What have you missed?

Liz Nicholls

local

Here we are, a full year after lockdown was announced. Let’s face it, tempers feel a little bit frayed this week, which is natural, really, as we approach the final furlong towards (hopeful) freedom!

So we were wondering… what have you missed most over the last 12 months? Maybe it’s something you took for granted BC (before Covid). That coffee & cake break with workmates… Your routine hair appointment… Saturday sport.

Hospitality

As you know we’re raising a glass to our hospitality heroes with our R&A Good Cheer awards because eating & drinking while supporting our local pubs, restaurants, delicatessens is right up there at the top of our list. Watch this space for news of the winners soon!

Entertainment

Entertainment is another industry we salute, as we remain hopeful of the roadmap to freedom allowing us to enjoy theatre again. As Louise Chantal, co-director of The Oxford Playhouse puts it: “We miss our friends. I think of the scores of youngsters in our 17-25 Young Company, who were in their last week of a year’s preparation for their showcase production when we closed [in March 2020], and our long-standing amateur partners – Oxford Theatre Guild, Oxford Operatics and Opera Oxford – whose yearly extravaganzas at the Playhouse bring together hundreds of local people, from every possible background, to put on a show.

The Oxford Playhouse team, intermittently furloughed and each covering several people’s jobs, transferred all the participation and artist development programmes online (leading the march to digital nationally) and have worked with over 4,500 young people and community group members to ‘stay creative’ during lockdown. “We kept telling stories and supporting artists all through this crazy year,” says Louise.

Check out the Oxford Playhouse co-production of The Picture of Dorian Gray, starring Stephen Fry and Joanna Lumley, and upcoming highlights.

In the last couple of weeks, we’ve moved on from what felt like the world’s longest winter to all of the joys of spring

Festivals

With a summer of festivals shelved last spring, the idea of enjoying the pick of the area’s crop of get-togethers this summer feels like a dream… Boomtown near Winchester is tentatively set to go ahead in August, with tickets selling out this month.

“In the last couple of weeks, we’ve moved on from what felt like the world’s longest winter to all of the joys of spring and the collective excitement to reclaim the summer for hugging friends and family and dancing until our shoes fall off…” said the team.

“It’s still a long and rather complicated road to get there, but if we’re allowed to go ahead, words will never be able to fully describe the sheer love and energy that will radiate through this year’s fair.

The team behind Reading (and its northern sister festival Leeds) are also delighted to have sold out all tickets to eager festival-lovers, with Stormzy, Postmalone, Disclosure and Liam Gallagher ready to rock after a quiet year!

So…. what have you missed? Tell us on Twitter and we will be here to celebrate all of these returning joys with you!!!


Share your local news with us here

Love local with fresh food boxes

Liz Nicholls

local

Love local! Fresh food delivery boxes so you can make restaurant-quality meals

Our hospitality industry has, of course, been brutally battered over the last 12 months. This is part of the reason we’re celebrating our food & drink heroes in our R&A Good Cheer Awards.

Crop To Kitchen is one of the many valiant businesses which has had to evolve to survive – and keep us well fed. Ordinarily, the team supply restaurants in London and the home counties – including Michelin-starred eateries and five-star hotels – from its Maidenhead base. These include iconic settings such as Cliveden House, the Hind’s Head and The Groucho Club.

MD Peter Codling says: “Like many, we have had to think on our feet. What was also important was that we helped the local farms and growers whose top produce was no longer needed by the trade. We wanted to avoid food waste and serve the community so they can enjoy great food at home.”

Their home delivery boxes, containing the finest ingredients, have won rave reviews. Customers can build their own order or choose a pre-selected box. As well as the best fruit, vegetables, meat and eggs, the Crop To Kitchen team also rose to the challenge in the first lockdown, sourcing items in short supply including fresh pasta. Foodies should also keep an eye on the website for new lines of produce, normally only supplied to the best restaurants, so that you can replicate the same level of excellence in your own meals.

