Tuesday, 26 October 2021

Town bustles during Literary Festival

HOSPITALITY businesses in Henley are enjoying a boom in business this week thanks to the town’s eighth literary festival.

Thousands of extra visitors have descended on the town since the week-long festival began on Monday and many cafés, restaurants and hotels have seen trade soar.

The festival comprises 150 events featuring big-name authors, broadcasters, politicians and entertainers including Princess Michael of Kent, Paddy Ashdown, Anne Robinson, Tony Parsons, Dawn O’Porter, Rachel and Stanley Johnson and Gareth Thomas. About a third of the events have sold out and overall tickets sales have topped 16,000, a festival record.

Neil Ainsworth, landlord of the Argyll pub in Market Place, said: “It’s always a successful week for us and people gravitate towards the town centre. “You can tell there’s excitement about the festival and we have noticed people starting to filter into town. We expect to be very busy.”

Hannah Richards, manager at the Three Tuns in Market Place, said: “We have quite a few bookings this week from big parties that we know are connected to the festival.

“There’s lots booked in for lunchtimes, which is great because lunch is generally quieter than dinner.” Rob Hooton, landlord of the Old Bell in Bell Street, said: “We’ve already had quite a few people in who have been to different talks so it’s picking up and if it’s like last year it will be very good.

“My partner and I love the festival and go to as much as we can ourselves.”

Christie Hayes, assistant manager at the Henley Brew House in Market Place, said: “On Monday we did three times the amount of lunch covers that we normally do. We think it will be quite a busy week and weekend.”

Both the Catherine Wheel in Hart Street and the Angel on The Bridge in Thames Side also reported increased custom while the Giggling Squid in Hart Street and Villa Marina in Thames Side both said they had extra dinner bookings.

Nestor Castillo, who runs Café Buendia in Bell Street said: “We have been very busy this week with people coming in from all over and lots are going to the festival. Everyone seems very happy.”

Jack Goring, who works at the Hot Gossip coffee house in Friday Street, said: “It has been very busy this week.

“I’ve worked here for two years and the festival always brings lots of people out and trade has certainly picked up because of it.” Aruns Baipsis, supervisor at Maison Blanc in Duke Street, said the cafe was “packed” with festival-goers on Monday.

“It seems much busier this year than last,” he added. Szabi Majors, manager at Patisserie Valerie in Market Place, said: “We’ve been very busy.

“Every year for the literary festival we are busier than normal but I think this year has probably been better than last and we are hoping it will carry on into the weekend.”

Town centre manager Peter McConnell said: “The literary festival is brilliant. “It brings lots of extra people into Henley during the course of the week. I was asked by a visitor on Tuesday where to go for a coffee and I directed them to one of our independent coffee shops.

“It’s just a fantastic event and prestigious for the town, especially on a week like this when the sun is shining. I’ve heard people comment on the quality of the venues and how attractive the town looks.”

Mayor Martin Akehurst said: “The literary festival is a great way of getting people into Henley. There seems to be more people in and around the town so I’m sure the local businesses are doing well. Almost all the meeting rooms in the town hall are being used and the whole place is buzzing.”

Festival director and founder Sue Ryan said the town was incredibly supportive of the festival and that all the authors always said they enjoyed coming.

She said: “On every street corner there are people talking and you can tell they have just been to an event. It feels like a university town with all these little huddles and people running from one event to another.

“The town seems to be really busy and all the hotels are full. We are 2,000 tickets up on last year we have had people come from Wales, London and even Germany. We’ve also had more than 1,200 school children at events this week, which is fantastic because they are the people we want to inspire.”

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