Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire
PUBLISHED: 11:39 16 December 2010 | UPDATED: 11:40 28 February 2013
When the famous and the discerning profess admiration for a town, it's a recommendation worth having.
When the famous and the discerning profess admiration for a town, it's a recommendation worth having. Chipping Norton has no shortage of celebrity fans: Blur bassist, ex-vegetarian farmer-cum-cheesemaker (and other titles too numerous to fit in) Alex James speaks highly of the town's butcher, Beadle's, in Market Street: "Trev's my man", he says. Crime writer Mark Billingham backs the independent bookshop Jaffe and Neale: "This is how a bookshop should be. They know their staff and they know their customers." And Jeremy Clarkson loves, well, Jeremy Clarkson. But that's OK, because he's now a town fixture, too.
Don't be dazzled, though. One of the beauties of Chipping Norton is the fact that it has such an interesting range of residents and visitors - as The Theatre's audience development officer, Stephen Birch, will testify. "There's a very mixed population here: the extremely well off; retired people; and also some areas that are challenging. It's rewarding when we feel we've had all those different types of people through the door."
The Theatre is certainly working hard at doing just that. In September, for example, you can go and see a special screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey, in honour of the 40th anniversary of the moon landings, with an introduction by space guru Dr Ian Griffin (on the 1st); enjoy a Harry Potter film (22nd-23rd); or watch the amazing Anjali Dance Company - the UK's leading dancers with learning disabilities (24th).
The Theatre is not the only one to think variety is the key to success. Gary Brewerton, chairman of the Guild of Commerce, agrees - especially when times are hard. "Things are very tight out there," he says, "and many shops are finding it difficult to get people through the door. But providing we can keep the diversity, we can keep the interest, and we have got an excellent cross-section of businesses here."
Chippy - as it's affectionately known - has certainly got a lot going for it. The arrival of Sainsbury's has been a boost, says Mr Brewerton. And the town's position as 'Gateway to the Cotswolds' has ensured there's still a plentiful supply of visitors from home and abroad. "The hotels and B&Bs are managing to keep up their occupancy rates because the Cotswolds are so popular. And we do have quality here. The bookshop is proactive and gets involved in the community. The Theatre works hard and it does things so well. If visitors come in to see a play or use the bookshop caf, for example, the chances are they'll then pop into another shop and spend something there."
That's a phenomenon The Theatre's Stephen Birch has experienced for himself. "I went out for dinner in Chipping Norton at 6pm before a show," he says. "The restaurant was full, and every person I spoke to was coming to The Theatre. So the restaurant had the opportunity to sell each table twice. Would all those people have been in there had the town not had a theatre? Probably not. But, equally, The Theatre wouldn't sell so many tickets if there weren't such good restaurants in town."