Charlotte Lyster and Julie Howe, Stroud Fringe Festival

Bank Gardens stage

Bank Gardens stage - Credit: Archant

Stroud Fringe is celebrating 21 years of bringing music and mayhem to the town. We talk with organisers Charlotte (Lotte) Lyster and Julie Howe to find out more...

Stroud Fringe organisers Julie Howe and Charlotte Lyster

Stroud Fringe organisers Julie Howe and Charlotte Lyster - Credit: Archant

Happy 21st Anniversary! Tell us about the history of Stroud Fringe.

Lotte: It is indeed the 21st birthday of Stroud Fringe, and Julie and I are delighted to be organising Stroud’s biggest party of the year! There have been lots of wonderful people and committees running the Fringe over the years, including local clog dancing troupe, Roughshod, who did a fabulous job running it for a few years when it was more of a folk festival - they even organised an attempt at the World Record for the most people clog dancing. Many previous organisers have gone on to run other festivals and events - my mentor has been Sue Torres who now runs Wicked Events and is a director of the Association of Festival Organisers.

Block Party at Stroud Fringe

Block Party at Stroud Fringe - Credit: Archant

How long have you been involved with Stroud Fringe?

Lotte: I’ve been on the periphery of the Fringe for quite a few years, running bars as The Prince Albert and sponsoring and booking the bands for a stage one year. It was only natural to take on the whole shebang when the committee stepped down after the 2014 festival.

Julie: This is our third year running the Fringe now, along with lots of amazing volunteers.

Facepainting at Stroud Fringe (c) Vicky Hale

Facepainting at Stroud Fringe (c) Vicky Hale - Credit: Archant

How is the Fringe funded?

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Julie: The festival costs nearly £100k a year to run and we raise some of that through sponsorships, grants and donations. We sell Stroud Fringe merchandise and eco-cups to help raise revenue and there’s a ‘donate’ button on our website so that the public can support us too.

Lotte: We now run all the bars as Stroud Fringe so that 100% of the profits are ploughed straight back into running the festival. We’ll be out with donation buckets over the weekend too, and every pound counts!

Zak Abel at Stroud Fringe (c) Tammy Lynn Photography

Zak Abel at Stroud Fringe (c) Tammy Lynn Photography - Credit: Archant

What changes have you seen over the years?

Lotte: In its early days the Fringe was more of a folk and dance festival and it’s changed many times over the years. Since we’ve been running the Fringe we’ve tried really hard to make sure there’s something for everyone. Although I’ve got a personal ambition to introduce a tea dance in the future, so if anyone out there fancies running one give us a shout!

Julie: It used to be a ticketed festival but one of the commitments we made was to make it a totally free festival. It’s now a family-friendly event made up of six stages, children’s workshops, street theatre… everything, really! As well as supporting local performers we’ve also attracted well know artists from around the country. We’re continuing to develop and grow and have got lots of ideas for the future too!

Stroud Fringe parade (c) Chris Moos

Stroud Fringe parade (c) Chris Moos - Credit: Archant

Any interesting stories you can tell us about previous years – both good and bad?!

Julie: We were struck by lightning last year! Well, it hit St Laurence’s church steeple to be precise. It was the loudest bang I’ve ever heard, all the sound gear had to be turned off and we had to evacuate the stage. But luckily we had the AK47s (a male choir) on stage at the time and they simply jumped off the stage and carried on singing...literally singing in the rain! It was quite a moment.

Anything new for 2017?

Julie: We’re introducing several new things for Stroud Fringe 2017. We’re launching a glamping site in a beautiful tucked away corner of Stratford Park. Last year all the hotels, B&Bs and campsites were full and we’re attracting more and more visitors from around the country. Glampers will be able to book a tent through (experts at providing glamping experiences at festivals) and will be able to enjoy free access to Stroud Lido and hot showers for the whole weekend as part of the package. There will be a family tent with craft activities in the mornings (allowing parents that precious lie-in) and bedtime stories before everyone gets snuggled up for the night.

Lotte: We’re thrilled to team up with the Cotswold Canals Trust this year to make their Raft & Duck Race as part of this year’s festival. Taking place on Sunday morning, it will be leaving from the Canal Stage at Wallbridge. Teams are invited to build a vessel (it can be as crazy as you like!) that can get them, by people power, from Wallbridge to Capels Mill by Waitrose and back again in one piece. All proceeds go to the Canals Trust. It’s going to be great fun!

Julie: ‘Friends of the Fringe’ are running three late-night fundraising events in Lansdown Hall: Friday sees comedy genius Johnny Byford hosting a crazy, interactive quiz night (think Cheggers Plays Pop!), Saturday will keep everyone dancing into the early hours at Disco Sucks - Stroud legendary club night, and Stroud Film Festival will present an immersive, interactive music-themed ‘Secret Cinema’ night to round off the festival on Sunday.

What will be some of this year’s highlights?

Julie: Where do we start...there are so many great bands playing we can’t list them all! The Good On Paper stage in St Laurence’s Church was incredible last year, and this year’s programme looks set to top it. We’ve got even more fantastic street food stalls with cuisine from all over the globe, including Sri Lanka, Mexico and the USA - make sure you come hungry – and the epic Stroud Block Party will be back in a brand new, bigger and better location!

Lotte: Local star and Ivor Novello winner Emily Barker kicks off the festival at Bank Gardens on Friday afternoon with her band. The inimitable Bruce Airhead is programming a weekend of incredible street entertainment, and we also have three nights of entertainment at Cornhill Market. On Friday evening Chris Head presents a pop-up comedy club, and music organised by BANDIT Saturday and all-day music Sunday, plus a special kid-friendly comedy show on Sunday morning so the little ones get a giggle as well. Oh, and there might be a brand new venue opening on Nelson Street that weekend, too!

Check out the website and Facebook page for more details and announcements!