Cirencester's wish for 2018
PUBLISHED: 15:37 23 February 2018 | UPDATED: 15:42 23 February 2018
© Thousand Word Media
Tracy Spiers talks to the market town's traders about their wishes for the year ahead
It is home to one of the largest known examples of a Roman amphitheatre, it has tremendous architectural buildings, a thriving art community, a new look Market Place and a plethora of exciting and dynamic independent businesses. As the charming Cotswold market town of Cirencester heads into 2018, there is a positive vibe about the place as more and more visitors seek out its unique riches.
Cirencester is one of my favourite haunts all year round whether its picnicking in the spacious Abbey grounds in summer, seeking out the famous decorated hares on the Cotswold Hare Trail (initiated by Cirencester), walking through the fascinating alleyways to discover specialist shops and boutiques, marvelling at the artistic talent and craftsmanship of the numerous local artists or simply soaking up the history of this picturesque town.
Last year Cirencester marked Abbey900, a festival of events to celebrate the 900th Anniversary of the founding of the Augustinian Abbey of St Mary, in Cirencester. The town also experienced major changes to Market Place. The pavement was replaced with York stone and half of the square was pedestrianised so both lanes of traffic now travel down one side of the street, allowing more space for markets and community events. It caused disruption at the time, but with this now behind them, traders are confident 2018 will be a positive one.
Julie Townsend, owner of The Candy Man - which stocks amongst its sweet assortment, an amazing choice of liquorice for those like me who have an acquired taste for the stuff - is part of the Black Jack Street business contingent.
“It’s a great community especially here where all the traders get on with everybody. We are a close community,” says Julie.
“I know efforts are being made to get a multi-storey but my wish is that it will not only be completed but in use.”
The decked car park she mentions is proposed for The Waterloo site in Cirencester. Additionally, until March 31, shoppers can park for free after 3pm in The Brewery and The Forum car parks. On Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays over 200 free parking spaces are available at the council offices, Trinity Road and the Tetbury Road offices at St James’s Place.
One business in Black Jack Street which has been a popular destination for over 50 years is Keith’s Coffee Shop, where one can indulge in speciality chocolates, cakes, jams, pickles, teas and coffees. For the past 15 years, the shop has been owned by Tricia Ferguson.
“Cirencester has always been a very peaceful Cotswold town where people have time for you and a wealth of unique places to shop. It’s a lovely place to come to work,” says Tricia.
Whilst she agrees the ‘free after three’ rule works for some, she is concerned that the older generation want to be able to park closer to town before that hour. “I do think the parking needs to be adjusted to sort all ages,” she adds.
A few doors away, Phil Day, owner of Xanadu which specialises in fair trade, painted furniture and household gifts has been trading in the town for the past five years.
“It’s a beautiful place, I love the friendliness of the people and all the independent shops,” says Phil. “My hope for this coming year is that independent businesses remain, are protected and that people support them.”
Talking of independents, Cirencester is fast becoming a shopping destination on par with Cheltenham for its unique mix of specialist businesses. Ben Hoggett owns New Wave Fish Shop with business partner Tim Boyd from Fairford’s New Wave Seafood. Based in Dyer Street, this traditional fishmonger and fine food shop is a favourite amongst those passionate about seafood as fresh deliveries of fish and shellfish arrive daily direct from the coast.
“Cirencester is certainly a happening place, with great independent shops and an interesting range of people. Our customers are European, Chinese, Asian and from all walks of life and they love the fresh fish, lobsters, smoked salmon, oysters, crab meat and fresh olives and pasta we serve,” says Ben.
But, like his fellow traders, there is only one request he has for 2018.
“I just wish we can have enough car parking so that people who want to come, can come here.”
I must add here that in my attempt to chat to traders face to face, I drove over to Cirencester on a Friday, perhaps the busiest day of the week. After driving round every car park and street looking for somewhere to park, I failed miserably and was forced to drive home again. Apparently this frustration is shared by others seeking to visit Cirencester. But being the determined person I am and not one to give up, I drove back first thing Sunday, found a space and happily spent a few hours meeting members of the business community and browsing the eclectic mix of shops.
