Plans to reschedule Stratford’s Runaway Mop have been met with an angry backlash from town centre businesses who fear a potentially devastating impact on trade.
last week Stratford District Council revealed that discussions are underway to hold the Runaway Mop on a Friday and Saturday, rather than a Thursday and Friday as usual, amid reports that the event is struggling.
However the idea has not been welcomed by businesses or Stratforward BID, who believe such a move would effectively shut down the town centre for two weekends in October- already a difficult time for many retailers and restaurants.
The minutes of the March 21st Market Forum meeting reveal that instead of taking place on a Thursday and Friday the Runaway Mop is expected to be trialled on Friday 25th and Saturday 26th October.
It would remain on Wood Street, Greenhill Street and Rother Street.
The minutes state that “after a meeting with Bob Wilson’s Funfairs (The Runaway Mop operator) it was agreed that the Runaway Mop was struggling.”
Joe Baconnet, director of Stratforward BID said: “As far as I understand the dates of the Mop and the days of the Runaway Mop are historic and have been set by custom and practice. So I was concerned to be told that there has been an agreement to move the Runaway Mop operational days to a Friday and Saturday – only two weeks after the Mop runs over a weekend.
“I also understand that the Friday Charter and Saturday Markets, that normally run on the Rother Market, will be or may be moved onto Bridge Street for the duration of the Runaway Mop. This will effectively shut Stratford town centre for two weekends in October. This is bound to have an impact on every business in town. It is really disappointing that there appears to have been no consultation with the businesses in the town about this plan.
“Having worked alongside Showmen’s Guild Members for many years, I appreciate that the Showmen who make their livings at the Mop and Runaway Mop are under pressure, but the relief of that pressure should not come at the expense of other town centre users, businesses or market businesses who are already suffering economic distress.
“Stratford’s streets are not paved with gold and all of our businesses are working hard to make & keep themselves viable given the considerable economic turmoil we currently face.”
Businesses also appear deeply frustrated about the idea.
Massimo Bertoli, who runs Café Vineria, said: “I think this idea is madness, Friday and Saturday are my two busiest days and when the Runaway Mop is here it’s parked right outside, I can’t operate, I will have to close down.
“Businesses should have been consulted on this, but they just do what they want. If I get the opportunity I would ask the council to think about this again.”
Flair Gougoulia, of El Greco, added: “Although the Mop and Runaway Mop are an important tradition in Stratford dating back hundreds of years they do cause problems for businesses.
“Aside from the logistical challenges of deliveries when the Mops are on, the real damage is the effect in trade. Many local people simply avoid coming into town for the whole of the Mop season which in turn has a dramatic impact on income for many businesses at an already quiet time of the year.
“The most damaging years for businesses is when the Mop falls over a weekend, like this year. This is because they lose the two busiest trading days of the week. To now propose to have the Runaway Mop over a second weekend will double that already potentially devastating impact.
“This autumn looks like it is going to be tougher than ever for businesses in Stratford in what are already difficult trading times.”
She added that a lack of shows in the main RSC Theatre during much of September and October, would also make things tougher for businesses.
The RSC confirmed that preparations for the major musical ‘The Boy in the Dress’ meant that the main theatre auditorium would not host shows between 1st September and 7th November, though it would hold a series of one-night comedy gigs between 12-21st September.
However shows will still be held at the Swan Theatre through much of this period.
Explaining the changes to the Runaway Mop this week, Emily Wilson of Bob Wilson’s Funfairs, said: “We’ve decided to reschedule the runaway MOP to a Friday and Saturday so more children can get the chance to come on a Saturday and don’t decide to take days off school, it’s a move to get more people to come along.”
According to the Market Forum minutes, the future scheduling of the Runaway Mop appears very much up in the air at the moment, with discussions ongoing with the operator over whether it should remain a two-day event.
Love it or hate it the Mop and Runaway Mop fairs have long been a part of Stratford’s history, with the town originally being granted a charter to hold the event by Edward VI in 1544.
Traditionally the event was concerned with the hiring of agricultural and domestic labourers.
The minutes of the Market Forum also reveal other changes are in store for the town with the 15 yearly markets on Henley Street now no longer going ahead.
Instead two special event markets will take place on Waterside, one between 28th-30th May entitled ‘Down at the Farm on Waterside’, and another between 13th-15th August called ‘Stratford-upon-Oz’.
The minutes also show there is also growing concern about the cost of security for events such as the Victorian Christmas Market.