Stratford-upon-Avon: Why are WE paying the price in Tier Three?

Why are WE paying the price? It’s much ado about something as Stratford-upon-Avon – with few cases and low infection rates – is thrust into Tier Three

  • Warwickshire town’s already low rates are falling still further – but it has found itself lumped in with the rest of the county
  • Towns in nearby Oxfordshire and Worcestershire, with higher rates, are in Tier 2
  • Marcos Torres, co-owner of three restaurants in Stratford, said he was ‘deflated’

It is a winter of discontent in Shakespeare’s birthplace after Stratford-upon-Avon found itself in Tier Three despite low infection rates.

Pubs and restaurants in the historic market town had been busy putting up Christmas decorations and taking bookings when they got the bad news.

Although the Warwickshire town’s already low rates are falling still further, it has found itself lumped in with the rest of the county. Yet towns in nearby Oxfordshire and Worcestershire, with higher rates, are in Tier Two.

Marcos Torres, co-owner of three restaurants in Stratford, said he was ‘deflated and disappointed’. He and business partner Nigel Lambert were fully booked from next week – when they had expected to reopen. They have spent thousands on deep cleaning, plastic dividers and other Covid measures.

It is a winter of discontent in Shakespeare’s birthplace after Stratford-upon-Avon found itself in Tier Three despite low infection rates. Pubs and restaurants in the historic market town had been busy putting up Christmas decorations and taking bookings when they got the bad news. (Above, the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford) 


Marcos Torres (right), co-owner of three restaurants in Stratford, said he was ‘deflated and disappointed’. He and business partner Nigel Lambert were fully booked from next week – when they had expected to reopen. They have spent thousands on deep cleaning, plastic dividers and other Covid measures. (Left, Mr Torres’s pub, the Vintner)

‘We were in Tier One before and cases are still very low so it was a huge shock to find out we were in Tier Three,’ he said. ‘It’s nonsensical really. A huge blow, not just for us but for the whole of Stratford-upon-Avon. People are really upset and angry.’

Stratford has an infection rate of 105.3 per 100,000. Among the over-60s the rate is even lower, at 74 per 100,000, while the hospitalisation rate is also low, with fewer than two people a day being admitted.

The town recorded 137 new cases in the week ending November 22 – a drop of 67.

At a more local level, the area of Stratford South East and Torrington had just four cases – a rate of 48.2 per 100,000. But nearby Redditch in Worcestershire, with a rate of 240 cases per 100,000, is in Tier Two.

Mr Torres, co-owner of Lambs, The Opposition and the Vintner, said all they could do was hope to be put into Tier Two when they are reviewed in two weeks.

The Royal Shakespeare Company had planned to restart performances next month, welcoming audiences back for the first time since March. It had sold all the tickets but has also had to shelve its plans and make the production online-only.

Stratford MP and business minister Nadhim Zahawi said: ‘I understand the concerns raised by large numbers of constituents about why the restrictions in Stratford-upon-Avon are being affected by factors in areas further away from us than from our immediate neighbours, such as Worcestershire and Oxfordshire, both of whom will be moving into Tier Two next week.’

Nick Rowberry, owner of The Boathouse in Stratford, had organised staff rotas and started printing new menus.

‘Tier Three was really the worst-case scenario,’ he said. ‘We were absolutely gutted. We just stopped work and started contacting all the customers who had booked. It’s a bit of a joke – the infection rate is very low here. We spent a lot of money making sure we were Covid-safe and we had no cases here.

‘What they are basing it on is pretty flawed. A well-run restaurant or a well-run pub is much safer than a supermarket.’

A decision that’s unfit for a Queen

Hever in Kent was in Tier One before the country was plunged into lockdown. But despite having under three cases in the last week, it will re-emerge in Tier Three. Duncan Leslie, chief executive of Hever Castle (above), Anne Boleyn’s childhood home, said the decision was particularly ‘galling’ when infection rates are higher in neighbouring villages in Surrey and Sussex which are in Tier Two

Hever in Kent was in Tier One before the country was plunged into lockdown. But despite having under three cases in the last week, it will re-emerge in Tier Three.

Laura Palmer, of Hever Residents’ Association, said the decision was a blow for a village so small that it has no shops or pavements where residents could catch the virus from each other.

Duncan Leslie, chief executive of Hever Castle, Anne Boleyn’s childhood home, said the decision was particularly ‘galling’ when infection rates are higher in neighbouring villages in Surrey and Sussex which are in Tier Two.

Mr Leslie, 51, warned the castle, pictured – a huge tourist attraction which employs many villagers – will make a seven-figure loss this year.

Meanwhile, David Brant, landlord of the King Henry VIII pub, said: ‘All you can do is plan for it to be Tier One or Two, then when it’s Tier Three it’s horrible because you plan for the best case.’

Mr Brant, 40, added that his diary was ‘rammed’ with Christmas bookings that will now have to be cancelled.

Residents of Great Torrington (above) who have faithfully complied with two national lockdowns find themselves marooned in Tier Two. This means friends cannot meet indoors, and pubs must stay shut unless they serve meals

Tarka the Otter town dead in the water

Great Torrington isn’t just the setting for children’s classic Tarka the Otter. The north Devon market town has also been hailed as the healthiest place in Britain.

A study last year praised its low levels of pollution and good access to NHS services. A lot has changed since then, of course – but Great Torrington, pictured, remains in relatively good health.

For most of this year there have been fewer than three cases of coronavirus there each week. That number rose to six in the second week of November, then dropped to five in the third week, for a rate of just 83 infections per 100,000.

Despite these encouraging figures, residents who have faithfully complied with two national lockdowns find themselves marooned in Tier Two. This means friends cannot meet indoors, and pubs must stay shut unless they serve meals.

Waitress Keeley Allin fears for her job at the Market Cafe. ‘We’re not going to be allowed to serve mixed households indoors. A lot of our trade is based on that. We will be open next week but we really have no idea how many customers we’ll get.’ The 24-year-old – who also happens to be the town’s mayor – warned that pubs would suffer the most. ‘Some will remain closed and you do wonder whether they will ever reopen… it’s very sad.’

Brian and Vicky Conrad, who set up their own guitar shop three months ago, fear Tier Two status will put off customers from travelling into the town centre.

‘All this time we’ve earned nothing,’ Mr Conrad said. ‘Big online retailers have scooped everything up and I fear this latest blow will destroy us.’

Mr Conrad, 51, decided to try selling guitars after the pandemic brought his career as an IT consultant to an abrupt end in March. ‘We’ve had a reasonable grant from the Government,’ he said. ‘It has kept us going through what should have been our best trading period. But we are now suffering the fallout because the Government didn’t respond properly in the first place.’

Mrs Conrad, 49, said: ‘It is just so sad. We felt we’d done everything right and were trying to find a new way to make a living. Now we are dead in the water.’

The market town of Bourne had been living under the relative freedom of Tier One restrictions before the second lockdown

The Bourne absurdity

The market town of Bourne had been living under the relative freedom of Tier One restrictions before the second lockdown.

And its population of around 14,000 saw only 21 new coronavirus cases last week.

But business owners and councillors in the Lincolnshire town were left horrified by the news that they will be moving into Tier Three next month.

The area, pictured above, is known for its natural springs and agriculture. It faces the same measures as the rest of the county which has high case numbers in the north.

However, Bourne locals point out they are just a few miles from Peterborough which has higher infection numbers per 100,000 yet will be in Tier Two when the country escapes lockdown.

Town councillor Brenda Johnson said: ‘Bourne is going to suffer for this, it’s absolutely crazy.’

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