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CHRISTMAS KICKS OFF

22
Nov 2017

CHRISTMAS KICKS OFF IN STRATFORD AS FATHER CHRISTMAS TREATS THE MAKE A WISH WINNERS

The magic of Christmas landed in Stratford at the weekend, with three lucky winners of the town’s Make a Christmas Wish Competition enjoying a magical carriage ride with Father Christmas himself. The winners were taken on a festive tour of Stratford Town Centre by Father Christmas, followed by an afternoon cream tea and special gifts. With the main man’s reindeer resting up ahead of their busiest time of year, the carriage was pulled by Shire Horses in a magical moment captured on camera by onlookers lining the town centre’s streets. The competition, organised by Stratforward BID and Magic Alley and supported by BID members WHSmith, Huffkins, Hathaway Tea Rooms and The Arden Hotel, saw entrants make a wish for someone else and enter those wishes for a chance to win.
 
Joseph Baconnet, Stratforward BID Director, said: “We knew that it would be a special day, but judging by the feedback of the winners and their families and the public on the street, we’re going to have to ask Father Christmas to come back early again next year! This competition wouldn’t have happened without the extraordinary wishes of all our competition entrants and winners. Stratforward also wants to give a huge thank you to all our BID businesses who supported the competition.”  Stratforward caught up with Father Christmas as he munched on a leftover mince pie from one of the cream teas. “I am so pleased to be able to make Stratford-upon-Avon the town that grants Christmas wishes,” he chortled. “I look forward to returning in the not-so-distant future...”

The Stratford Make a Wish Competition is just the start of an array of festive fun set for Stratford in the run-up to Christmas. The town’s stunning Christmas lights - one of the best displays in the country - will be officially switched on this Thursday (November 23rd), along with the lights in brand new development Bell Court.

The first of several late-night festive markets on Waterside will take place on the same day, returning every Thursday until Christmas, attracting people to Stratford from far and wide for all their Christmas gift-buying, and this year also sees the arrival of a Victorian Christmas Market from December 8th-10th, complete with vintage fairground rides, stalls and entertainment.

The Stratforward Christmas brochure has already hit the streets, showcasing everything the town has to offer over the festive period, from shopping for the perfect gift to the places to go for a pre-Christmas bite to eat or drink, or what to visit and where to stay. With 42,000 copies going to homes in the area, plus 8,000 to town centre businesses, they’re guaranteed to tempt people to the town this festive season.

On top of that, culture vultures can get into the Christmas spirit with an array of arts activities across the town, from the RSC’s production of A Christmas Carol to popular panto Jack and the Beanstalk at the Stratford ArtsHouse. And from December 13th-17th, Shakespeare's New Place will be transformed into a magical dance-circus spectacular by performers from award-winning dance-circus company Motionhouse.

“The weekend proved a great start to the Christmas period in Stratford,” added Mr Baconnet. “But it’s only the beginning. Our town really is the place to be this festive season, with great shops, restaurants, hotels and bars, not to mention our festive markets and entertainment. If Father Christmas loved it, we’re pretty confident everyone else will too.”

   

NOTES 
1. Images is of Father Christmas in Stratford-upon-Avon with the lucky winners on rides around Stratford Town Centre.

2. The Stratford Make a Christmas Wish Competition was organised by Magic Alley and Stratforward BID, with support from BID members WHSmith, Huffkins, Hathaway Tea Rooms and The Arden Hotel. Winners were Leon Triquart, five, Emily Coxson, four, and Jacob Mclachlan,12. 

3. The Stratford Christmas lights switch-on will take place on Thursday, November 23rd at 4.30pm. It will be preceded by carol singing starting at 4pm. It will also include a free santa’s grotto at the Town Hall, an appearance from a special visitor on the balcony, late-night shopping, entertainment and music. For more information on the Stratford Christmas Lights, visit http://stratforduponavonchristmaslights.co.uk/

4. On the same day, Stratford’s biggest Christmas Tree lights will be switched on in Bell Court by Father Christmas ahead of his residency at Magic Alley. Celebrations organised by Magic Alley will see snow start to fall in Henley Street at 3pm ahead of the lights switch-on at Bell Court by Father Christmas and his reindeer. At 5pm Father Christmas will walk to Magic Alley in Henley Street, where there will be carol singing lead by a local children’s choir followed by a performance of A Victorian Nativity in Henley Street by The Magic Alley Players.  At Bell Court there will also be a brass band playing Christmas carols, as well as performances from Rosie T Dance Academy and Everyman Cinema will be hosting a festive screening of popular Christmas classic Elf, at 6pm, as well as giving out free hot chocolate to people visiting Bell Court.

