Bourton-on-the-Water, Cheltenham

PUBLISHED: 11:56 16 December 2010 | UPDATED: 16:04 20 February 2013

Enjoying the sun

Enjoying the sun

You know those people who say they wouldn't live in Bourton-on-the-Water because of all the tourists? Well, maybe they ought to think again.Words by Katie jarvis, photography by Shaun Thompson.

For the 'Venice of the Cotswolds', recently voted one of England's most attractive villages, is not just a pretty face. Alongside the gift shops and attractions, you'll discover it's far from just a place to buy a souvenir tea towel. For here, also, are the essentials: post office, bank, chemist, dentist, ironmonger's, baker's, and so on. And, says Norman Jones, there's no mystery as to why the village has managed to retain them.


"It's too easy, if you are a resident, to convince yourself that the crowds of visitors are taking away from your village. It's quite the reverse. They are providing income for the businesses and facilities that, as locals, you enjoy. Lots of communities of this size have nothing."


Do other villagers agree? They certainly do, for 12 of them work for nothing on a regular basis at the Visitor Information Centre, and three more - including Mr Jones - are volunteer directors. While other village organizations, such as the Chamber of Commerce, are helping to fund it.


It's a case of joined-up thinking: recognizing the value of facilities across the whole community. For the Visitor Information Centre not only answers tourists' questions; it additionally provides services locals can take advantage of, such as booking theatre, train and coach tickets, and advertising local events.


Norman Jones is also chairman of the Chamber of Commerce (his wife, Patsi, owns The Looking Glass antique shop in Victoria Street), which last year set up a new business club for networking and sharing expertise. More than 80 people turned up to the inaugural event. "There's no denying that it can be difficult in difficult commercial times," he says. "And it's very easy to say 'I'm really sorry but I'm so busy trying to make my business viable...' But once you start to make things happen within the community, you'll find you are joined by like-minded people, and there's a natural flow."


According to figures, footfall in Bourton's visitor centre for the first four months of this year is up 21 percent - and those encouraging figures are borne out in other ways. The Cotswold Perfumery makes unique fine English fragrances: and it's their busiest year ever. "When you are small, you only need a few extra good customers on the wholesale side and it changes everything; at the moment, we are rushed off our feet with orders from Harrods and Selfridges," says perfumer, John Stephen. "Our fragrances even feature in three window displays onto Oxford Street at Selfridges this week, which is brilliant. Harrods sales put us at number 8, and that is competing with the likes of Chanel, Estee Lauder, and so on."


The perfumery benefits from the many overseas customers who are still visiting the village, which is also expecting a good influx of Brits taking their holidays within the UK. But John Stephen never loses sight of the locals who regularly support him - another example of Bourton balance.


David Barker, the proprietor of Hartwells in the High Street, agrees. Although he bought the business 16 years ago, Hartwells has been in the village for 200 years. "It's always been an ironmonger's shop but, in recent years, we've diversified quite a bit.


"As well as ironmongery, we now do cycle hire, gifts, kitchenware and pet items. There's a greater profit on the gift items, but we still have the traditional hardware, which means we get a good mix of local trade. If one line isn't selling, another one will be."


It's a sentiment Norman Jones backs to the hilt. "The essence of the vibrancy of our community lies in its facilities," he says. "And the survival of those facilities is down to the support from tourists."


For the 'Venice of the Cotswolds', recently voted one of England's most attractive villages, is not just a pretty face. Alongside the gift shops and attractions, you'll discover it's far from just a place to buy a souvenir tea towel. For here, also, are the essentials: post office, bank, chemist, dentist, ironmonger's, baker's, and so on. And, says Norman Jones, there's no mystery as to why the village has managed to retain them.


"It's too easy, if you are a resident, to convince yourself that the crowds of visitors are taking away from your village. It's quite the reverse. They are providing income for the businesses and facilities that, as locals, you enjoy. Lots of communities of this size have nothing."


Do other villagers agree? They certainly do, for 12 of them work for nothing on a regular basis at the Visitor Information Centre, and three more - including Mr Jones - are volunteer directors. While other village organizations, such as the Chamber of Commerce, are helping to fund it.


It's a case of joined-up thinking: recognizing the value of facilities across the whole community. For the Visitor Information Centre not only answers tourists' questions; it additionally provides services locals can take advantage of, such as booking theatre, train and coach tickets, and advertising local events.


Norman Jones is also chairman of the Chamber of Commerce (his wife, Patsi, owns The Looking Glass antique shop in Victoria Street), which last year set up a new business club for networking and sharing expertise. More than 80 people turned up to the inaugural event. "There's no denying that it can be difficult in difficult commercial times," he says. "And it's very easy to say 'I'm really sorry but I'm so busy trying to make my business viable...' But once you start to make things happen within the community, you'll find you are joined by like-minded people, and there's a natural flow."


According to figures, footfall in Bourton's visitor centre for the first four months of this year is up 21 percent - and those encouraging figures are borne out in other ways. The Cotswold Perfumery makes unique fine English fragrances: and it's their busiest year ever. "When you are small, you only need a few extra good customers on the wholesale side and it changes everything; at the moment, we are rushed off our feet with orders from Harrods and Selfridges," says perfumer, John Stephen. "Our fragrances even feature in three window displays onto Oxford Street at Selfridges this week, which is brilliant. Harrods sales put us at number 8, and that is competing with the likes of Chanel, Estee Lauder, and so on."


The perfumery benefits from the many overseas customers who are still visiting the village, which is also expecting a good influx of Brits taking their holidays within the UK. But John Stephen never loses sight of the locals who regularly support him - another example of Bourton balance.


David Barker, the proprietor of Hartwells in the High Street, agrees. Although he bought the business 16 years ago, Hartwells has been in the village for 200 years. "It's always been an ironmonger's shop but, in recent years, we've diversified quite a bit.


"As well as ironmongery, we now do cycle hire, gifts, kitchenware and pet items. There's a greater profit on the gift items, but we still have the traditional hardware, which means we get a good mix of local trade. If one line isn't selling, another one will be."


It's a sentiment Norman Jones backs to the hilt. "The essence of the vibrancy of our community lies in its facilities," he says. "And the survival of those facilities is down to the support from tourists."

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