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The Mayors of Stratford-upon-Avon and Warwick Speak in These Brexit Times of Covid. By Fernando Gómez Herrero.

The Mayors of Stratford-upon-Avon and Warwick Speak in These Brexit Times of Covid.

 

By Fernando Gómez Herrero, fernandogherrero.com

 

Spanish-language version will come out in La Vanguardia, https://www.lavanguardia.com/autores/fernando-gomez.html

 

Photography included used with the authorisation of the Mayors. 

 

Warwick and Stratford-upon-Avon are two small picturesque provincial towns not far away from each other in the middle of England. Location matters: there are one hour and a half by train from London, and half an hour from Birmingham. Coventry is very near as well. They are easy to get to and easy to commute from. They are both pleasant locations to visit for a day or so and they are both known domestically and internationally in the hospitality and touristic sector.

 

Warwick (31.000) and Stratford-upon-Avon (34.000) are in the county of Warwickshire in the so-called West midlands of England. Both are historic market towns since medieval times keeping a pleasant and agreeable historical sense including public and private housing of ancient exposed beams with no metal nails as used in Elizabethan times. Warwick is famous for the Warwick Castle, now owned by Merlin Entertainment. Stratford is known internationally as the birthplace and gravesite of William Shakespeare buried in Holy Trinity Church (https://www.stratford-upon-avon.org/). The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) 

has its headquarters here.

 

The general area includes traceable sites of events and battles in the Civil War. Those in love of walks, cycling and nature will find abundant options to do so, including the blessing of numerous colourful pubs along the way. These two towns, perhaps sisters, are quite distinct from each and also very different from post-industrial Birmingham. The car industry (Aston Martin and Land Rover) is in the vicinity. Warwick has a Labour MP, Matt Western, https://mattwestern.org/, and Stratford-upon-Avon, a Conservative Member of Parliament, Nadhim Zahawi, https://www.zahawi.com/, currently in the government in Business, Energy and Industry, serving under Secretary of State, Alok Sharma.

 

The Brexit vote: Warwickshire in favour of Brexit, 59.3%, Warwick in favour 41.64%, and Stratford, 52%, both towns surrounded by heavy Brexit vote  (https://www.warwickdc.gov.uk/news/article/97/eu_referendum_results, https://www.itv.com/news/2017-03-29/stratford-upon-avon-the-52-48-referendum-town-as-divided-as-ever/, https://brexitcentral.com/the-2019-election-battleground-west-midlands/).

 

I passed some questions via email to both Mayors, Kate Rolfe (Lib-Dem), Mayor of Stratford-upon-Avon https://www.stratford-tc.gov.uk/ and Neale Murphy (Conservative), Mayor of Warwick, https://www.warwicktowncouncil.gov.uk/ to get a sense of things, regarding covid against the Brexit background. Here, they tell some things.

 

Kate Rolfe, Mayor of Stratford-upon-Avon (https://www.stratford-tc.gov.uk/councillors/kate-rolfe).

 

 

How are you coping with covid-19 (and family, friends, colleagues in general)? How is the town coping in general?

 

My term of office is from May last year until 15th May (which is next Friday) this year.  Lockdown was declared in the middle of March and until that date I attended around 260 events - charity events, awards to various local youngsters and adults e.g. young market stall holders UK, church, theatre and concert visits, golf and rowing club and local fetes and regattas, Remembrance Day and British Legion events, scouts and sea cadets, hospital and care home visits around the Christmas festivities, turning on the Christmas lights and holding the Victorian Christmas market and attendance at civic dinners, receptions and other events across Warwickshire and the West Midlands. The major events remaining were the weekend celebrations of Shakespeare's birthday - an international event with guests from all over the world, processions, dinners and the Shakespeare marathon and a commemoration of the 75th anniversary of VE day.  Both were cancelled.  The diary had a lot of other events too, along the lines of those already mentioned. These too were cancelled. Since that time the Town Council, which as Mayor, I chair, has been holding regular meetings on zoom to maintain and support those areas of the town where help is most needed.  We are working jointly with the Town Trust and coordinating efforts to ensure that no-one in the Town goes hungry or is left totally isolated by the requirements of the lockdown.  I spend time daily calling people for a chat and hopefully cheering them up.  As a District and County Councillor, I have further meetings with these bodies and am also able to ensure that each body is aware of the others efforts.  For the rest of the time, my husband and I have a small garden to look after and also read, cook, communicate with family and friends via various internet services which also provide the means to watch TV and films in the evening.  There are plenty of green spaces for a daily walk in the area which we take advantage of. The Town is empty of tourists and most shops, restaurants, etc. are closed, as are the tourist venues - the Shakespeare Birthplace and related houses, the theatre and all the other tourist-based hospitality and catering outlets.