5. A selection of late night Christmas shopping markets will take place on the last five Thursdays up to Christmas in Stratford. This year’s markets will be located on Waterside and will take place from 11am to 8pm on Thursday 23rd & 30th November and 7th, 14th, & 21st December. The markets will offer a range of stalls from seasonal gifts to fine foods, tree decorations, vintage, fairtrade and ethnic products along with mouthwatering street food and a selection of hot and cold alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. Entertainment will include live statues, stilt walkers, and ‘Snowballs’ the market Snowman. 

This year a new three-day traditional Victorian Christmas market opens in Stratford on Friday 8th, Saturday 9th and Sunday 10th December in the town’s main shopping streets. Around 150 stalls will fill the town’s historic streets, with traders dressed in Victorian costume selling gifts and festive local produce, homemade crafts, handmade cakes and bespoke decorations, as well as traditional roast chestnuts, warming mulled wine, and ciders and gin. Entertainment will include a Victorian carousel and barrel organ as well as choirs, instrumental performances, chimney sweeps, dance displays and Victorian themed stilt walkers. For more information on Stratford’s markets, visit http://lsdpromotions.com/christmas-markets

6. Stratforward Business Improvement District (BID) represents nearly 450 shops, cafes, pubs, restaurants and businesses in Stratford town centre. As part of its annual programme of events, Stratforward promotes the town over the festive period. For more information, visit http://www.stratforward.co.uk/events/christmas-upon-avon. The Stratforward Christmas brochure is part of this and includes events, business listings and product pages. An online version is available at http://www.stratforward.co.uk/events/christmas-upon-avon/christmas-brochure

Christmas Window Competition 2017

09
Nov 2017

The Stratford Christmas Window Competition is on!  Looking forward to some fantastic festive displays.

Let us know your favourites!

The Best of Stratford - big congratulations

07
Nov 2017

As voted by members of the public!  Huge congratulations to all winners of the Stratford upon Avon Awards organised by Stratford upon Avon On Line.

Stratford River Festival was voted as the Best Event in Stratford!

Many thanks for all your votes - over 10,000 votes made for the awards! 

Extra congratulations to our members who have won awards - some won several categories:

 
1. Best Afternoon Tea: The Fourteas 
2. Best Amateur Theatre: The Bear Pit 
3. Best Attraction for Children: Butterfly Farm
4. Best Beer Garden: The Keys & Kitchen 
5. Best Boutique Hotel: The Townhouse 
6. Best Burger: The Bear 
7. Best Café: Boston Tea Party 
8. Best Coffee House: Box Brownie
9. Best Educational Attraction: Shakespeares Birthplace Trust 
10. Best Event: Stratford River Festival 
11. Best Hairdresser: Matthew Curtis
12. Best Hotel Restaurant: Le Bistrot Pierre 
13. Best Hotel: The Arden 
14. Best Ice Cream Shop: Hooray’s
15. Best Independent Shop: Gemini
16. Best Museum: Shakespeare Birthplace Trust 
17. Best Night Out: Everyman Cinema 
18. Best Place to dine Alfresco: RSC Rooftop 
19. Best Pub: The Keys & Kitchen 
20. Best Restaurant: Salt 
21. Best Shoe Shop: Charles Clinkard 
22. Best Shop: Vinegar Hill 
23. Best Tattoo Parlour: A Fine Tattoo Establishment
24. Best Tea Room: The Fourteas 
25. Best Theatre: The RSC 
26. Best Tour Company: Avon Boating 
27. Best Tour of SUA: Stratford Town Walk
28. Best Tourist Attraction: The RSC 

Congratulations all!

 

 

 

Take Your Partners Please!

25
Oct 2017

Stratford Town Centre Food Festival partners Cotswold Markets for more Food Glorious Food!

