The Farm, Stratford by Isobel Murphy Photography

A pair of south Warwickshire businesses have reflected on life after Freedom Day, and there is optimism abound despite differing lockdown experiences.

Two Stratford businesses – members of Shakespeare’s England, the Destination Management organisation (DMO) for South Warwickshire and the surrounding area – have revealed how building a community and hosting outdoor events has been vital to their post-lockdown performance, and have praised local residents for their desire to support independent sellers and producers in the region.

The Farm Stratford proved to be an extremely popular lockdown destination throughout last year, offering visitors peace of mind thanks to its open-plan design and click and collect service.

But the Snitterfield-based business has been facing new challenges either side of Freedom Day, chiefly major disruptions to staffing and supply caused by the ‘ping-demic’.

Charlie Wells, director of The Farm Stratford, remains optimistic about the future of business in the region despite these new challenges, and has identified a renewed sense of community and togetherness driving a sustained interest in independent businesses.

She said: “I’m in full support of the NHS app but just think the rules around it for workers have been difficult up until now.

“The pandemic was, of course, a massive shock to all of us, and we were fortunate to be classed as an essential shop, so from March last year we tried our best to adapt quickly by boosting our online presence and ensuring customers felt as safe as possible when coming into The Farm.

“We offered families a rare chance of a day out during lockdown, and that was reflected in our popularity, but we experienced a dramatic drop in April this year when lockdown was lifted as other locations started to reopen.

“People have understandably wanted to get out and explore elsewhere, which is great for the region, but has meant less footfall here until recently.

“Thankfully, things have started to pick back up during the summer holidays with young families coming along to enjoy our outdoor activities.

“I can definitely see a renewed appreciation for local independent businesses, so the future looks bright for The Farm and other Stratford businesses.”

The four-star Crowne Plaza, like much of the hospitality industry, experienced a huge decline in bookings due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but has seen a resurgence in recent weeks as families start to enjoy visits to Stratford with less restrictions.

The Stratford site of the national hotel chain has been hosting al fresco private dining in a tipi and outdoor pop-up stalls on its terraces, allowing residents and visitors to support a different local business each month.

Their hugely popular terrace takeovers on the riverside terrace have included local DJ Andy Saunders, Shakespeare Distillery and Hooray’s Gelato Kitchen. Upcoming pop-ups include The Garden Shed café (Wellesbourne) on Friday, August 13 and Saturday, August 14 followed by The Rum Runners on Saturday, August 21 and Sunday, August 22.

Clare Galvin, director of sales and marketing at the Crowne Plaza, said: “The outdoor space has been a huge success for us, the additional work that had been undertaken while the hotel was closed has gained fantastic feedback and enabled the hotel to accommodate an increased number of guests.

“The tipi for those special occasions is proving popular for dining up to 10 people.

“We are the largest riverside location with a Bohemian vibe and holiday feel and along with the gin and prosecco horsebox bar, we can be hired for those special events such as birthdays, christenings or corporate activity.

“The Terrace is now pet-friendly, welcoming our local dog walkers to take a break with dog treats supplied by Cosy Chic Pet Boutique so we have an eclectic mix of guests throughout the week.”

The hotel has also seen an increase in small meetings as face-to-face interaction is slowly starting up and leisure guests with memberships are now also returning to the in-house gym, Club Motivation.

Clare continued: “Hospitality as an industry is seeing significant staffing shortages, with team members being contacted via test and trace. Due to our stringent Covid procedures with team members, the hotel has fared better than most along with excellent staff retention throughout the pandemic.

“An increase in the current business levels has led to the hotel actively recruiting, we have already recruited more than 25 new team members with further vacancies to be filled.”