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.