Cotswold Markets will be working alongside Stratforward BID to deliver Stratford Town Centre Food Festival 2018 on September 22nd and 23rd. One of the UK's leading market operators, and quality stall and marquee hire specialists, they provided a great partnership at the 2017 festival when over 60,000 people visited the town.

The festival will be expanded to include more streets: Bridge Street, Henley Street, Meer Street, Wood Street and High Street.  And there will be an emphasis on regional and local food and drink products.  

Stratforward Events Manager, Ruth Wood said, “We are looking forward to working with Cotswold Markets again.  Their ability to deliver and attention to detail is exemplary and the selection of regional produce was fantastic.”

Contact Cotswold Markets if you would like more information about hiring a stall at the festival.  Email stratford.cotswoldmarkets@gmail.com or call 01608 652 662.

BIG CROWDS ENJOY A SLICE OF

26
Sep 2017

... OF STRATFORD’S TOWN CENTRE FOOD FESTIVAL

FOOD glorious food was the order of the weekend as big crowds enjoyed a taste of Stratford’s Town Centre Food Festival.  The free event – organised by Stratforward Business Improvement District (BID) and sponsored by Loxleys Restaurant & Wine Bar - stirred up big numbers on both Saturday and Sunday (September 23-24th) with footfall figures of more than 60,000 over the weekend.
 
Top of the menu were all things local; a festival to showcase Stratford as a premier food and drink destination. At its core was a bustling producers market, in partnership with Cotswold Markets; around 80 stalls filling the town centre, crammed with local traders selling and showcasing their finest - from gin to gelato.

The Waterside Cookery Theatre was packed, people making the most of free demonstrations by the cream of the crop. Chef Mike Robinson was amongst them. One of Britain's leading authorities on wild food and game and co-owner of London’s only Michelin-starred pub The Harwood Arms, he’s a regular face on national TV.  He is now also executive chef at The Woodsman restaurant, due to open this spring at the newly-revamped Falcon Hotel in Stratford, gave festival-goers a sneak preview of what to expect when it opens, showcasing dishes that will feature on the menu.  “The festival was a really wonderful event and we were blown away by the positive response from residents to our new enterprise. We can't wait to open The Woodsman next year,” he said.

Another famous face was Paul Foster, chef owner of Salt in Stratford, former Great British Menu contestant and a regular on Saturday Kitchen, was cooking seasonal dishes from his menu including partridge. There were plenty of other local ‘stars’ taking to the food theatre stage as well – from Master Butcher Adam Lucock to Andy Irvine of Roly’s Fudge Pantry. Donation buckets were rattled outside the theatre, collecting coins to support Sue Ryder, with the charity’s Stratford shop also hosting the festival Bake Off Competition. 

Loxleys returned as festival sponsor for the third year in a row, sous chef Chris Butler also taking to the cookery school stage - when he wasn’t helping to serve up the finest food and drink at the Loxleys stall in Bridge Street, alongside manager Jonathan Lea. Loxleys owner John Lea said it was the best food festival yet. “Everybody was just happy and really enjoying themselves, as far as we’re concerned it was definitely the most successful food festival to date. We were serving roast beef baps as well as wine and prosecco and we had such a queue of people. We met many regulars but also a lot of people who said they had never set foot in our restaurant – but now would.”

Bell Court was also buzzing, with a series of free workshops for all ages - from fruit kebabs to wine tasting.

Another highlight was the national launch of Hop Star – a brand new ale by the award-winning Silhill Brewery, choosing to link up with Stratford’s Golden Bee to launch its latest tipple because of the festival’s profile.n“Stratford Food Festival is a fantastic event with some wonderful contributors and we were delighted to be involved,” brewer Mark Gregory said. “The launch went fantastically and the feedback we have received, directly and through social media has been that this is our finest ale yet. Even the Mayor of Stratford, who isn’t an ale drinker, gave it her approval!” 

Also cooking up a real storm for 2017 were the festival Taste and Ale Trails, taking festival-goers on a stroll around Stratford with regular stops for samples of either food or drink at some 30 participating venues.  Those completing the Trail could then score their samples, with Carluccio’s and Crowne Plaza winning Saturday’s Taste Trails, the Arden Hotel and Vigour Café winning Sunday’s Taste Trails, and Stratford Mosaic, brewed by the Stratford-upon-Avon Brewery and served at Stratford Alehouse, taking the Ale Trail crown.

