new Snow Fairy products – our most popular, cult classic product that we only sell at Christmas! There’s now a lip jelly and a candle in the Snow Fairy scent, which we absolutely love.
“Everyone should come shopping in Royal Tunbridge Wells, it’s full of different businesses and there’s something for everyone. It’s a wonderful place. Plus, Lush is here, so what more could you want?!”
Traversing across Royal Victoria Place, just a few yards away from Lush, the deep green interior of The Green Duck Emporium immediately catches your eye and invites you in to see what treasures can be found. Coining themselves as ‘sellers of interesting things’, The Green Duck Emporium is an independent purveyor of gifts that you won’t find anywhere else. Here you’ll find quirky filament bulbs in a myriad of colourful designs, enamel pin badges, Tunbridge Wells Roastery coffee, and even live train trackers that light up as trains arrive and depart across your chosen London Underground line.
Launched during the pandemic, The Green Duck Emporium flagship store officially opened on Grosvenor Road in 2020, adding something a little bit different to the town’s retail offering. Owner Matt later expanded to another site on Grosvenor Road, opening a coffee house and bar that hosts a busy calendar of events, workshops and private functions. Most recently, Matt acquired a unit in Royal Victoria Place, setting up a third Royal Tunbridge Wells space that sells its signature collection of unique items.
“What makes Royal Tunbridge Wells a great place to shop at Christmas? I think it’s the variety, the uniqueness, the large concentration of independents,” answers Matt. “It’s different from the mainstream, and the town itself feels and looks very Christmassy and festive. Who wouldn’t want to spend time here?
“We have our two retail sites, and then we have the coffee house and bar where we do lots of events – at this time of year, it’s wreath-making workshops, as well as our very popular Christmas Cockney Singalong which always gets the crowd going.”
LET US ENTERTAIN YOU
If you’re not in the market for shopping, there’s plenty more going on in our little corner of the Garden of England. Trinity Theatre has not one, not two, but three festive family shows on offer this year, while the Assembly Hall Theatre’s traditional rip-roaring pantomime is the classic Jack and the Beanstalk, starring Cliff Parisi of Eastenders and Call the Midwife fame. SKATE Tunbridge Wells at Calverley Grounds is back too, with a small rink for tiny tots that transforms into a Bavarian curling rink at night, in addition to the larger rink for slightly bigger thrill-seekers.
The Royal Tunbridge Wells Together Business Improvement District is also organising two Christmas lights switch-on events this year on November 19. Visitors can join local businesses, the Mayor, and Scrooge for free mince pies and music for carols in Chapel Place, from 2pm to 4:30pm, later moving to The Pantiles, with the switch-on with KMFM, Elf and Gingerbread friends, live singers and panto stars taking place at 8pm to 9:30pm, after The Big Reveal.
Alongside these initiatives, the BID will also produce a promotional Christmas film and Christmas gift guide to promote town centre businesses to a wider audience and encourage people across the borough and beyond to visit the town this festive period.
“Our aim is to tell a wider audience that Royal Tunbridge Wells is an attractive place to live, work, and visit – we can offer something for everyone, just 40 minutes from the bright lights of central London”
“The promotional activities are a really important part of our work at RTW Together,” Sarah-Jane explains. “It’s about communicating to a wider audience that Royal Tunbridge Wells is an attractive place to live, work, and visit – we can offer something for everyone, just 40 minutes from the bright lights of central London and surrounded by the stunning Kent countryside too.
“Royal Tunbridge Wells is a magical place at Christmas. Its royal heritage, historic buildings, independent retailers, food and drink spots, cobbled walkways and tucked away treasures are all part of its undeniable festive charm.”
To complement this, Sarah-Jane reveals that BID has also commissioned a local artist Jess Harrison to create ‘beautiful Christmas scenes from around the town centre’.
“We’ll be giving her illustrations away to the public in the form of free Christmas cards, to give to loved ones or to keep! Find them across the town centre, or at our Christmas lights switch on events on November 19.”
Whether you find yourself spending the day as a tourist at the Spa Valley Railway, shouting ‘he’s behind you!’ at the panto, picking up gourmet gifts at The Pantiles Christmas markets, or even skating the night away in a moonlit Calverley Grounds, we hope you have a Very Royal Christmas.
Instagram and Twitter: @rtwtogether