The social media feed is filled with delicious recipe ideas. They offer free next-day delivery within a 10-mile radius, including Cookham, Bourne End, Burnham, Ascot, Slough, Windsor, Bray, Cookham Dean, Taplow, Bisham, Marlow, Henley and all the villages in between.

All orders are delivered in reusable and fully sanitised crates and plastic packaging is avoided when sourcing and delivering to fit the green ethos. The drivers pride themselves on meticulous presentation and comply with social distancing guidelines, using full PPE.

Crop To Kitchen also dreams big, with plans on the horizon including offering specific areas of land or poly tunnels for restaurants, once back on their feet, to grow their own bespoke produce. Peter is also going to rustle up some live-streaming nights featuring chef cook-alongs.

Get your box for Valentine’s Day – or to find out more, visit croptokitchen.co.uk.

We’ve teamed up to offer a box bundle to one lucky winner – watch this space for the competition which will go live at the start of March!

For some of our own recipe ideas, click here

Hogs Back Brewery offers vaccination help

Round & About

local

Surrey-based Hogs Back Brewery has stepped up to the national COVID-19 vaccination drive, offering its Hop Hangar as a drive-through facility for people in the area to receive the life-saving jab.

The brewery’s offer is currently being assessed by the Local Resilience Forum, the alliance of councils, police, NHS and other strategic partners which is co-ordinating the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Hogs Back’s Surrey and Hampshire heartland.

By opening up the large doors at either end of the Hangar for vaccine recipients to drive through, and housing the medical staff and chilled vaccines in the adjacent Tap Room bar, Hogs Back believes the brewery site in Tongham offers an ideal space for the vital programme.

Rupert Thompson (shown in main image), managing director of Hogs Back Brewery, says: “We’re offering the Hop Hangar as our contribution to the vaccination roll-out, and we’ll work with the Local Resilience Forum to ensure we can meet its requirements.

“Our brewery is in a location well served by main roads, and we believe it would be very effective as a drive through facility.

“We have fridges for the vaccines, and rooms for the medical and support staff.

“We can even offer those who’ve been vaccinated a cup of tea afterwards, and for the staff manning the site, we’ll also provide a free bottle of our very own TEA – our flagship Traditional English Ale – for them to enjoy once they’re off duty.

“With the whole of the UK now getting behind the programme, we’re keen to play our part and support our friends and neighbours.”

The Hogs Back Hop Hangar opened in the summer of 2020 as a facility to process the harvest from the Hop Garden adjacent to the brewery, and at other times operates as a bar and function space.

Read more about the local business at their website www.hogsback.co.uk

UCA photography

Karen Neville

local

Photo in image: From the series La Frontera © Harriet Brookes

Students from the University for the Creative Arts are showcasing some of their work in the latest exhibition at The Lightbox. 

UCA in Farnham has a reputation for educating some of the most innovative photographers of the time and the exhibition will offer visitors an opportunity to explore their work.

The students have captured a variety of themes in their photography to explore contemporary issues, some of which are deeply personal.

Among those whose work is on show include documentary photographer Harriet Brookes whose project La Frontera examines the problems faced by people in Gibraltar during the Brexit negotiations.

Using a series of black and white portraits, Sian Hayden’s photography engages with the uncanny and the male gaze while Neve Marinou explores issues surrounding harassment and the Me Too movement.

UCA Farnham MFA Photography Show is on at The Lightbox, Woking, until 2nd February. Entry to the exhibition is free.

More info

Paws for thought!

Round & About

local

Shops, restaurants and businesses taking part are encouraged to display a Dog Paw sticker in their window, so dog parents, and their furry friends know they are welcome.

So far more than 50 businesses have taken part, including independent and national companies such as Barclays Bank and Clarks.  Wallingford, well known for its excellent Independent shops, has seen the benefits and taken on the campaign with great enthusiasm.  With over 26% of us being dog parents, businesses can see the benefit from a higher footfall when dogs are welcomed, as people walking into town with their dogs can visit shops, and dine at their favourite restaurants.