Just two of those enjoying the Trails were Stratford mayor Victoria Alcock and her husband Gary.  “The Taste Trail really was brilliant – and such amazing value at just £5 per person.” Councillor Alcock said. “Not only was the food we were served fabulous, but the restaurants did everything they could to make us feel so welcome. The best part about the Trail is that we discovered some real hidden gems – restaurants we have not been to before – but will certainly be going back to very soon. We were so impressed by the whole festival.”

“The Taste and Ale Trials were hugely popular, definitely one of the highlights of a really successful festival,” Ruth Wood, Events Manager for Stratforward, said. “We were delighted with every aspect of this year’s event. People came from all over and in really big numbers to enjoy it. Some traders were reporting a 50 per cent increase in sales compared to last year, while our local producers and our town had the opportunity to showcase Stratford as a premier food and drink destination, far and wide. Stratford Town Centre Food Festival will be back on September 22 & 23 in 2018, with plenty more of the same.”

 

         

BILTONG, BEER AND BAKES - LOCAL PRODUCERS TAKE CENTRE STAGE AT FOOD FESTIVAL MARKET

19
Sep 2017

Local producers will take centre stage at the market at this year’s Stratford Town Centre Food Festival.

The market, organised in partnership with leading market operator Cotswold Markets this year, will emphasise regional food and drink with an array of local producers.

The festival, which takes place on September 23rd and 24th, is one of the highlights of the calendar in Stratford, showcasing the town and wider region’s food and drink.

Alongside a packed timetable of demonstrations and workshops, and popular Taste and Ale Trails, Stratford’s historic streets will provide the backdrop for a bustling producers’ market.

More than 90 traders will line Meer Street, Henley Street and High Street, highlighting food and drink available in and around the area.

They will include Stratford-based RetroLilly, who will be selling an array of locally-sourced ice cream from their very own vintage van, while Roly’s fudge pantry will be selling homemade crumbly fudge on their trailer whilst you watch.

And on Bridge Street the Big Red Pig Company from Warwick will be offering their own Biltong and Jerky, while Tunnel Brewery from Ansley in north Warwickshire will be selling their bottled craft beer, ceramic goblets and gift boxes.

Andy Irvine, from Roly’s Fudge Pantry said: “Roly’s Fudge will be making fresh, crumbly fudge on their trailer while you watch - just follow your nose! The fudge is gluten free, vegetarian and made with all natural ingredients. Ask for a taste of warm fudge from the slab!”

This is the first year Cotswold Markets has partnered with Stratforward BID to organise the market at the popular Stratford Town Centre Food Festival, which is sponsored by local restaurant Loxleys.

Dave Joynes from Cotswold Markets, said: “We’re delighted to be involved in the Stratford Town Centre Food Festival this year and look forward to a successful event.”

BRAND NEW BEER SET TO LAUNCH

13
Sep 2017

BRAND NEW BEER SET TO LAUNCH AT ALE TRAIL

Parched punters will be able to get their lips around a brand new beer exclusively at the Stratford Town Centre Food Festival this month.

The new beer, Hop Star from Solihull-based Silhill Brewery, will be on offer at the Golden Bee on Sheep Street as part of the festival’s popular Ale Trail.  The Trail marks the national launch of the beer and will be the first time it’s available for public consumption.  Jamie Forrest, shift manager at the Golden Bee, said: “We love getting involved in the Ale Trail each year. This year we’re delighted that it forms the national launch of Hop Star and for the next month, we’ll be the only place in the area it’s available. Staff from the Golden Bee have even headed to Silhill Brewery to see the beer being brewed so they can give expert advice to people wanting to try it."

The Taste and Ale Trails are a highlight of the Stratford Town Centre Food Festival, which takes place on September 23rd and 24th.  Sponsored by local restaurant Loxleys and organised by Stratforward BID, the festival is a celebration of regional food and drink with an action-packed timetable of demonstrations and workshops alongside a bustling market through Stratford’s streets.  More than 30 town businesses are involved in the Trails, offering tantalising tipples, sweet treats and savoury snacks to visitors who can weave their way through the town’s historic streets visiting an array of venues. This year there are two different Taste Trails on each day of the festival plus an Ale Trail each day too.

