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Stapleford Granary cafe opens at music, arts and business centre on farm site



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Stapleford Granary, which this month opened its new on-site cafe, is an astonishing combination of heritage architecture, music venue, business hub, and arts centre that evolved from a long-standing working farm.

Stapleford Granary coffee shop has space in and outdoors. Picture: Keith Heppell
Stapleford Granary coffee shop has space in and outdoors. Picture: Keith Heppell

The old Bury Farm site at the South Cambridgeshire village was largely destroyed by a fire in 1870.

Rebuilt to a very high standard, the new complex included a two-storey granary which emerged just as crops were being harvested by machines driven by horsepower or steam, rather than by hand.

Dressing of the corn was carried out using machinery inside the granary, where it was also dried and stored. This method endured until 1950 but, with the introduction of modern industrial farm buildings, the granary fell out of use in the 1980s. It was to remain unused for almost 30 years.

In 2010, the farm complex known as Stapleford Granary was sold to Paul Brooke Barnes, the son of pioneering journalist Philip Brooke Barnes who founded the Association for Cultural Exchange (ACE), an educational charity promoting cultural and international understanding, in 1958. Paul acquired the site on behalf of ACE and proceeded to transform the beautiful old buildings into an inspiring space for education, culture, music and the arts.

From left are Tamlyn Barber, Megan Lorimer, Louie Trezise, Bethany Winchester, Calum Barlow, Olivia Trezise and Kate Romano. Picture: Keith Heppell
From left are Tamlyn Barber, Megan Lorimer, Louie Trezise, Bethany Winchester, Calum Barlow, Olivia Trezise and Kate Romano. Picture: Keith Heppell

The project was masterminded by Paul, artistic director Trevor Barlow and Cambridge-based architects Toni Moses Design and MCW.

Trevor’s role today is as director of events and courses, and co-artistic director for jazz and folk programming.

The new Stapleford Granary building was acclaimed in 2019 when it was awarded the RIBA Regional East Award for its authentic renovation into “an innovative learning space whilst staying true to many of its original features”.

Paul continued as founding director until July 2020 when he invited Kate Romano to take on the newly created role of chief executive of Stapleford Granary. He continues as general secretary for ACE: the role includes oversight of the development of the Granary and ACE Cultural Tours, a subsidiary which is “the longest-established UK provider of cultural travel”.

Some of the outside seating for Stapleford Granary coffee shop customers. Picture: Calum Barlow
Some of the outside seating for Stapleford Granary coffee shop customers. Picture: Calum Barlow

“It was Paul’s vision, passion and love of high-level design which won the RIBA award,” Kate says as she walks me round the site. “It’s all beautifully done, and the success of ACE Cultural Tours has helped finance this vision, enabling us to further our charitable objectives.”

Kate, who is both CEO at Stapleford Granary and co-artistic director with Ian Buckle, has a multi-disciplinary background which includes 25 years as a professional chamber musician (clarinet), opera and music theatre production, plus BBC broadcasting and writing. She is the founder of Goldfield Productions and was a senior academic at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama for 15 years.

“I ran my own production company as a charity for 10 years,” she says.

Kate Romano is both CEO at Stapleford Granary and co-artistic director with Ian Buckle. Picture: Keith Heppell
Kate Romano is both CEO at Stapleford Granary and co-artistic director with Ian Buckle. Picture: Keith Heppell

She clearly loves her role – ‘my main job is to drive forward the artistic and charitable vision and transform this site into a vibrant, bustling arts centre for everyone. But we all wear many hats…’ A typical day can also include playing in concerts, unblocking drains, talking to the press, putting the seats out…”.

Though Kate started her role during lockdown, when having no visitors and no concerts must have been unnerving, what happened, strategy-wise, is something of a masterclass of how to nurture an organisation through the hard times, ready to pop up fighting-fit with an updated business model when the dust clears.