Town Mayor Nigel Robbins empathises with both shoppers and traders and recognises the need for more parking. He is not on the parking board which determines what will happen, but when work finally starts on the multi-storey car park at The Waterloo site, he says temporary provision will be made at the Rugby Club for seasoned ticket holders – that is those who work in the town. He only wishes there had been more foresight over parking years ago.
It appears then Cirencester is a victim of its own success. The fact that people want to come here is a positive issue to celebrate and Nigel says the town is looking great at the start of 2018.
“There is no doubt that the market has been revived from the point of death and the new Market Place has new stalls being set up every month. It has created vitality and interest,” he says.
“We have a number of Syrian refugee families here and one of the newest stalls at the market involves one of those families selling Syrian food.”
In the coming months plans are on the cards for a long-awaited cinema complex, and Cirencester’s Corinium Museum has received substantial Lottery funding to help create new Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Early Roman interactive galleries along with a new Discovery Centre and garden. Many people enjoy the town’s historic heritage and come to the town to see Cirencester Amphitheatre, built outside the walls of the town early in the 2nd century AD.
Another key building much younger in age, is the former Cirencester Brewery. Exactly 40 years ago, this was transformed into a craft hub for adults and children. Known as New Brewery Arts, over 200 courses and workshops take place here every year in a huge variety of crafts including stone carving, ceramics, willow, textiles, jewellery making, printmaking, bookbinding, drawing and painting.
“As a registered charity - the only free cultural activity in Cirencester - New Brewery Arts works inventively to continually deliver creativity to the community,” says CEO Beth Alden.
“This year in 2018 the Gallery brings a major exhibition of an icon of British interiors - Lucienne Day: Living Design (March 17-May 20) which celebrates the life and work of one of most influential designers of the post-war generation. The story of her career will unfold in a series of photographs and archive materials courtesy of the Robin & Lucienne Day Foundation.”
As well as its thriving Craft Shop stocked with high quality craft from respected makers from across Britain, New Brewery Arts has seven makers’ studios, an inviting Café and The Barrel Store, a stylish 14-room hostel which can be booked on an individual or exclusive-use group basis.
Paul Hinsley who runs Café Mosaic in the Woolmarket with wife Lesley says he is confident there will be an increase in visitors to Cirencester now the new-look Market Place is finished.
“Cirencester is now competing with the likes of Cheltenham. We have the independents but we also have the Roman history. I think we have been complacent about it, but it is our unique selling point and it is something other towns don’t have,” he says.
Ian Crees and Paul Coyle run The Market Garden in Dyer Street, an independent greengrocer selling fresh fruit, veg, Hobbs House bread, flowers and plants. They admit the past 18 months have been hard due to the competition from Lidl and Aldi and the upheaval of the market area.
“My resolution for 2018 is to work on the marketing and social media side of the business,” says Ian.
“Cirencester is a great place to come for the day. We have customers who come from Wales, Bristol, Oxford and further South but they don’t want to drive round and round in circles looking for somewhere to park.”
“So many traders are doing a great job with their businesses but we do need to ensure our customers can park.”
And so we are back to parking, something Anna Offord wants more of as her 2018 wish. She founded Plum Boutique in October 2009 with her husband David Allberry.
“We have a lot to be positive about in Cirencester, we don’t have many empty shops and there are lots of eateries to experience. I have enjoyed seeing new businesses like Biggie Best and Law & Co open around me in the past year and we have just had another great asset arrive in the French brasserie chain Côte,” says Anna.
“I think we have a beautiful Cotswold town, lots of exciting designer shops, a fantastic arts centre and museum. There is something for everyone here but personally my wish for 2018 is that we have more parking to cope with the growing numbers of people who want to come and shop here.”