Participants include a range of hotels, restaurants, cafes and pubs ranging from independent businesses to big name brands. The recently-rebranded Crowne Plaza is taking part for the first time, as is Veeno The Italian Wine Cafe - one of the new arrivals to Bell Court.  Hayley Chilver, general manager at the Crowne Plaza, said: “We are excited to be part of this year’s Food Festival. We see the Taste Trail as a great opportunity to welcome the public into the hotel and sample a few tasty sweet and savoury treats. From Sunday Lunch to afternoon teas to cocktails on the riverside terrace, we want our hotel to be on the food map for everyone visiting the town.”

Also taking part in the trails are independent Stratford businesses including Union Bar, The Riverbank and Vigour Cafe. Manoj Tugnait, who owns The Riverbank, said: “This is the first year we'll be involved in the festival, after only starting trading in Easter. We can't wait to get involved - it's a great event for the town and being part of a trail gives us the chance to bring people across the river and show them what we offer at The Riverbank."

For more information on the Taste and Ale Trails and to reserve tickets which are then paid for on the day, please visit http://www.stratforward.co.uk/events/stratford-town-centre-food-festival

NOTES 
1. Businesses involved in the Taste and Ale Trails. Left-Right:- Josie Williams (Veeno), Aga Szczotka (Vigour Cafe), Tracey Norcup (Crowne Plaza), Shelly Tugnait (The Riverbank), Hayley Chilver (Crowne Plaza), Jamie Forrest (The Golden Bee), Davide Lazzari (The Riverbank), Paul Lupe (Union Bar), Mark Gregory (Silhill Brewery), Lydia Thomas (The Golden Bee), William Blackmore (Veeno).

2. Businesses taking part in the trails are: Arden Hotel, ASK!, Cafe Rouge, Boston Tea Party, Carluccio’s, Crowne Plaza, El Greco, Everyman Cinema, Hall’s Croft Cafe, Magic Alley, Roly’s Fudge Pantry, Sabai Sabai, Shakespeare’s Birthplace Giftshop, Susie’s Cafe Bar RSC The Other Place, The Pantry, Cox’s Yard, The Riverbank, Union Cocktail Bar, Veeno The Italian Wine Cafe, Vigour Cafe, The White Swan Hotel, Wilde Nuts, Wildwood Kitchen, Swan Cafe RSC Swan Theatre, Stratford Alehouse, The Bear Freehouse, The Dirty Duck, The Garrick Inn, The Golden Bee, The Lamplighter, The Old Thatch Tavern, The One Elm, The Townhouse.

3. The Town Centre Food Festival is organised Stratforward Business Improvement District (BID), which represents nearly 450 shops, cafes, pubs, restaurants and businesses in Stratford town centre.

TOP CHEF DEMO AT TOWN CENTRE FOOD FESTIVAL

23
Aug 2017

TOP CHEF HERALDS ARRIVAL TO STRATFORD WITH DELICIOUS DEMO AT TOWN CENTRE FOOD FESTIVAL

Mike Robinson

Michelin-starred chef Mike Robinson will lead a packed programme of demonstrations at this year’s Stratford Town Centre Food Festival.

A frequent face on national TV and one of Britain's leading authorities on wild food and game, Mike is the co-owner of London’s only Michelin-starred pub The Harwood Arms, owner of multi award-winning pub the Pot Kiln in Berkshire and also owns Robinson Wild Foods, specialist venison supplier to 15 top London restaurants.

He is now also executive chef at The Woodsman restaurant, due to open this spring at the newly-revamped Falcon Hotel in Stratford, and will be giving festival-goers a sneak preview of when to expect when it opens, showcasing dishes that will feature on the menu.

He said: “Stratford upon Avon sits in the heart of some of our most beautiful countryside. We’re very excited to be opening The Woodsman at the town’s historic Falcon Hotel next spring.

“We wanted to take part in this year’s festival so that we had the opportunity to share some of this excitement with the locals. We’ll be bringing a flavour of wild dining to the festival with some wonderful venison, raised on estates that I manage myself.”

Mike’s demonstration is just one of a tantalising timetable of free cookery demonstrations at the festival, which this year takes place on September 23rd and 24th. (This year all demos are free.)