Le Clos wine bar & French restaurant was one of the first to welcome the idea.  Other restaurants such as Shellfish Cow also see the value, and display the Dog Paw sticker with pride. Most pubs have signed up and many even have dog-friendly rooms.

The vast array of shops taking part include the lady’s clothes shop First Edition; lifestyle shops such as Raspberry Tart and also The Lamb Arcade – an Aladdin’s Cave of antiques. The shops you would also expect in a market town are also behind the campaign including shoe repair shops, newsagents, florists and hardware stores.

Joe Quilter, one of the founders of the scheme and a dog parent to Bramble, a Cockapoo said: “After a visit to North Norfolk and seeing written signs in shops inviting dogs into their premises, I thought it not be a great idea to have a standard Dog Paw Sticker for my town so local people and visitors know they are welcome with their dogs.

People don’t like to ask, as they don’t like to be refused entry, so this takes the issue away.

I’m also a big supporter of local business, and thought this is a win-win for both dog parents and our fantastic shops, restaurants and businesses.”

Joe also mentioned the security aspect and went on to say “One in 20 dogs taken are outside shops, and I just don’t want anyone living or visiting our town to ever suffer this experience.”

Since starting the campaign, other towns and villages have signed up to the campaign including Goring, Streatley, Didcot and Pangbourne, and the Dog Paw Sticker is in print again to the reach further afield than the founding town.

Where's dog friendly?

To find out the shops, restaurants and businesses taking part

Birdland Park

Round & About

local

If you’re looking for a day out to avoid all the pre-Christmas chaos that already seems to have taken hold, how about a day out at Birdland Park & Gardens?

A pandemonium of parrots has flocked there in recent weeks with some colourful new residents moving in to the park which is now home to 16 different parrot species.

The Cotswold-based wildlife attraction has constructed six new aviaries with two more to be completed in the coming months where visitors can view the new species including the kea and long billed corella.

As part of the new features Birdland in Bourton-on-the-Water is also raising awareness about the conservation and welfare work being done by the World Parrot Trust. The charity is currently focussing on raising funds and awareness to help support the endangered scarlet macaw.

Birdland manager Simon Blackwell said: “We’re very pleased to be able to support such a worthy cause here at Birdland.

“The conservation work the World Parrot Trust undertakes is vital in raising awareness about the risks faced by all parrot species in the wild which include loss of habitat and capture for the illegal trade in wild birds.

“The additional aviaries which have been constructed here are already home to a pandemonium of parrots, the collective term for a group of the birds, and they’ve settled in really well,” he added.

There are 387 species of parrots, known scientifically as Psittacine, and most species are native to the tropical and subtropical regions of Australia, Asia, Central and South America and Africa.

For video of just some of the attractions at Birdland, click here:

Make no bones about it…

Round & About

local

Ella Reeves reviews Lovely Bones at Oxford Playhouse

If there is one play you go to see this year, this is it.

I have just returned from the stage version of Alice Sebold’s 2002 novel The Lovely Bones, adapted by Bryony Lavery and directed by Melli Still.

My mind was blown. I am not one to be reckless with my superlatives, and this was the best play I’ve ever seen. It is the kind of show where you are not thinking about when the interval is coming, because you are completely enthralled by the performance.

The Lovely Bones was one of the few books I found gripping enough to read cover-to-cover as a teenager. The book is set in Pennsylvania, 1973, where the main character, Susie Salmon, dies at the beginning, raped and murdered by a neighbour. The rest of the story follows Susie’s journey in the afterlife, as she watches over her family, while they deal with the aftermath of her death.

When I heard the production was coming to the Oxford Playhouse, I was keen to see it. I was curious as to how a stage production could plausibly portray Susie’s ghostly presence alongside the living world, and how they would deal with the book’s complex and disturbing themes.

How could it be possible to convey that one part of the scene is in the present, then it is in the past, and some characters on stage are in heaven, while some are on earth?

