Stroud Subscription Rooms: What’s the Big Deal? By Sarah Phaedre Watson

A couple of weeks ago I sat in Meme and watched the forecourt at the Subs, enjoying the diorama; the man hastily buying (apology?) flowers from the vintage van, the couple on the bench eatingsteaming sausage rolls out of paper bags. On the steps were a group of teenagers furiously texting; frowning and biting their lips whilst pointedly ignoring a side of Morris Dancers leaping and wooping in front of them.

It was such a beautiful window into Stroud life, the ‘People’s Republic of Stroud’ flag on the balcony formed the perfect triangulation to the scene. If I were a French film director I would have had my couple wordlessly parting right here, right in the middle of the forecourt, certainly with some intense snogging. The film, (definitely French New Wave in case you’re wondering) would be solely based on the Subs Forecourt and would probably end with one of the lovers being hit by a rogue Morris Dancer’s stick. Probably fatally.

Earlier in the week a regular visitor had appeared in the foyer of the Subs, this mature gentleman occasionally loses his bearings around town.  He’s a little cold and slightly confused - so we take him through to the cafe, make him comfortable and press a warm drink into his hands - the building reassures him. When his wife appears stumbling over her words and her feet, so grateful, so relieved, I feel so proud - a little choked if I’m honest.

When we met after work the other evening to discuss how everyone feels about their jobs, the attention the building is getting in the town, how it’s affecting people (it does you know) one of the team confessed that on her way into work every morning she’ll stop and touch the building. They’ve worked here for years, seen the managers and bands and councillors and public come and go, it’s family to them. It’s home. And she’ll kill me for telling people.

So I’d like you all to appreciate the extreme reserve I am showing when I hear why people don’t go and don’t use the building. It’s a bit like one of your mates telling you that that funny old aunt of yours, the one that has the heart of gold and will do anything for you, the one that tries so hard to please every single member of the extended dysfunctional family, is not quite cool enough. Have you ever tried to please 13,000 people in a creative, slightly bonkers small Cotswold town? I tried not to offend a whole room full off people once, it was exhausting. At least 50,000 people go through the doors each year - so I reckon she’s doing quite well.

I’m angry.  As I think of that older gentleman, those teenagers, the Morris Dancers. The woman who has worked here for decades and can feel the building right to it’s very foundations. The people who dismiss The Subs and the space she offers to this community. I’m angry.

So, it’s great to hear how concerned the town is that the building may not belong to them any more, there’s strong feeling, people are vocal - it’s a Stroud family trait to stand up for what we believe in, right? But there’s a difference between getting angry and actually doing something isn’t there?

Stroud is a special town; we are a community with a heart.  The Subscription Rooms is the very fabric of our community and our town.  It stands for every single one of us, our grandparents who met during tea dances, our teens angrily addressing the world one FaceBook post at a time, our apologetic young man, and the weary wife relieved to find her husband safe and well.

There sits The Subs, you might not like it, or visit it, you don’t even realise what an important role it plays. But this building doesn’t belong to us, it’s been here for nearly 200 years - built for the public to enjoy art, culture and entertainment. We’re supposed to be looking after it for future generations, let’s take a moment to do that shall we? 

Come to the Ballroom at The Subscription Rooms (you know the building right?) on Saturday 18th February 9.30am-2pm. There you can hear more about the asset review process, ask questions, tell the Council what you think (nicely please), and also tell us what events you’d like to see here. 

You can book existing events on the website too; use it, or lose it people...

And yes, I am accepting applications for the role of “jilted lover who gets killed by a Morris Dancer’s stick" right now.

No one knows what Sarah Phaedre Watson really does, she spends time gallivanting off to Africa to make films, writing for various publications, or passionately supporting community arts and events. She certainly gets about a bit