A literary festival for Shakespeare’s home town

Terry Rosoman | Posted on Wed 15 May 2019 at 9.46AM

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It all started with a question: why isn’t there a literary festival in Stratford-upon-Avon, the most famous literary town in the world? Two friends – published author Annie Ashworth and bookshop owner Natasha Roderick-Jones – pondered the question and decided to answer it by launching the Stratford Literary Festival in 2008.


“We started with three days in a tent by the river,” recalled Annie. “We had some pretty high-flying authors – people like Jeffrey Archer and Clarissa Dickson Wright – which was scary, but great.”

Now in its twelfth year, the festival runs an eight-day programme in the spring and a long weekend in the winter, as well as a school’s week, workshops in prisons and regular community events. “Programming a festival is a bit like putting together a box of chocolates,” explained Annie. “You put in very different flavours to appeal to the widest range of audience.” During the main spring festival this year, over 30 volunteers help the small staff team deliver almost 90 events across seven venues.


For several years, tickets for festival events were sold through the box office of an arts venue in the town. But, in 2018, the system came to an abrupt halt. “I got a call out of the blue saying that the venue was going to close after our spring festival had finished,” Annie remembered. “We were in a flat panic – we had no venue or box office for our winter weekend, but we had big names booked, including Rick Stein and Kamal Ahmed, and we needed a professional box office.”

Annie is also the Artistic Director of Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival in Devon, and one of her colleagues in Budleigh recommended TicketSource, the online ticket-selling platform that’s free for event organisers. “I contacted TicketSource and explained that we needed to move quickly,” she said, “and they were so good. I can’t tell you how impressed I am with them – they’ve been really good at adapting to our needs."


As well as selling tickets online, the festival started using TicketSource’s telephone box office service. “With the venue closure, we didn’t have a walk-up box office for the first time ever,” said Annie. “On the whole, our audience can be older, and not used booking tickets on the internet, so the phone box office is very helpful. It also opens for longer hours than our walk-up did, which has been useful.”

For Annie, a major advantage of the TicketSource system is access to audience details. Due to GDPR regulations, information collected by the venue’s box office could not be shared with the festival. “If I needed to contact customers about an event, I would never have been able to get the email addresses out of the old system,” explained Annie. “The date of a talk by Emily Maitlis changed this year and, thanks to TicketSource, I immediately emailed everybody who had booked to tell them. That would have been no end of a headache if I’d not had control over audience data.”

With the Stratford Literary Festival firmly established in the region’s cultural calendar, there’s no longer any question about opportunities for writers and readers to connect in Shakespeare’s home town. Through a rich mixture of talks and events, the festival provides a platform for writers and brings people together with a shared love of words and ideas. “I’ve sat with many authors when someone’s said, ‘I love your work’, and their face just lights up,” smiled Annie. “It’s like, ‘Oh, there are people out there reading my book’!”



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