The situation and mood changes were seamless, owing to the actors’ convincing performances, the suspense-building sound design, the lighting, and the innovative scenery. The actors frequently changed roles, which could have been confusing or overdone, but they subtly conveyed the changes, so it felt as if as if you were in the characters’ heads.

It was clear that the other audience members were as captivated as I was. Through the contrast of lightness and laughter with darkness and gruesomeness, a full range of emotions were teased out in each scene. We gasped, we giggled, and we had tears in our eyes.

The stage play was beautifully choreographed, and there were parts where I was mesmerised by how the motion of each actor slowed and sped up, in sync with one another. I wondered how many times they must have rehearsed to perform it so perfectly. The live band, which transported the audience to the place and era of the story’s setting, was worth seeing in itself.

The scenery was inspired. The backdrop was an angled screen, which, dependent on lighting, acted as a mirror of the main act, or an illusion between the dimensions. When the actor playing Susie (Charlotte Beaumont) talks to the audience and “breaks the fourth wall”, you could imagine that the scenery creates a fifth wall.

There was no weak link to be found in the play, certainly not among the actors. Holiday, the dog, was played by actor Samuel Gosrani, and was clearly recognisable while playing a dog, while also credibly playing Ray, Susie’s love interest. It is notable that Susie never leaves the stage, and despite her screams to her parents, siblings, and friends, she is in a different dimension, so they never bat an eyelid.

Oxfordians are fortunate to have the Oxford Playhouse, an attraction of such excellent productions. I went to see the captioned show on a Wednesday, which enables people with hearing loss to enjoy live performances. The casting team of this production should also be commended for their inclusive approach: the actors were selected for their role based on their acting ability and suitability to the character, no matter their race or gender.

Tickets are still available

For the Thursday evening, Friday evening, and Saturday matinee and evening.

You will not regret it!

Reading Rep

Round & About

local

A Reading theatre company is asking the town to make a simple click to help its chances of collecting up to £100,000 to boost funds for a new theatre and arts centre.

Reading Rep is fundraising and nearing its target of £400,000 for the converted building in King’s Road on the Reading College campus, a simple click on social media could boost its funds by £100,000.

Reading Rep is asking people to log on to the Persimmon Homes website, which hosts a £1 million competition to give away cash for under 18s to health, sports, education and arts organisations, and vote for the theatre company by 27th September. Cash awards of £100,000, £50,000 or £20,000 will be made to those winning the most online votes.

Reading Rep artistic director Paul Stacey said: “We are up against lots of different organisations, but we’d urge people to vote for us as Reading Rep exists to provide access to the arts for all, including some of Reading’s most disadvantaged children.

“We currently perform in a small 50-seater space and the new theatre/arts and community centre will take us up to around 160 seats.”

Nick Thompson, executive producer, said: “We are very excited for our plans – the building to be converted is a 1920s’ former Salvation Army Hall which has massive potential. The benefits to theatre-goers will be immense – and crucially the space will include a permanent education and learning centre allowing disadvantaged children to access our work.”

A spokesperson for Persimmon Homes Thames Valley said: “Persimmon Homes is delighted to be joining forces with Team GB – the British Olympic Association – to give away over £1 million to help children in England, Wales and Scotland. 
 
“As an official partner of Team GB, we are extremely proud to be supporting the organisation in the run up to, and beyond, the next Olympic Games in Tokyo. 
 
“Building Futures, supported by Team GB, comes on the back of our hugely successful Healthy Communities competition, which in 2018 gave away more than £600,000 to support youth sport.”

The website is Persimmon Homes and people can vote once each day.

Mr Stacey added: “It takes such a short time to vote but the difference our new centre would make to the arts scene in Reading is vast. We’d like to thank everyone who has voted so far. Why not make a note in your diary to vote for us every morning and evening until the closing date?”

The voting closes at midnight on 27th September.

Reading Rep hopes to begin the conversion of the building soon with the aim of opening in spring 2020.

Get involved

Vote for Reading Rep here