 

What are the statistics of the covid situation? Where can we go for the data?

 

The Government issue statistics on a daily basis with regard to the covid deaths and lockdown rules.  If you wish to see the local statistics you would need to go onto the Warwickshire County Council website where all the local information is.

 

 

What type of English town is Stratford-upon-Avon?

 

Stratford-upon-Avon at its centre retains the street pattern laid down in Elizabethan times or even before.  The roads led across the river to the market place and cattle and sheep were driven across the river into the market.  This central area contains the Shakespeare spine - the houses where the Shakespeare family lived and died has been added to substantially since those times on both sides of the river although the river banks are still almost the same as the RSC theatre and the Holy Trinity Church take up the land on the town side and there is a large recreation ground and sports fields on the other.  So it is a typical small provincial market town in essence.  However, the fact that Shakespeare was born and bred in Stratford and is buried here has over the years seen the build-up of tourism.  So, we have many more theatres, restaurants, hotels, pubs and cafes than you would normally account for in a town of this size.

 

                                Facade, Stratford, FGH photo. 

 

How does the role of Mayor function? I understand it is one-year post, largely honorific and non-political, selected out of the existing councillors, with the main task of promoting the town, is that right? Why did you want to do it?  

 

The Mayor is appointed for one year by the town council and is elected by the Town Councillors.  The role is largely ceremonial and examples of activities/events which occupy the Mayors time are outlined above.   This year I have chosen 3 charities and any events I run i.e. fashion show, theatre production and quiz all the monies are evenly split between my charities.  The Mayor represents the town throughout the town and the district and the county as required and, on some occasions, even internationally. I am honoured to represent the town that I love and the area on which I have spent most of my life, to meet the people who do great voluntary work in the Town and to promote it, where appropriate, to anyone I come across.

 

 

What would be a quick highlight of favourite days in the regular calendar of the Mayor? What would be, say, a bit onerous?

 

The Mayor has no real regular calendar.  A highlight of this year and there have been many, might be the opening of the 2-day river festival which sees over 30,000 people partying in the recreation ground over the two days - much of my time was spent there, meeting with people and joining in the fun.  Nothing has been that onerous - in fact everything I have done and everyone who I have met it has been an absolute pleasure and something I am very proud of.

 

                         Gower Memorial, Stratford, FGH photo.  

 

A sampling of events took place with the Mayor’s participation this year before 23rd of March (government policy of lockdown)? What is happening since? What is the plan for the rest of the year?

 

Nothing has happened since the lockdown was initiated except for the virtual meetings described above and the support groups that we keep in touch with.  No ceremonial events can take place indoors or out - they are not permitted.  We only have a plan to keep going as best we can until such time as the elements of the lockdown are eased.

 

                             Stratford Town Hall Photo Archive.  

 

 

Town hall is the local political unit: true? What are the councillors’ agenda priorities in general terms at this very moment?

 

The Town Councillors elected are affiliated to political parties but act as independents.   The Town Council has a limited amount of political power and refers and recommends to the District Council on many matters.  Whilst elected, the Mayor is required to be absolutely a-political.

 

Let us imagine a time before Brexit and before covid-19, how was Stratford dealing with things? And how is the town dealing with both at this moment? Would you like to declare your political affiliation and position, whether pro- or against Brexit? How do you evaluate your political party’s handling of the Brexit issue?

 

During the Brexit negotiations and before the pandemic outbreak, the town was enjoying its usual amount of vibrancy based on the tourist industry and the income it generated and the fact that a lot of employees from Aston Martin and the Jaguar Land Rover industry live and work in or near the town.  The Town Council and the life of the town was not particularly influenced by political discussions and elections nor was there time for any effects of the January deadline to take effect before the world was changed by the necessary restrictions imposed because of the virus.

