What's happening in Gloucester in 2022?
- Credit: Nick Turner
Tracy Spiers reports from the cathedral city which is bursting with life
I think Doctor Foster should give Gloucester another chance. British weather being what it is means he would have to bring an umbrella, but he is likely to get splashed for other reasons. As this cathedral city is Britain’s most inland port, its docks and surrounding water are significant landmarks. There is nothing more impressive than seeing the glorious tall ships making their magnificent entry into the docklands. And, yes, they are back after three years, and will be sailing into the Jubilee Weekend.
For children of the 1970s like me who enjoyed walking on water across the steppingstones outside Debenhams, it’s great to see the fountains are not only back, but this time in multi-colour spectacle.
Gloucester is indeed making a splash right now and for good reason. There are so many positive stories to report, that my words won’t be enough to paint a full picture. Instead, dear reader, you will have to come to Gloucester to see its new look for yourself, as will Dr Foster. This city is where I and four of my children took our first breath; it’s where I met my husband on a blind date; it’s where my passion for history was first ignited; and where I learnt to broadcast positive news across the county’s radio waves. Therefore, I write with pride that Gloucester is coming back to life across the cityscape. Through several different exciting projects, the city is telling its unique story in a way that embraces the future.
Gloucester Tall Ships
So where do I start? Perhaps it best to begin with the award-winning nautical festival, Gloucester Tall Ships, which is back for the first time since 2019. It’s a jam-packed three-day programme of family fun and entertainment over The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Weekend, June 3-5. The free-to-attend event attracts hundreds of thousands of people to the Gloucester Quays where there will be live battle re-enactments, sand sculptures, a vintage fairground, daredevil fly boarding stunts and musicians bursting from every corner of Gloucester’s historical docks. There will also be market stalls on Llanthony Road, High Orchard Street and Orchard Square offering Gloucester's finest local food, drink, arts, and crafts from local and South West artisan makers.
‘We’re so pleased to be bringing the Gloucester Tall Ships festival back for 2022, and to stage it over the Jubilee weekend makes it extra special,’ says Councillor Andrew Lewis, portfolio holder for Cultural Services.
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‘We’ve got a spectacular programme of events and activities that all visitors can enjoy - showcasing Gloucester’s maritime history and hosting international crews aboard tall ships from all over the world.’
This year’s festival will introduce a £5 Boarding Pass, giving visitors access to board the visiting ships, meet their sailing teams and see beneath the decks at the living and working quarters. For an extra £2.50 provides access to the National Waterways Museum, which tells the story of the docks, canal, and Gloucester’s intriguing waterway past. The Museum is part of the Canal & River Trust, which is responsible for Gloucester Docks’ water space and the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal. The Canal & River Trust is offering boat trips and paddling on the water over the festival weekend which can be pre-booked or booked on the day.
Gloucester Shanty Festival and Pirate Walk
If Dr Foster isn’t impressed by the water-based activities, he may have to walk the plank if the pirates get to hear about his grumpiness. Coinciding with the Tall Ships Festival,
The Gloucester Shanty Festival performers will be singing on the streets of Gloucester especially decorated for the Jubilee. An impressive line-up of acclaimed acts will be performing in various venues around the city centre. Along with all the singing, pirates of all ages are welcome to join the Pirate Walk on Saturday, June 4 from Café Rene in Southgate Street at 4pm. The lively dressed-up jaunt around the city centre will help raise funds for the Severn Area Rescue Association – an inshore rescue boat and land search organisation covering the Severn Estuary and the surrounding area.
Gloucester has four Gate Streets – North, South, East, and West. It is in Westgate Street where I meet Emily Gibbon, Gloucester BID Manager. We chat over coffee about the exciting changes happening in the city centre in the comfort of The Clementine, which is a two-minute walk from the magnificent Gloucester Cathedral and The House of the Tailor of Gloucester with its delightful museum dedicated to Beatrix Potter. There are a few buildings with scaffolding around them, but Emily says that this means change is afoot.
‘It is a hopeful sign, because underneath the scaffolding work is going on to restore and bring new life into some of these wonderful buildings that have perhaps been empty for a long time. I hope it will raise people’s curiosity as to what is going on there,’ says Emily.
The Folk of Gloucester
One key building, not far from us in Westgate Street, currently surrounded by such scaffolding is The Folk of Gloucester, one of the city’s most historically significant buildings.
Gloucester Civic Trust now manages The Folk, formerly Gloucester Folk Museum, which was bought by Gloucester Historic Buildings Limited from Gloucester City Council in 2021. It will cost £74,000 to carry out sensitive repairs to its magnificent timber façade, but Civic Trust volunteers have already raised £54,000. They have been trying to secure the remaining £20,000 to repair the building, which dates to 1506, through a Crowdfunder campaign.
Civic Voice president Griff Rhys Jones has been lending his support to the Gloucester Civic Trust. ‘This last bit of money is going to go on the front of this 16th- and 17th-century building to restore the plasterwork to its former glory – using lime and pigment – and making a beautiful colourful addition to the glory, that is Gloucester,’ he says.
It’s the first phase of a wider three-year project to restore the fabric of the three Tudor timber-framed buildings, also known as Bishop Hooper’s House, which make up The Folk. The aim is to make it an exciting and vibrant cultural heritage centre with new displays alongside a programme of cultural events, concerts, and activities.
