Details of Henley Street improvement project revealed

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Shakespeare's Birthplace in Henley Street, Stratford-upon-Avon. Photo: Mark Williamson.

A glimpse of Henley Street’s future as a world class tourist venue was revealed this month, with details of a huge £1.2million investment revealed.

A major upgrade of the street, is aimed at ensuring Stratford can continue to attract visitors amid growing competition from Shakespeare’s Globe in London.

At the heart of the project is a new ‘destination eatery’ called Will’s Kitchen, which will occupy 43 Henley Street, directly opposite and just yards from the Shakespeare Birthplace.

The building is currently occupied by Café Valerie, though should the project be given the green light the café chain would leave at the expiry of its lease.

Aside from Will’s Kitchen, new hostile vehicle mitigation measures will be installed to improve public safety and improvements to the public realm such as new lighting, seating, pavements and planters would be introduced.

The transformation of Henley Street will be funded partly through a £462,000 grant from the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership, with the rest coming from SDC and SBT.

This week Stratford District Council agreed to provide their share of money for the project, with SBT set to make their decision soon.

The fact that such a project could be delivered in time for Coventry’s year as the UK’s Capital of Culture in 2021, was believed to have been an influential factor in the CWLEP funding being awarded.

A report on the project put before Cabinet this month explains that SBT is facing a serious challenge’ from investment being made at the Globe in London.

It mentions that a premises such as Will’s Kitchen would potentially open up Henley Street to the evening economy.

According to the document, the premises will be more than just an eatery, it will provide a venue for workshops, music, exhibitions, performances and much more.

Philippa Rawlinson, director of operations at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, said: “One of the big challenges we have is getting visitors to venture out of London, destinations like the Globe continue to invest and we simply can’t stand still, we need to continue to invest and improve the visitor experience in Stratford. Stratford will always be the birthplace of Shakespeare, we’re not going anywhere and this is about investing in the long-term future of the town and Henley Street.

“Henley Street does look tired, some of the paved areas need sorting out and areas such as lighting could be improved. The hostile vehicle measures currently in place are not permanent and they’re not perfect.

“Will’s Kitchen is still a concept which is subject to approval, but should it be approved we are aiming to open in autumn 2019. It will be so much more than just a café, it’s not just a money making scheme, it will offer something different and the location, so close to the Birthplace, was a very important factor for us.

“This project is something we have been looking into for the past 18 months. We were approached by SDC about applying for money from the LEP because they wanted to submit an application for a project that was ‘shovel ready’ and would boost the local economy – this demonstrated both.

“Just under 30 per cent of the cost of establishing Will’s Kitchen will come from the CWLEP, we will fund the rest. The investment will help other local businesses and boost the local economy, which is exactly the kind of thing the CWLEP should be funding.”

A Michelin star catering consultant has already had input into the proposals for Will’s Kitchen and Philippa said that although SBT were not aiming to make it a Michelin starred premises, it would offer high quality local food, prepared by skilled chefs.

Apprentices would also be offered and a number of new jobs would be created.

The investment in Stratford by the CWLEP will help answer critics of the organisation who in the past have accused it of ignoring the town in favour of funding projects elsewhere.

Last year there was disappointment that the CWLEP opted not to provide £2.7million in funding for much-needed improvements to Birmingham Road, a project the county council eventually agreed to pick up the tab for.

Cllr Mark Cargill, deputy leader of Stratford District Council, said: “This joint bid by Stratford District Council and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (SBT), has been accepted in principle by the LEP, if the match funding as proposed is agreed.

“The bids on this occasion were restricted to Culture and Tourism and this funding will allow for major improvements to Henley Street which is a key tourist destination in Stratford. It is acknowledged that Henley Street has not kept pace with modern visitor expectations and needs a major upgrade.

“If fully adopted, the proposals, still under development, should see a significant improvement both in the visitor experience and a potential increase in jobs. This is one of a number of successful bids made by this District Council of late and demonstrates the excellent working relationship we have with our funding bodies. This is only one of other significant works going on in Stratford, others include the improvements to the Birmingham Road, where funding is already in place with works starting during 2019.”