Stratford nightlife isn’t what it was in the past, but there are reasons to be optimistic, finds the Herald.
A STRATFORD musician said this week that the town will have to rely on people with the right vision and an entrepreneurial spirit if it wants to revive its once bustling nightlife.
Greg McLeod, who plays the drums in folk band Scratchy Beard and a rock band – as well as being a film animator – said that Stratford could not depend on officialdom to boost its night-time economy.
“There’s got to be a willingness by someone to organise something and a willingness from the audience to participate,” he told the Herald. “You need a venue that is willing to take it on and a small group of like-minded people to sit down and decide what to do.”
Despite the current gloom over Stratford’s nightlife, there does appear to be a keenness on the part of some people to get things moving in the town. This is born out by the experience of Stratford chartered surveyor Tim Cox.
Mr Cox told the Herald: “From a property point of view we do get interest from people wanting to open up a venue – not a disco, but something for more middle-aged people. Maybe a comedy club – and music and dancing.” But he added: “They can’t find suitable premises.”
The requirement for a more mature establishment for middle-aged people was echoed by Sally Bee, the writer and motivational speaker who lives in Stratford.
She told the Herald that Stratford seemed more geared towards tourists than local people. “Things close so early,” she said. “I don’t want to go home at nine at night!”
She said there was also a shortage of entertainment for young people. “There’s a whole community of kids here,” she said. “If they want a nightclub they have to go to Leamington.”
Her 19-year-old daughter Lela also bemoaned the lack of provision for young people in Stratford. “I think it could be better,” she said. “There could be more nightlife and more bars for young people – things with music you can dance to, like All Bar One at the weekend. Things like that.”
Lela, who works for an events company, said she didn’t know why young people were not being catered for. “I think they just don’t think about young people as such,” she said. “I think they just don’t know what younger people want, but even older people want it, too.
“Older people want more nightlife as well, but they just don’t know it! Once they’re in a younger environment they enjoy it. They like to feel young.”
However, Mr McLeod said Stratford lacked the right kind of venues to put on the kind of entertainment needed but cited the One Elm pub in Guild Street as a significant exception to this scenario. It had a room known as The Barn, which was perfect for events of various kinds, and the pub was encouraging its use as an entertainment venue.
He also suggested that Stratford venues should perhaps follow the example of the Hare and Hounds in King’s Heath, Birmingham. The pub had a room that could accommodate up to 200 people. “They could have just turned it into an extra pub, but they turned it into an entertainment venue instead. It’s really successful. They even get bands from America.”
Meanwhile, Jess Knights, deputy manager of the One Elm – which got a rave review from Mr McLeod – told the Herald that The Barn was used for all kinds of private events, including parties, family gatherings and weddings.
On the subject of Stratford’s nightlife, she said: “I think it’s slowly improving with places like The Embankment opening and All Bar One, but it’s gone downhill over the past few years. It’s disappointing we don’t have the places to go and have a bit of fun.
“We quite often have people here for dinner and around nine or ten o’clock they ask, ‘Where else is there to go?’ and there’s nowhere.”
Jess agreed that an entrepreneurial approach was needed. Perhaps this is where Matthew Hiscoe, the owner of Café Cocktail on the corner of Greenhill Street and Windsor Street, comes in.
A former manager at The George in Shipston, he set up Café Cocktail around a year ago. “We spotted this gap in the market for something that could provide civilised high-quality eating out,” he said. And because of the establishment’s emphasis on appealing to local people there is a loyalty scheme that offers discounts to regular customers.
However, as one of the most famous tourist destinations in the world, Stratford has an obligation to attend to its visitors, from home and abroad.
With this in mind it’s only fair to give the local tourist body the final say. Darren Tosh, operations and marketing director at Shake-speare’s England, told the Herald: “Stratford has so much to offer to visitors, and that includes the night-time economy.
“It is important to put it into context that Stratford is a wonderful, riverside market town and, therefore, has a different evening offer to bigger towns and cities in the region and beyond.
“We have some fantastic restaurants, bars and pubs – including a range of independents – as well as high-quality hotels that also feature restaurants and bars.
“Stratford has everything from riverside terraces through to independent pubs that offer live music.
“We would definitely encourage people to come and spend an evening here, enjoy a lovely meal, a drink and a stroll along the riverside.”
Rebecca Hallworth, artistic director of Stratford PlayHouse, said she believed local residents really valued having a venue for entertainment that could accommodate an audience of 450 people.
“We’re lucky to have this venue for alternative nightlife,” she said. “We have a really good variety of events we can offer to Stratford. We can still get some really good names here.”
She thought one way things could improve would be for venues throughout the town to work together to boost night life generally.