‘It is so exciting to be on the brink of restoring these buildings to their former glory. We will be bringing the stories and the buildings back to life but need everyone’s help to achieve that ambition, says trustee, Sue Smith.
Bishop Hooper, burnt at the stake in 1555, is reputed to have stayed here the night before that event, which was witnessed by thousands of Gloucester citizens. Later the houses were subdivided and became places of work for industries like pin making, coffin making, brewing, basket making and many others. Look around Gloucester and there are clues to its history. On my walk about today, I spot a few mosaics pointing to the city’s past including references to its pin making days and its 13th century fish market, which according to the image could provide pungent missiles for the nearby stocks!
I forget how much of my own past is tied up with this city. As I walk around, memories come flooding back – numerous trips to Gloucester City Museum with my dad, brass rubbing for my 10th birthday at the cathedral, working at BBC Radio Gloucestershire in London Road, interviewing very tall Gloucester rugby players at Kingsholm Rugby Ground by standing on steps to meet their eye line, and meeting my husband on a blind date 26 years ago in the Docks. As I walk by the former Debenhams in King’s Square, I see my six-year-old self tentatively jumping on the steppingstones, immersed in water, with flowing fountains. Today I can see this new modern amenity taking shape, yet in keeping with the square I remember. Now there are 30 pavement fountains to the northern part of the square, with different pressures and each spouting different levels of water. Under each one is lights which interact with music.
‘During evenings they illuminate really nicely, and the colours can be changed depending on the theme, so for instance, for a jubilee event, they could be red, white and blue,’ Emily tells me.
King’s Square and The Forum
Last March, the University of Gloucestershire announced it had bought the Debenhams building – a major focal point for Gloucester for 80 years – to redevelop it as its vibrant new City Campus for teaching, learning and community partnerships. This modern complex will provide facilities to train professionals in the likes of health and education, and it’s estimated that over the lifetime of the project, it will add over £700 million of direct and indirect value to the local economy.
‘Having this facility right at the heart of the city centre is bringing another level of opportunity to Gloucester and as it is a listed building, it is going to be quite unique,’ Emily tells me.
The redevelopment of King’s Square is already underway to turn it into a world class events space. Nearby is The Forum, another vital key in Gloucester’s future. This is a private investment designed to attract specialised digital and technology companies and a thousand new jobs. Together with the Forge Digital Hub, an innovation hub for cyber businesses which is part of The Forum, and the redevelopment of the 15th-century Fleece Hotel, the City Campus project is now the centrepiece of Gloucester’s successful £20 million bid to the Government’s Levelling Up Fund. It is about building a new future for an area that has been in long term decline.
There is much to celebrate and walking back towards the Docks, at Southgate Street, is yet another project which will spring to life in September. It has its name already on the building so no one can miss it. It’s called Gloucester Food Dock and it is a new £3.5 million waterfront dining destination for foodies.
The Food Dock
Overlooking Victoria Basin, the Food Dock will be home to up to 15 artisan food and drink businesses from Gloucestershire and the surrounding region. As I walk past, I can see renovation work taking place at the two 19th-century brick buildings. Artist impressions show how this will look once refurbished and reconfigured to incorporate external dining terraces and stand-alone wooden-clad units. Already three of the food and drink businesses have been confirmed, namely Sibling Distillery, Strip Steak Bar and Wholly Gelato.
‘These buildings have been empty for many years and it will be exciting to see it open in September. We will have pop up tasters leading up to that and the whole venue will help link up the Docks with the Gate Streets,’ says Emily.
‘I think Doctor Foster should seriously reconsider coming here. A pub celebrating his name has also recently reopened in Kimberley Warehouse. I think he should go on a local city tour and be shown the historic gems but also realise that Gloucester has an exciting future. He should bring his umbrella and sun cream and of course have a pint in the pub named after him.’
So, Dr Foster, it is time to reconsider returning to this historic city that you vowed never to come back to. Perhaps you would like to climb on board one of the glorious Tall Ships which will be gracing our waters for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. That would certainly change the nursery rhyme for good.
TOUR OF BRITAIN
Gloucester and its historic docks will also play a starring role when the Tour of Britain, the UK’s most prestigious cycle race, heads to Gloucestershire later this year. It’s the first time that the county has provided the backdrop for a full day of the event.
It will host the sixth stage of the race on Friday, September 9, between Tewkesbury and Gloucester Docks. Tour de Britain fans will easily be able to attend both on race day, which will further add to the atmosphere at this free-to-watch sporting spectacle.
The Women’s Tour, the UK’s most prestigious women’s cycle race will also visit the county for a Tewkesbury to Gloucester stage on Wednesday, June 8, albeit using a different route.
More details of stage six will be announced in Summer 2022.
Gloucester-based writer Anita Faulkner celebrates the launch of her first novel, A Colourful Country Escape, with a book launch in June.
Anita’s debut is a romcom set in Tewkesbury and follows the story of vibrant but penniless social media manager Lexie as she bursts into rich, standoffish paint boss Ben’s life, desperate for a job. Their worlds collide with a clash of colours and angry peacocks, but they soon begin to see their feelings for each other aren’t so black and white.
A book launch will be held at Waterstones in Gloucester on Saturday, June 11 from 2pm, with Prosecco, cake and lots of bookish cha. anitafaulkner.co.uk