Paul Foster

Another famous face to take to the stage in the Waterside Cookery Theatre is Paul Foster, chef owner of Salt in Stratford, former Great British Menu contestant and a regular on Saturday Kitchen, who will be cooking seasonal dishes from his menu.

Paul, who worked at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Restaurant Sat Bains and Mallory Court before opening Salt in March following a Crowdfunding campaign, said: “It has been a fantastic year so far - just five months after opening Salt we’re now celebrating being declared Best New Entry in the Waitrose Good Food Guide last week.

“We’re now looking forward to being a part of the Stratford Town Centre Food Festival for the first time. It’s great to be involved in a celebration of the great produce and culinary talent we have in our region, as well as the thriving and diverse food scene in Stratford.”

Other demonstrations on the Saturday include Barry the Butchers will show you how to make sausages and cure bacon, who will create The Bard’s Bangers.

Visitors will also be able to learn how to make bread with Bread for Life! Founder Jessica Mooney, while recently-opened Italian Wine Cafe Veeno will stage a food and wine pairing workshop, with the day rounding off with cocktail-making classes with the Union Bar Team.

On Sunday, the demo programme will start with a healthy vibrant brunch with Stratford blogger Janey Green, author of Slice of Slim, followed by fudge-making with Roly’s Fudge, gelato-making with Hooray’s, an Asian Adventure with Stratford College and then the Festival Sponsor Loxleys will create a seasonal Lamb sensation with their usual flair, and finally learn how to work with lobsters with The Townhouse.

This year there will also be workshops across the festival weekend in Bell Court, including Sicilian Wine Tasting with Veeno and creative canapes with Stratford College.

The demonstrations are a highlight of the Stratford Town Centre Food Festival, sponsored by Loxleys Restaurant and Wine Bar, and organised by Stratforward Business Improvement District (BID).  It will also boast a producers market organised with Cotswold Markets, and Taste and Ale Trails giving visitors the chance to try tasty treats from around 20 town centre restaurants, cafes, bars and pubs.

Stratford's Food Fest Loves Loxleys

08
Aug 2017


It’s all about local at Stratford's Food Festival with Loxleys back as sponsor

Preparations are underway for this year’s festival, showcasing Stratford as a premier food and drink destination.  The free event, which takes place on the weekend of September 23rd and 24th, will boast a bustling producers market, demonstrations and hands-on workshops, with popular trails taking visitors to many of the town’s food and drink businesses. The festival - one of several organised by Stratforward Business Improvement District (BID) - is backed again by local restaurant Loxleys, which has supported the event for the past three years. 

General Manager Jonathan Lea said: "Loxleys is delighted to once again be sponsoring the Stratford Town Centre Food Festival. Last year's event was a huge success and we're sure this year's will be even better.  Food and drink is such a key part of what Stratford offers, not just to locals but to our international visitors, and the festival is the perfect chance to showcase our thriving food and drink scene."

The Stratford Town Centre Food Festival attracted more than 80,000 people last year for a weekend of food and fun, all set against the historic backdrop of Shakespeare’s home town. This year Stratforward has partnered with Cotswold Markets to deliver a bustling market brimming with nearly 100 stalls featuring regional food producers and showcasing a mouthwatering selection of the very finest food and drink. Alongside the market, the festival will feature an action-packed programme of demonstrations from town centre chefs and producers at The Waterside Cookery Theatre, plus workshops and hands-on classes for adults and children alike at other venues across the town centre.

Stratforward is also working collaboratively with Stratford Literary Festival which is hosting an evening with highly-acclaimed chef Yotam Ottolenghi on Friday, September 22nd .

A regular hit at the Town Centre Food Festival are the popular Taste and Ale Trails, giving visitors the chance to try tasty treats from around 20 town centre restaurants, cafes, bars and pubs across the historic town.

Stratforward events manager Ruth Wood said: "We’re over the moon that Loxleys are supporting one of the highlights of our events calendar again this year. We’ve listened to feedback from previous events and the 2017 town centre food festival is all about local  - from regional producers to local up-and-coming chefs and a real showcase of some of the food and drink businesses we have right here in Stratford. With that in mind, it’s more apt than ever that our key event sponsor is a much-loved local business.” 

 From left to right Stratforward director Joseph Baconnet, Loxleys general manager Jonathan Lea and Loxleys sous chef Chris Butler.

