LEEK residents, business people and community leaders have spoken of their pride after the town came joint runner-up in a contest to find the best high street in the country.
It was announced on Saturday that Deal in Kent is 'High Street of the Year', with Leek and Ramsbottom, Lancashire, sharing second place.
The 'Reinventing the High Street' campaign, run by The Daily Telegraph newspaper, attracted more than 500 nominations. A panel of judges decided on the winners from a shortlist of 10.
Leek was nominated by Pete Massera, aged 47, who moved to the Staffordshire Moorlands town four years ago.
Mr Massera said: "Yes, it would have been nice if our town had won, but it is great that Leek has been recognised.
"I do believe that our town is very deserving of this recognition."
Totally Locally Leek has been working for years to rejuvenate the town's high street.
Marc Briand, who instigated the initiative, said: "It is a fantastic result for Leek and recognition of what a great town we live in, all thanks to the people who voted for Leek to get into the top 10 shortlist.
"To then be joint runner-up from over 500 nominations is a real testimony to the pride that people feel for Leek. It is one of the objectives of Totally Locally – to re-engage people with their home town and to love where they live.
"Leek will have its challenges in 2014, but this shouldn't stop people from using the town and building on what has been a really successful year with the Action for Market Towns award for the Sunday Supplement, and now joint runner-up in High Street of the Year.
"The award recognises the vibrancy of Leek, the preserved architecture, the mix of independent and chain shops and community events, and it is down to all of the people who run the businesses, put on the events and activities, and everyone who uses the town."
Leek resident Deborah Price said: "I wrote to the Telegraph to tell them how amazing Leek was and how all the shopkeepers had been really kind to my daughter, who has some medical issues.
"It was that sort of thing, combined with the monumental effort so many people have put into the town, ignoring negativity and pushing for business despite a terrible financial climate, that won us this award. We should be so proud."
Turn to Page 2
From Page 1
Business owner Jane Powell, aged 43, who runs Over The Rainbow in Sheepmarket, said: "I think it is fantastic and I am really proud of what our town and the independent retailers have been able to achieve.
"Coming runner-up has made our town a little more special and I think it has definitely put Leek on the map.
"Hopefully more people will now come to our town to see what it is all about - both shoppers and traders from other towns.
"There has certainly been a buzz since the announcement. Everyone has been so upbeat about it.
"It has given us a lift after the festive season. It's like having a third celebration after Christmas and New Year."
Leek Town Mayor, John Fisher, said: "This is brilliant news and absolutely warranted.
"I think our high street is great. There are lots of independent shops, but also some national chains.
"We are not a clone town. We have managed to retain a degree of difference. That is our success and people enjoy coming to our town and high street."
Leader of Staffordshire Moorlands District Council, Sybil Ralphs, added: "This is further evidence that Leek is prospering even in these difficult economic times.
"Much of the credit must go to the town's retail traders, who work hard to provide excellent service and value for money goods, which attracts people from a wide catchment area."
Throughout 2013, The Daily Telegraph and its readers have been debating the future of Britain's 5,000 high streets as part of the campaign.
The 10 high streets with the most votes were: Bridport, Dorset; Bury St Edmonds, Suffolk; Deal, Kent; Leek; Malmesbury, Wiltshire; Mill Road, Cambridge; Ramsbottom, Lancashire; Sherborne, Dorset; Teddington, South-West London; and Yarm, Teesside.
The winning high street was chosen by a panel of judges chaired by the minister with responsibility for high streets, Brandon Lewis MP.
Leek "impressed the judges by how much it had brought back new life to a market town".
Telegraph journalist Peter Stanford, who was also on the panel, told the Leek Post & Times: "We felt that we liked the mix of independent shops and national stores. There seems to be a good balance in Leek.
"Everyone says they want a high street, but then people need to use it.
"It seems from the nominations we received for Leek that the town has cracked that combination.
"Leek is a good model for other towns on how to make the high street appeal to people."
He added: "It was a really close call. Leek was in the top three for all judges.
"I was particularly impressed by the response we had from readers about Leek. There is a very profound excitement about the town."
Leek mum Gina Goldstraw, aged 37, said: "I think it's great. It's about time our town got something like this.
"Our town has been in a bit of a mess recently but everyone's just picked themselves up."