Stratford's River Festival is a Sizzling Success!
Revellers descended on a sweltering Stratford for two days of music, food and fun as the River Festival returned for its tenth year at the weekend.
The festival proved a red-hot hit with visitors and locals, with tens of thousands of people enjoying the entertainment laid on as temperatures soared to nearly 30c. Initial figures indicate that visitor numbers roughly matched last year’s record-breaking attendance of around 60,000 for the two-day extravaganza of free family fun.
Highlights included: the 100-plus boats on the River Avon; the 30-plus hours of live music and entertainment on the Bandstand and Acoustic Stages; the bustling craft market showcasing many local businesses; the ever-popular Family & Charity Area which featured activities from organisations including Escape Arts, The Shakespeare Hospice and Stratford Town Trust; a whole host of great food and drink, much of it provided by local businesses; and of course, the fantastic fireworks display on Saturday night.
Despite the volume of people, many of whom spilled into the town centre to visit local restaurants, bars and businesses, the 2018 event retained the River Festival’s reputation as a safe and family-friendly event, with not one arrest across the weekend.
The festival also proved its eco-friendly credentials, following in the footsteps of Glastonbury’s aim to go green, with paper straws on offer at several bars and the debut of ‘The Steelie’ - an alternative to plastic beer cups - at The One Elm’s bar. And thanks to a team of 50 volunteers, who included local litter picking group ‘Rubbish Friends’, the Renewal Church, boaters staying at the festival and Stratforward board members, more rubbish was recycled than ever before at this year’s event.
This year also saw the first Pirates vs Mermaids event in Stratford’s newest shopping and leisure development, Bell Court, encouraging visitors to cross the river and take in Stratford town centre and everything it has to offer.
BID director Joe Baconnet said: “What a weekend. We were thrilled to have such great weather. One of the most common comments was what a great atmosphere there was down on the riverside and it was great to see people moving across the river to enjoy some of the fantastic local businesses in the town centre. Each year both Stratforward and our members are coming up with new ideas to make sure everyone benefits from such an influx of people to Stratford. This year’s Pirates vs Mermaids festival showed it’s possible to encourage people into the town centre so businesses can take advantage of potential customers who are likely to return to our fabulous town.”
The Pirates vs Mermaids event was organised by Bell Court along with business owners in the leisure development, including family attraction Magic Alley which sold a special rum-flavour butter beer created exclusively for the weekend. It also included a fancy dress competition, live music, and a showing of swashbuckling classic Pirates of the Caribbean at Everyman cinema. Dave Matthews, owner of Magic Alley, said: “Stratford offers such a unique selection of festivals and events that there is something for everyone. The River Festival, which is the crowning glory of the festivals, spans the town and draws on the heritage of its full name, Stratford-upon-Avon.”
Down on riverside, it was all hands on deck for The One Elm, which ran one of the festival bars while The Encore took the helm of the other. The Encore served around 5,000 drinks, including Pimm’s, Prosecco and spirits, to thirsty punters while The One Elm’s General manager Mat Faulkner said they poured around 12,000 pints of beer, lager and cider to thirsty punters, as well as dishing out nearly 5,000 burgers. The pub also debuted the environmentally-friendly ‘Steelie’ cup as an alternative to plastic cups.
“We’ve been looking for an alternative for plastic cups for some time,” said Mat. “We were literally visited by these guys on Wednesday and they managed to get us 100 cups with both our logo and Purity Brewery’s, to test run at the River Festival. They went down really well and we’ll be having these instead of plastic next year.” Mat, who even drafted in his family to help, said: “We still have to run the pub at the same time and it was really busy. We sold 32 barrels of lager in four hours on Saturday which is just shy of 2,000 pints. I had to get Sunday’s delivery on Saturday night.”
Visitors chose from an array of food to cater for all tastes, including stalls from local butcher Barry the Butcher, Carluccio’s, Bella Italia, The One Elm and The Townhouse, Hathaway Tea Rooms and Roly’s Fudge Pantry.
Rick Allen, the owner of Hathaway Tea Rooms, said it had been a fantastic weekend both at the festival site and at the High Street tea rooms. "We were packed on Saturday,” he said. “We took as much in our tearoom as we did at the festival which is unusual. I think it was so busy at the festival that people migrated up into town."
Dave Baldrey, the owner of Greenhill Street’s Fizz and Fin, enjoyed lengthy queues at their River Festival stand, selling around 2,000 portions of fish and chips. He said: “It’s been brilliant. Nothing else brings these many people to Stratford, it’s a brilliant event.”
Alongside food and drink, visitors enjoyed the chance to browse stalls from some of Stratford’s own businesses including The Minories boutique clothing shop Shabby Chic Sister, Greenhill Street’s Karl Stallard Furniture, Sheep Street hairdresser Nashwhite, Meer Street’s For Something Different and Bright Ideas, based on Henley Street.
Karl Stallard, from Karl Stallard furniture, said it was a way of getting the business in front of thousands of potential customers. “It’s successful for us as a retailer in town because not everybody knows we’re there,” he said. “We’re on the edge of town so it helps get our name out there. It’s a promotion for the business as it puts us in front of lots of people.”
Jo Sainsbury, the proprietor of Bright Ideas, added: “It’s been another amazing River Festival. The visitors really enjoy it and even if they don’t go into the town, they plan to come back to Stratford. Ten years in and it’s getting better all the time.”
The festival is organised by Stratforward Business Improvement District (BID) on behalf of 430 town centre shops, cafes, restaurants and other businesses. It has won multiple awards including the Pride of Stratford Tourism Initiative of the Year Award in both 2016 and 2018 and Stratford's Best Festival by Stratford-upon-Avon Online in 2016 and 2017 - as voted by members of the public.
River Festival 1 - Crowds enjoying the River Festival in Saturday afternoon's sunshine.
River Festival 2 - David Baldrey and Amy Haydney from Fizz and Fin did a roaring trade.
River Festival 3 - The One Elm's Mat Faulkner, manager, Ollie Coulson, Maddie Guarino and Nick Hunt pictured with their Purity ‘Steelies’.
River Festival 4 - Magic Alley’s Dave Matthews taking part in the Pirates vs Mermaids Festival at Bell Court.
2. This year was the tenth Stratford River Festival. The event is one of a number of popular festivals organised by Stratforward’s award-winning events team each year. The River Festival has won multiple awards including the Pride of Stratford Tourism Initiative of the Year Award in both 2016 and 2018 and Stratford's Best Festival by Stratford-upon-Avon Online in 2016 and 2017 - as voted by members of the public.
3. Stratforward is Stratford’s Business Improvement District (BID) which represents 430 shops, cafes, pubs, restaurants and businesses in Stratford town centre. Members involved in the 2018 River Festival included: Magic Alley, The One Elm, The Encore, The Townhouse, Timeless Tales, Fizz and Fin, Barry the Butcher, Carluccio’s, Bella Italia, Hathaway Tea Rooms, Roly’s Fudge Pantry, Shabby Chic Sister, For Something Different, Bright Ideas, Nashwhite, Nando’s, Escape Arts, the Royal Shakespeare Company and Stratford Town Trust, Farringdon and Forbes, Karl Stallard, Avon Boating, The Shakespeare Hospice, Sue Ryder.
4. The Pirates vs Mermaids event was organised by Bell Court and the businesses there to help spread the impact of the River Festival around town.