 

                               Stratford Town Hall Photo Archive

 

How do people make a living in Stratford? How do you see the impact of Brexit and/or covid-19 in their lives?

 

As per above, tourism is a major factor. The nearby JLR and Aston Martin plants and some other light industry and IT resources also plays a part.  Foreign travel and most sorts of tourism will be devastated by the restrictions and fears related to the virus for some time to come.  Who knows how long.  Stratford and the surrounding area have been and will be severely hit by the economic meltdown which is and will continue to be one of the consequences of the lockdown.

 

What is the town hall doing about both big issues that you would like to highlight?

 

Have answered above

 

                     Photography of the Fool in Stratford, FGH.  

 

What is the populational configuration of the town, the X-ray of the Stratford if you wish? (families raising children, youth percentage, pensioners?, etc.). Has covid been an issue in care homes, given the latest news?).  

 

The population of the town is roughly 26,500 - if you require any details of demographics you would need to contact the County Council who hold statistics of age, profiles and any deprivation in the town.

 

How is the character of Stratford inside the midlands in your view?

 

This question has lost something in translation.  I don’t really understand the meaning.

 

                         Street in Stratford, photography FGH.  

 

You were born in London and moved to the Midlands in 1976, why did you do that? Why would people want to live here? What are the pluses of Stratford?

 

I did answer this question previously, but people want to live here because of the good quality of life and it is an attractive place to live in and only 2/3 hours away from almost anywhere in the UK.

 

There is Hollywood convention that “life was good” and then something awful came out from the outside to make it “bad” (for example, Spielberg’s film “Jaws”). But this is England and we are not American, what were and area the “issues” or the “challenges” in the town, the things that “need work,” the “bad” if you wish, in the town or the region in the immediate present and near future?

 

In so far as I can understand your meaning here - the immediate present situation needs positive support.  The future will be extremely difficult as the nature of the town could change dramatically if the economic life of the town is no longer supported by tourism.  We shall react to the future as it becomes apparent what the need might be.

 

                      Photography of house front, Stratford, FGH. 

 

Once relaxation of the lockdown kicks in, why would visitors want to visit this town and the midlands in general?

 

London, Edinburgh and Stratford-upon-Avon have always been high on the tourist list nationally and internationally.  This is also the home of the RSC.  We are near the Cotswolds, Kenilworth and Warwick castle and a host of national trust houses and historic sites.  Once they can travel, people will come back for the same reasons they always did.

 

 

                              House Facade Detail, FGH photo. 

 

 

Neale Murphy, Mayor of Warwick (https://www.warwicktowncouncil.gov.uk/the-mayor/).

 

 

How are you coping with covid-19 (and family, friends, colleagues in general)? How is the town coping in general?

 

Family and friends are doing fine, adhering to the government advice so all in all okay. Throughout my family we have people from all walks of life including essential workers.

 

What are the statistics of the covid situation? Where can we go for the data?

 

I get daily updates of covid in our local area. These are published on district council web page for everyone to see.

 

                   VE Day 2020, Warwick Town Hall photo archive.

 

What type of English town is Warwick?

 

Warwick is a medieval town that has good tourism and local trade with good economic growth around the district.

 

How does the role of Mayor function? I understand it is one-year post, largely honorific and non-political, selected out of the existing councillors, with the main task of promoting the town, is that right?  

 

The mayor role is as stated.

 

                    VE Day 2020, Warwick Town Hall photo archive.

 

What would be a quick highlight of favourite days in the regular calendar of the Mayor? What would be, say, a bit onerous?

 

I really do have very good days as mayor, I get invited to so many events and they want me to be there. So very enjoyable meeting all walks of life in all parts of the community.

 

Onerous? Never I thoroughly enjoy and I am exceptionally proud to be given the opportunity to of [having] been mayor of such a wonderful town

 

                                Warwick Street, FGH photo. 

 

A sampling of events took place with the Mayor’s participation this year before 23rd of March (government policy of lockdown)? What is happening since? What is the plan for the rest of the year?

 

Before lock down I attended on average something daily, opening new businesses, school visits, national events.

 

Since lock down lots of virtual meetings and letters of support. We are in for one year [from] May to May. So, my year was nearly complete, so due to the lack of work or access I have been extended to the end of July.

 

                     VE Day 2020, Warwick Town Hall photo archive.

