PUBLISHED: 23:49 07 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:06 20 February 2013
Alcester is the sort of small town that arouses strong passions in its residents. Here we meet some of the people who contribute to this lively, and thriving, community - the champions of Alcester.
In the summer months, bright flowers are beautifully displayed in every corner and this characterful market town becomes ablaze with colour. What better time to drop in on its excellent range of independently owned shops or sip a cool beer at one of the many traditional hostelries.
One resident who has the onerous task of frequenting the pubs of Alcester on official business is the Ale Taster for the Court Leet Nick Dearling. Each year he has the challenging task of sampling the beers of no less than 18 pubs within the town and surrounding areas. To achieve this, three separate occasions are arranged and co-ale tasters invited from Bromsgrove, Warwick and Henley. Incidentally, Nick also has to return the favour by helping his fellow ale tasters in other towns with their duties.
Nick is enthusiastic about so many aspects of Alcester: "For visitors, there's the Roman Museum which is full of locally found artefacts and there's also some lovely gift shops and tea rooms. Just outside the town is Ragley Hall, Coughton Court and Hillers Farm Shop. But, of course, you can't visit Alcester without going into one or two of the excellent pubs such as The Hollybush, Lord Nelson, Three Tuns and the Turk's Head."
Another Alcester enthusiast is Maggie Payne, who is responsible for the stunning floral displays that adorn the town at this time of year. Maggie was born in Alcester and she remembers: "When I grew up the town seemed grey and old fashioned. Now, there is always something going on with so many clubs and local groups, ftes and coffee mornings."
Twenty years ago, Maggie was approached by a friend to join the committee for Alcester in Bloom. "I knew nothing about plants but was prepared to help. At that stage, there were just 20 hanging baskets in the town. Two years later, a new committee chairperson was being sought and I found myself being voted in! I thought 'why can't we have more plants?' So we increased the number of hanging baskets to 100 and soon added planting troughs. Then we arranged for various floral display beds to be set throughout the town and invited schools to get involved. We have linked with numerous local businesses to sponsor baskets."
The dedicated Alcester in Bloom committee has been justly rewarded with no less than 14 wins in the Midlands' Britain in Bloom competition and two national successes!
Amidst Elizabethan house frontages, shop windows of various sizes and shapes butt out irregularly onto the main street to reveal a diversity of retailers. Maggie, as well as heading up the Alcester in Bloom committee, works part time for one of these, Humphries Shoe Shop. She says: "Although it looks small from the outside, there are a lot of shoes in side. There's always something to offer our customers and they enjoy the fact we don't ever rush anyone."
Just off the High Street, Poppie Ramsden co-runs Material Girls, where an eye-catching selection of quality haberdashery goods includes dress fabrics, sequins, trimmings, beads, cross stitch kits and wools. To rekindle a trend in 'make-your-own garments', The Material Girls have set up both a Sewing Club and a Knitting Club - the latter often referred to by its tongue-in-cheek name 'The Knit and Bitch Club'! Poppie loves the quaintness of the town and highly recommends The Tudor Rose Tearooms with its wonderful bakery section.
Laura Goody moved from London in 2002 to set up her business in ceramic restoration in Alcester. "Sometimes I get chipped glass that needs fixing, or a broken piece that someone has tried to glue together and it's all gone horribly wrong. I take it apart, clean it up and repair it properly."
"Alcester is a very welcoming place," Laura agrees. "There's a strong community feel and always something going on. One of the events I, and my partner, always look forward to is the Beer Festival at The Hollybush in June where there's more than 35 guest ales and ciders to taste!"
Like many locals, Laura has looked forward to the recent opening of the new Waitrose. She comments "I'm a bit of a foodie anyway so it's really exciting to have a Waitrose on my doorstep. It is bound to draw people in to the town which will almost certainly help businesses."
Andy Mills is High Bailiff of Alcester's Court Leet. "The role of the Court Leet these days is mainly charitable and ceremonial, upholding many traditions. For example, officers are selected at an annual election which is held on the first Thursday in October after the 'mop', the old hiring fair which goes right back to the 12th century."
But Andy also contributes to the town in at least two other ways. For the last 36 years he has encouraged trade into the town through his interiors business, Chameleon Collection. Furthermore he supports the town's Chamber of Trade and Commerce as Chairman.
So how does Alcester sit next to the world class tourist town of Stratford-upon-Avon? Andy claims: "Alcester is a proper working small market town. Whereas Stratford-upon-Avon has become a manufactured town full of popular big store brands in the shopping areas, here you can get almost anything you need from small, independently owned enterprises."
Business Champion of Alcester's Chamber of Trade and Commerce, David Wade, is Alcester born and bred and is passionate about his home town. "You can meander through the many alleyways to gaze at the wealth of historical churches, memorial buildings and houses, including Malt Mill Lane which won the European Architectural Heritage Award for Merit, or simply just take a stroll along by the two rivers which meet on the outskirts. But don't miss Cruck House in Henley Street, it's the oldest A-framed house in town or Angel House in Church Street where Princess Victoria (later Queen) once stayed."
Whichever way you approach Alcester, you get a feeling of entering a community where folk engage with each other as they walk down the high street or into the shops, say 'Hello' to those they know or welcome a visitor with a cheery smile. This is the spirit of Alcester.