Resurgent Rugby on the rise and ready for bicentenary
From rugby football to Rupert Brooke and from Frank Whittle to Spiritualized, the town of Rugby has given the world much in the realms of sport, poetry, engineering and music. But while the town is rightly proud of its far-reaching impact on the wider world, it also has much to be proud of on a local level. In the first of a series highlighting the great offer of towns across Warwickshire, WMB features Rugby on the eve of a very special year for the town.
The last three years have been uniquely testing for all towns with businesses hit by a succession of blows - Brexit, the pandemic and now rising costs. It has been, and remains, a time of great challenge but small towns across Warwickshire have responded with immense resilience and enterprise.
They have weathered the storm and are advancing again. Rugby is a prime example.
Just as, in the sport which bears the town's name, the top players take the knocks and bounce back harder, so the town is bouncing back from one of the most turbulent eras in UK history.
Rugby is being rejuvenated, based upon a reputation as one of the safest and cleanest of town centres, says Linda Lowne, Business and Stakeholder Manager at Rugby First, the town's Business Improvement District.
"Like all towns, Rugby has been hit hard over the last few years." said Linda. "But the town is now bouncing back, and from the attendance that we have seen at our events this year, it’s clear that there is a real appetite for people to come to the town centre to enjoy what Rugby has to offer.
"Empty shops are now being filled again. You can see a wave of change in the town centre as people are taking up leases and spending money because the town is worth investing in.
"We at Rugby First pride ourselves in ensuring the town centre is both clean and safe. Our cleaners have been praised for their diligence during events, they keep the town litter free, and visitors have commented on this. We also employ Rangers, distinctive in their red uniform, who patrol the town centre ensuring we provide a friendly safe environment for visitors. Together with responding to any security issues our rangers are trained to use defibrillators and offer rapid first aid response before an ambulance arrives. They have literally been responsible for saving lives and we are so proud of them.
“The rangers also help us to ensure we have strong links with our businesses. Each of them do 12 business visits a day. Maintaining strong communication links is important to us and something we are working to improve even more.”
Part of the lure for businesses to come into, or back into, the town centre is the heavy footfall at events there. So successful was this year's Rugby Food and Drink Festival, with around 7,000 visitors, that Rugby First will be holding two in 2023. Rugby BikeFest attracted 9,000 people in May.
“The Rugby First Bikefest was a really lovely family day," said Linda. "Traders, visitors and the bikers all loved it and it epitomised what Rugby is - a diverse community coming together and enjoying themselves.
"At the Food and Drink Festival we offered our town centre businesses the opportunity to have a stall. Wherever possible, local businesses and producers get the first opportunity to have a presence at any of our events. In all our marketing we encourage Rugby residents to shop locally to support our fantastic, eclectic mix of businesses - both independents and nationals
"We had around 9,000 visitors for the Christmas Lights switch on this year. On December 3rd, there will be a Lantern Parade, a community project which Rugby First has brought together for both young and old. Cubs and brownies, community groups and churches will be amongst those taking part in the parade through the town centre. The parade will end at St Andrew's Church providing a lovely build up to their Manchester Carols held that evening. Lantern-making workshops will take place on the day at St Andrew’s but you don’t have to have made a lantern to take part. Just come along and be part of the event.
"Last year Rugby First was given a Challen piano, donated by Steve Droy Piano Services, The Piano Technology School - a local piano-tuning school and one of only three in the world. They have been amazing in allowing their very talented students to maintain and tune the piano and we are so grateful for all their help and support. Another Rugby firm, LSM, donated one of their own locally-made piano stools and a really talented artist Natasha Awuku covered the piano in a stunning array of hand-painted British butterflies, making it a piece of art in its own right.
“The piano was placed in the Rugby Central shopping centre and shoppers have been treated to some wonderful impromptu concerts. More special though are the number of children that you can hear tinkling away on it. It's gone away for a tune and clean at the moment but will be back in the New Year.
"Warwickshire County Council's 'Our Spaces' project brought the Butter Stones to town. Popular with people sitting out having their lunch or just watching the world go by, it’s added colour and green space to town and highlights the new gothic architecture of William Butterfield which is so prevalent in the town. We've got a lot of ideas of how we might expand what we do round them."
Next year will be a special one for Rugby as it is the bicentenary of the day when Rugby School boy William Webb-Ellis picked up the ball during a match and ran with it. That, the story goes, was how the game of rugby started and it led to the town lending its name to one of the world's biggest sports. Millions of times every day, across the globe, the name 'rugby' is uttered.
"We will have lots of events tied in with the bicentenary and our regular events such as Bikefest will have a rugby theme," said Linda. "We are working with Rugby School and Rugby Borough Council to commemorate 200 years of the game and the whole town will be dressed to celebrate this milestone. We want businesses to get involved, perhaps by providing special services, events or products. We know the bicentenary will attract additional visitors to the town to attend events offered by Rugby School, and it's important for those visitors to know that the town is a great place to visit with an extensive range of quality shops and restaurants."
Warwickshire County Council works with Business Improvement Districts (BIDS) in the county to ensure they are supported as key stakeholders within town centres. The council takes an active part in the Board and the place projects and partnerships team at the council are in regular communication with the BID around the placemaking agenda in the town centre.
You can find out more about the work of Rugby BID and upcoming events at https://rugbyfirst.org/