“It was a lovely self-sustaining funding model until Covid, which hit the arts and travel particularly hard,” she says. “I’ve come in at an extraordinary time. Previously, the travel company was running 250 tours a year and it fell to zero. It’s been immensely tough: at times it was grim. Staff were kept on, mainly to deal with the cancellations.

The view from behind the stage in the courtyard tent. Picture: Calum Barlow
The view from behind the stage in the courtyard tent. Picture: Calum Barlow

“Now the travel company is building up its tours once again, the Granary has a new business development manager (Tamlyn Barber) and the buildings are coming back to life.

“Artistic activity was very difficult during the pandemic. We did streaming and events when we could. We had 800 people here for our Village Day last year, which was pretty much the only summer event going on in July 2021. Like all arts centres, we found managing things safely during the pandemic was challenging and immensely time consuming’

Now things are blossoming again and the annual Village Day – “a day for the community made by the community” – is a chance to showcase the progress that’s been made. There’s a village day in the summer, and another in December, but this year is different, because there’s a massive awning in the courtyard which is there to ensure outdoor summer concerts and activities can go ahead whatever the weather.

“It’s a 300 sq m tent for outdoor events,” says Kate. “It offers a surprisingly well-contained sound; hardly any sound bleeds outside the courtyard so the neighbours don’t hear anything.

“It’s what an arts centre should be. Having the tent feels like a real game-changer even if it is quite a beast to put up – it has five king poles. we had the support of Shelford Rugby Club to help lift them into place! It’s man-made fibre which mimics an old goat skin hair tent.

Tamlyn Barber, business development manager at Staplfeord Granary, in the just-opened cafe. Picture: Keith Heppell
Tamlyn Barber, business development manager at Staplfeord Granary, in the just-opened cafe. Picture: Keith Heppell

“It’s based on a Bedouin tent design. It’s completely waterproof but keeps you quite cool in the summer.

“It’s a turret shape suitable for 180 to 200 people seated, sold by the Stretch Tent Company in Milton Keynes, but the tent was made in South Africa. The money came from a donation. It packs away to the size of a large pallet. It weighs a ton but it’s surprisingly easy to store.”

In addition to summer outdoor concerts Stapleford Granary has an all-year-round programme of classical, folk and jazz concerts which take place in the indoor concert hall which boasts an excellent music acoustic enhanced by Douglas fir flooring and local gault brick walls. There’s seating for up to 100.

“We have a wonderful loyal audience,” says Kate, “but we are doing much to reach a far wider audience through our programming and new initiatives such as our Village Days, Christmas market, outdoor concerts and BBQs and the new cafe. We also offer artist residences during August when the site is a little quieter.”

The Stapleford Granary coffee shop with, left, Olivia Trezise, and Megan Lorimer. Picture: Keith Heppell
The Stapleford Granary coffee shop with, left, Olivia Trezise, and Megan Lorimer. Picture: Keith Heppell

Stapleford Granary also includes recording and filming facilities, seminar room, art studios, gallery walkway and workshops as well as office space for the ACE Cultural Tours.

Most of the 20 staff on the site work for the travel company, with a small team – three full-time equivalents, freelancers and volunteers’ – on the public-facing programme.

The outhouses are for use as business premises, with the Orchard Room a very elegant meeting room available for day or half-day hire. The Granary Foyer, Ensemble Room and Stable Room are also for hire. Longer-term business lets are available, either as offices or for other purposes.

This year’s Village Day took place in 32C on Sunday, but it was wonderfully cool under the big tent. There was something for all, including food and drink, music, art and craft stalls, and have-a-go crafts in the stable block, including basket weaving, stained glass and handmade book workshops. The day featured a have- a-go choir and a junior bake-off, before a Samba drumming session ahead of a performance by global folk collective Mishra.

“The Village Day is so close to my heart,” said Kate. “It’s free to enter and its one of the ways in which we can say to local people… look, this lovely site is yours, it’s your arts centre and we want to share the wonderful things we do here with you.”



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