 

Town hall is the local political unit: true? What are the councillors’ agenda priorities in general terms at this very moment?

 

Warwick court house is the town council meeting place. Our council agenda has a still in line and operating on all essential and necessary requirements of running the council. Done with virtual meetings.

 

 

                           Warwick house fronts, FGH photo.  

 

Let us imagine a time before covid-19, how was Warwick dealing with things before and after the Brexit referendum? How does the town stand in relation to the issue? Would you like to declare your political affiliation and position, whether pro- or against? How do you evaluate your political party’s handling of the Brexit issue?

 

I do not think Brexit has been of great concern to the average town person, as for council on Brexit again we have to work on central government guidelines on what has been agreed.

Political affiliations as mayor: I am neutral.

 

How do I feel of my party’s dealings of Brexit! Well I think parliament as a whole looked very silly as a democratic vote took place and our politicians were not respectful of the result, all parties.

 

                   VE Day 2020, Warwick Town Hall photo archive. 

 

How do people make a living in Warwick? How do you see the impact of Brexit and/or covid-19 in their lives?

 

People of Warwick make their living in many ways, from multi-national company’s to unique solo trading we have a wide variety of employment, and lots of opportunities in between. Covid has been tough, but I do think we will be able to on the whole get through this and hopefully manage to continue making a living.

 

Brexit: until central government and the European Union come to an agreement on deals, then we can only speculate impact on the town.

 

                      Florist Facade, Smith Street, Warwick, FGH.  

 

What is the town hall doing about both big issues that you would like to highlight?

 

Covid help has been well publicised on all media and local news. The support and details of all help and guidance has been well highlighted and hopefully the majority are reasonably happy with our response. We are made aware of any issues we do act and do direct any persons or group to the right places.

 

Brexit: we have worked within the little bits of guidelines from national government. As stated prior we cannot do anything until Brexit has been finalised. So, it would only be speculation.

 

                   VE Day 2020, Warwick Town Hall photo archive. 

 

What is the populational configuration of the town, the X-ray of the Warwick if you wish? (families raising their children, pensioners?, etc. Has covid been an issue in care homes, given the latest news?).  

 

[We are a] fine balance of families and elderly residents throughout the town. Covid has been an issue throughout the town, through the range of all residents I do feel all have been supported. Though it has been tough, I do think we have given fair support for all the residents. [The] population is a wide and varied if all age groups. We have recently embarked on a large-scale building programme and as such attracted all areas of society.

 

So roughly I would say around 30% elderly, 40% 30-60 and 30% young to 30. That is only my perception.

 

                          VE Day 2020, Warwick, FGH photo. 

 

How is the character of Warwick inside the midlands in your view?

 

The character of Warwick is second to none. The people of this town are so supportive and genuinely will always help and pull together we are very well respected within the midlands.

                              Warwick Town Hall photo archive.  

 

Why would people want to live here? What are the pluses of Warwick?

 

This is a great place to live, to work and to grow. Great schools, good employment, loads to do and see, and so friendly.

 

There is Hollywood convention that “life was good” and then something awful came out from the outside to make it “bad” (for example, Spielberg’s film “Jaws”). But this is England and we are not American, what were “issues” or the “challenges” in the town, the “good and bad” if you wish, in the town or the region, and how are these in the immediate present and near future?

 

Challenges are traffic and air quality. We are trying to improve this with all councils making plans to reduce pollution throughout the district. Shops and trade within town is hard work, but together with groups we listen and try ideas to hopefully promote the town

 

                        Race Course, Warwick, Town Hall Photo.  

 

Once relaxation of the lockdown kicks in, why would visitors want to visit the midlands?

 

Castle, historic buildings and views, stunning parks and the biggest group of independent traders in the area, unique and the people are so friendly.

                       

 

                       Town Crier Competition, Town Hall photo.  

 

What would constitute a good day in town in the company of the Mayor?

 

Now that’s a funny question, I would like to think I am great to be with. But as I stated earlier I get invited to many things of differing things the town people want me to see the things happening in the town so my visits are so positive to be at. So, I presume if I am enjoying it, hopefully they are too. We have very many fantastic places to eat and drink. St Nicholas park for wild meadows and boat rides and of course a castle and historic town.

 

                                   FGH, Market Place intersection, Warwick, FGH photo.