Crowds flood to Stratford’s biggest party
Saturday summer showers didn’t dampen spirits at Stratford’s annual River Festival, and tens of thousands of visitors flooded into town to soak up live music and the chilled atmosphere at the popular family-friendly event on the banks of the Avon.
Around 55,000 visitors came to town to enjoy two days of spectacular music, food, beautiful narrow boats and stunning fireworks. To coincide with the festival, Bell Court in the town centre also ran a summer beach themed event with free face painting and activities. Both events retained their reputation as safe and peaceful, passing without incident.
Whilst visitors browsed stalls and sampled some of Stratford’s culinary delights, talented local bands helped to create the perfect chilled ambience at both the main bandstand and acoustic stage, before upbeat performers including local bands The Midnight Sapphires and The Payback, and headliners The SKAlectrics, got the crowds dancing as the sun went down.
Long-serving festival MC, Steve Steinhouse, said this year’s attendance figures were a testament to the River Festival’s popularity: “I can’t believe how many people came despite the weather and the many other local events taking place at the same time.” He added: “The River Festival is a people’s festival, and really celebrated by the locals - it’s wonderful.”
This year’s award-winning festival boasted a staggering 92 stalls offering some of the best food and drink in the area, as well as an eclectic artisan craft market, and interactive charity and local business stalls.
Funded by 420 town centre businesses who are members of Stratforward BID, the River Festival aims to bring more people into Stratford to take advantage of the independent shops, high street stores, restaurants, cafés and bars.
Some of the funders who attended for the first time this year included; Cam & Co of Shrieves Walk which sold mouthwatering Caribbean food; Cosy Chic Boutique, the luxury independent pet boutique in Bell Court; Diva Brows & Beauty which offered festival make up; Peter Clarke Estate Agents which kindly sponsored the Samaritans stall and ran a popular fun stall; and Escape Live who’s activities were a huge hit with families, particularly the escape rooms event which offered amazing prizes to those who found keys hidden around the festival site.
Ewa Gourkan, the new owner of For Something Different in Stratford, ran a successful festival stall. She attributed the festival’s popularity to its atmosphere: “It’s got a really good vibe, very chilled.”
Alex Clarke, manager of Stratford’s Sue Ryder charity shop, said: “We first came to the River Festival about five years ago and people loved our pop-up shop, so we’ve been coming back ever since. It’s a good opportunity to heighten awareness and chat to people who wouldn’t normally come to our town shop.” Fellow member charity, The Shakespeare Hospice also ran a small pop up shop.
Regular attendees Shabby Chic Sister returned to promote their independent local boutique, as did Karl Stallard Furniture from Greenhill, with Karl stating: “It’s great for us as a retailer in town as it puts us in front of lots of new people.”
Delicious festival feasting was provided by many, including the independent fish and chip shop Fizz and Fin, which sold triple cooked chips. The Townhouse’s tender juicy steaks were so popular they sold out. Barry the Butcher’s sausage and burger stall had a queue that snaked halfway around the festival! Bella Italia’s decision to sell not just pasta this year but wood-fired pizza as well proved a welcome one. Roly’s Fudge Pantry catered for the sweet-toothed with the crumbliest fudge around. And all made in their Stratford high street shop.
Traders had stepped up to tackle the huge quantity of non-recyclable waste left behind each year and impressively they took significant steps to minimise the waste generated from their stalls. This dramatically reduced the amount of plastic and polystyrene used. Stratforward had asked traders for their support on this and were most impressed with the support given, which would have affected the traders' profits.
Nick Hart from The One Elm has been quenching thirsts at the festival since the very beginning, and said the festival’s famed laid-back character continued to draw back the crowds: “It’s great for the community. It brings everyone together. And for us, it gets us out there even more.”
The Encore’s festival bar also enjoyed a constant stream of customers lining up to enjoy quintessentially English Pimms, refreshing mocktails, as well as Prosecco and spirits.
Local performers, who always play a huge part in the Festival, were grateful for the chance to show off their talents to such a large and appreciative audience. Ty Hansel from Evergreen said the festival was a celebration of local music, adding, “It’s great exposure for us and an excellent excuse for everyone to come together by the river and have a good time.”
The Saturday evening was topped off by spectacular fireworks provided by the team which provided the London 2012 Olympic Firework Display; crowds were treated to a dynamic display with vibrant strobing colours, glitters, crackles and whistles!
Tor Wilkes, Marketing & Events Manager at organisers Stratforward Business Improvement District, said: “Festival feedback has been fantastic! Huge thanks to everyone involved, including our partners on the water Avon Navigation Trust; the sponsors' Purity Brewery, Duchy Homes, Avon Boating, Stratford Marina and Bancroft Cruisers. Stratford District Council as ever were very supportive.
“Our many suppliers worked tirelessly to provide a seamless event. But this event could not happen without the fabulous 420 town centre businesses who we work on behalf of. This community event happens because of them. Let’s show our support.”
Stratford River Festival 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.
The Festival was originally started to bring the river back into Stratford town centre, with many river businesses feeling that locals had abandoned the river to visitors.
Stratforward is Stratford’s Business Improvement District (BID) which represents 420 shops, cafes, pubs, restaurants and businesses in Stratford town centre.
The Beside the Seaside event has been organised by Bell Court and the businesses there to help spread the impact of the River Festival around town.
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