Record-breaking River Festival

18
Jul 2017

Stratford packed as crowds soak up record-breaking River Festival

The hot dogs were sizzling and the Pimms flowing as record crowds packed into Stratford over the weekend to bask in sunshine at the busiest River Festival to date. Footfall figures smashed previous records, 70,000 - 80,000 people coming into Stratford over the weekend, compared to 60,000 last year.

It was the ninth annual event, organised by Stratforward – Stratford’s Business Improvement District – pulling in the crowds to enjoy live music, food and drink, a huge selection of stalls and plenty of fun and games celebrating all things riverside on the Recreation Ground.

Stratford was packed throughout the two days as visitors from home and abroad soaked up the atmosphere - and the sunshine - at what has rapidly become one of the region’s leading free festivals, and one of the biggest events in the local calendar. Since it started in 2008 the River Festival has grown and grown. Back then there were six stalls – this year there were more than 120; a unique opportunity for local businesses and organisations to showcase their town.

Traders have reported 2017 as their best year yet, thousands of people browsing and buying at the craft market and sampling the huge variety of food and drink on offer, from pancakes to prosecco.

At the One Elm’s pop-up pub, the drinks were in full flow. “It was a record-breaking year for us.” Mat Faulkner said.“The Saturday was absolutely packed - I have never seen anything like it in all my years in hospitality. It was just awesome.” Demand was in fact so high that the pop-up pub had to very quickly re-stock its supplies of Purity and Church Farm ales, coming close to running out on day one.

The tills were ringing over in the craft market too with Jo Sainsbury, owner of Henley Street gift shop Bright Ideas, also saying it was the busiest year she had ever seen. And not only was she making sales from her River Festival stall, but over in town too.

“We’ve done the River Festival eight times now and this was by far the busiest,” she said. “Sales were up at our shop in town too.”

The River Festival also attracted more charities than ever before. More than 30 attended to set out their stalls and fundraise through plenty of fun and games. Many other charities were there as part of a ‘Volunteer Village’ funded by Stratford Town Trust, giving them a presence and an opportunity to chat to and recruit potential volunteers.

Rachel Key, Hub Manager at Tyler House, said it meant a lot to be involved. “We had a fabulous weekend as part of Stratford Town Trust's Volunteer Village, recruiting for Stratford Samaritans and the other groups that use Tyler House. It was great to see old friends and meet so many new ones interested in giving their time to be a lifeline for someone else.”

Also new for 2017 was the Town Centre Treasure Trail, organised by BID Business Magic Alley. “The Great Stratford River Festival Treasure Hunt” took participants around the town and to local businesses picking up clues. Entries are still being collected – but Magic Alley’s Dave Matthews is expecting big numbers. “We certainly saw a lot of people taking part and coming into town. We set ourselves high targets for what we wanted to achieve over the weekend and we reached those targets on both days. The River Festival was an astounding success.”

The family area was packed, youngsters making the most of the face-painting, swing boat rides and climbing wall. On the Avon itself, more than 80 boats were moored up, flags and bunting proudly flying.World-class live music played throughout the weekend too, on the Bandstand and on the Acoustic Community Stage, sponsored by Costco. Cotswold based 9-piece funk and soul band Kinky Farnham, returned to headline on the main stage on the Saturday night, before the town was lit-up with a fireworks extravaganza.

Security had been stepped up throughout the weekend – with additional staff and random vehicle and bag checks. Organisers worked closely with Warwickshire Police to ensure safety and reassure festival-goers.

Joe Baconnet, Stratforward’s Director, said: “We had a lot of favourable comments about the additional security and how appreciative people were.  The event was a great success and the security presence was a key part of that.  We also had a lot of lovely comments about the police presence all over town.

“It was just a fantastic weekend, with a great atmosphere throughout. We were pleased and astounded by the attendance figures, no doubt helped by the glorious sunshine. Our traders reported it was their best year ever - on both sides of the river - and what’s really important is the long-lasting impact this event has too; it showcases Stratford far and wide and encourages visitors to come back again and again. Next year is going to be our 10th River Festival and we’re already looking forward it.  Thank you to the public and businesses who have taken it to their heart and helped make it the huge success it is.”

The 10th River Festival will be held on June 30th and July 1st 2018.