Proud of Stroud

Walking on Selsley Common

Walking on Selsley Common - Credit: Archant

‘Stroudie’ Tracy Spiers considers herself fortunate to live in this special place…

Buying tulips at Stroud Farmers’ Market. Photo by Sara Chardin

Buying tulips at Stroud Farmers’ Market. Photo by Sara Chardin - Credit: Archant

Renowned for its dramatic Cotswolds landscape, unique arts and crafts heritage, fabulous festivals and independent shops, Stroud has plenty to celebrate in 2014. It marks the birth centenaries of Laurie Lee and Lynn Chadwick.

Exhibition of work by Simon Packard at the Museum in the Park

Exhibition of work by Simon Packard at the Museum in the Park - Credit: Archant

The Wurzels will be appearing at Stroud's Subscription Rooms in 2014

The Wurzels will be appearing at Stroud's Subscription Rooms in 2014 - Credit: Archant

Words came naturally to Laurie. I was fortunate to meet him several times (mainly at The Woolpack) and was privileged to attend his 80th birthday party. His best-selling book Cider with Rosie captures his upbringing in the beautiful Slad valley in poetic colour. Meanwhile Chadwick, one of Britain’s most important 20th century sculptors, made his home in Lypiatt Park, and left a legacy of fine craftsmanship when he died in 2003. Chalford-based Pangolin Foundry, a leading sculpture foundry, was created because of Chadwick. Gallery Pangolin will be presenting a special centenary exhibition by recreating Chadwick’s studio in Gallery 1 at the Museum in the Park. In September the Museum also hosts an exhibition to mark Laurie’s centenary including drawings and paintings from the Lee family archive, never exhibited before. Readings from his books, walks, documentaries and other celebrations are also planned.

Selsley Common

Selsley Common - Credit: Archant

Jane Mahoney-Wightman, co-owner of Brilliant Disguise

Jane Mahoney-Wightman, co-owner of Brilliant Disguise - Credit: Archant

A fundamental part of Stroud’s history is its canal network. Walk any stretch of the 12-mile towpath between Eastington and Sapperton and one experiences peace and quiet. The ambitious yet exciting mission by Cotswolds Canal Trust to reopen a 36-mile water stretch incorporating 56 locks from The Severn and the Thames between Stonehouse and Brimscombe continues in 2014.

Clare Honeyfield of Made in Stroud

Clare Honeyfield of Made in Stroud - Credit: Archant

Stroud International Textiles Open Studios Trail

Stroud International Textiles Open Studios Trail - Credit: Archant

“The next step is to make Lodgemore Swingbridge into a swingbridge again and to make Wallbridge Lower Lock as wonderful as Wallbridge Upperlock,” exclaims Clive Field, Cotswold Canals Visitor Centre manager.

Celebrating and maintaining local stunning countryside is high on Stroud’s agenda. Stroud Valleys Project, an environmental charity, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, will be working with CCT to plant trees at Capel Mill. SVP marks National Bike Week (June 15-23) with a sponsored 10 or 36-mile ride starting and ending at the Museum in the Park. The charity is helping the museum’s Walled Garden project, an exciting venture to reopen an enclosed secret garden.

Being a Stroudie, I am fortunate to live in this special place. It is a warm community with a thriving café culture. There’s an amazing plethora of coffee places – such as Woodruffs, Kendrick Street Deli, Black Book Café, Mills, JRools, and the Lockkeeper’s Coffee Bar – to meet, eat and work. Creativity is in Stroud’s DNA, attracting a high calibre of artists and writers, many top of their game. Well-organised events such as the Stroud International Textiles Festival and Stroud Valley Artspace’s Site Festival throughout May attract world-wide attention. Artists and designer makers open their studio doors and present artist-led exhibitions for the Select Trail in May. Over the same weekends (May 10 and 11; 17 and 18) is SVA’s Open Studios festival. Jo Leahy and Neil Walker set up SVA 17 years ago with the ambition to buy and develop the 7,000 square foot space in John Street into a sustainable high quality arts space. The final refurbishment phase, resulting in a new gallery and studio space will be completed in time for the festival.

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Many artists sell their work at Made in Stroud shop, owned by Clare Honeyfield, co-founder of the national award-winning Stroud Farmer’s Market – the biggest weekly market outside of London. The town’s largest meeting place, the Subscription Rooms was built by the people for the people in 1833. General manager Paul McLaughlin has a varied programme planned including tribute bands, classical music, theatre, comedy and monthly Ceilidhs, Jazz and musical memory events. The Wurzels, Bruce Foxton from The Jam, Madness frontman Suggs and Stroud Theatre Festival are a few highlights. Kendrick Street Art Gallery nearby holds regular classes and workshops and this year features an exhibition by American artist Karla Leopold, who comes to the Cotswolds to paint. Pegasus Art in Thrupp – a hive of artistic activity - has its staff annual show throughout December.

Festival fever runs through the veins of Stroud. Events include the Spring Walking Festival; Heaven of the South Mountain Bike Festival; Stroud Americana Music Festival; Art Couture, Painswick; Stroud Country Show; the International Gypsy Guitar Festival and the Open West Contemporary Arts Festival (July 6-August 18). The Festival of British Eventing, Gatcombe Park; Frocester Beer Festival; Berkeley Agricultural Show and Stroud Fringe Festival all take place in August, while September marks the Five Valleys Festivals incorporating Stroud Folk Festival, Festival of Nature, Walking Festival and Fringe Festival; followed by Stroud International Textiles Festival Autumn Select (October 6-November 30); Apple Day and Stroud Blues Festival.

Not surprisingly Stroud came 16th in The Times’ top 30 coolest places to live a few months ago.

“This sums up Stroud, which is filled with a vibrant art and nightlife scene and a huge variety of unique, independent shops that reflect the town’s alternative cultural values,” says Simon Powell, co-owner of Brilliant Disguise, a popular independent clothes shop.

“In 2013 we saw lots of new shops open to fill the void left by departing national chains. 2014 will see those businesses get stronger and better as the local economy booms.”

If you don’t know Stroud, as someone who has grown up here, I invite you to come and visit in 2014. You won’t be disappointed.

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This article by Tracy Spiers is from the January 2014 issue of Cotswold Life

For more from Tracy Spiers, follow her on Twitter: @spiers_tracy