Thursday, 27 November 2014

Biddy checks out the Best Dressed Christmas Shop Windows

I enjoyed it last year ... and I enjoyed it even more this year! Meandering through Newbury, checking out who’s done what with their shop windows to make them magical for Christmas is becoming something of a tradition for me. And there is still time if you want to do it too, and if you vote for your favourite you could be in with a chance of winning a fabulous prize: a £50 voucher to open a Newbury Building Society savings account plus an extra £100 courtesy of Newbury BID. But hurry, entries need to be in by 5pm on Wednesday 3 December.

This year my two-year-old grandson, DD, joined me, and what fun we had – it’s a great way to start getting in the Christmas spirit. We collected a form from Newbury Building Society to find out which shops and businesses are participating and set off on our trail around the town – we love a good walk; well I do ... he sits back in the pushchair most of the time and points and claps and shouts out ‘Christmas!’ quite a lot!

So, we wondered, would there be sparkles and spangles or sherry and mince pies? Who would go for a Father Christmas and fairies theme? Who would choose baubles and balloons? And what about red-nosed reindeers? And would anyone keep it traditional and have a nativity scene? 

We examined the list while enjoying refreshments at Pret a Manger (with ‘Manger’ spelt like ‘manger’, as in the nativity, it seemed appropriate). Coffee and a Danish for me, water and compulsory chocolate cake for DD ... ssssh, don’t tell his parents!

There are loads of shops taking part this year and making Newbury look absolutely fantastically festive, and many who are not entering the competition have also gone to town which is brilliant: for example, FiFi & Moose in Weavers Walk look suitably silvery and glamorous; and Newbury Building Society has their cuddly mascot Barry Bear dashing through the snow on a sleigh. The competition itself falls into several categories: best independent retailer; best charity/not for profit; best chain or group; best overall; and, of course, the public’s favourite (don’t forget to choose yours, fill in the form and be in with a chance of winning the prize).

So ... which were our favourites? There were so many, it is quite hard to say but to mention a few ... I thought Temptation Gifts’ window fun and it gave me a warm glow as I gazed in; I also enjoyed JoJo Maman Bébé’s huge clear baubles containing cute cuddly toys; Just Add Grapes in Weavers Walk has lots of Christmas goodies looking very festive too – perfect ready-wrapped gifts for foodies; Hotel Chocolat with its stylish ‘gift-wrapped’ window is beautiful and elegant in its simplicity; and I can’t help but love those fairy wings at Marks & Spencer (wonder if I can borrow them?). DD was very taken with the elves and Christmas present sacks in Trutex (we had to go back twice to see it so it must be good!); and those penguins are getting everywhere this year, including at Rainbows in Inches Yard where they are wearing waistcoats and cosy scarves. 

I must add that last year’s overall winner and the public’s favourite, florist Willow & Blooms in Bartholomew Street, has excelled once more. Despite a relatively small shop front, they really make the most of it with a gorgeous theme in red. Will owner Helen Vickers ‘do the double’ and take top prize again? It’s going to be up to YOU, so do go and get your entry form from Newbury Building Society soon! It’s fun and it’s free (and a walk around town is great exercise!). But remember – 3 December is the deadline!

Biddy x 

Friday, 14 November 2014

Dine Michelin Style in Bartholomew Street

When it comes to superb places for eating out Newbury has a fantastic choice, and two of its finest independents have recently been awarded Michelin status; coincidentally, you can find both in Bartholomew Street.

Brebis is a French-style restaurant run by the brothers Mansfield: Samuel, who is head chef responsible for all the fabulous food they serve, and James, who manages front of house, creating a warm, friendly atmosphere and running a tight ship when it comes to great customer service.

A few steps over the road from Brebis, and next to the entrance to The Kennet Centre, is gastropub The Newbury, run by friends and co-directors Peter Lumber and Clarke Oldfield.

Both eateries are fairly new to the town: The Newbury opened in 2012 and Brebis in 2013. Brebis’ menu is modern-French in style, based on the passion of head chef Samuel who adores French cooking and did part of his training in Provence. The menu changes with the seasons, and even weekly, depending on what is fresh and good at any particular time of year. Their wine list consists of all French wines, which serve to complement the wonderful dishes prepared by Samuel.

Stylish and sophisticated pub The Newbury is the place to enjoy a drink from the well-stocked bar and carefully selected wine list, with the option to enjoy something really tasty from their menu. Open for brunch, lunch and dinner – and also serving delicious and unusual bar snacks – here too the menu changes with the season, with head chef Clarke aiming to source many of the ingredients for his contemporary menu locally. The bar and restaurant are relaxed and comfortable, and the roof-top terrace is a great place to enjoy a drink – and with heaters and a newly installed retractable roof, customers can now enjoy the terrace all year round.

The owners of Brebis and The Newbury are delighted to be in the Great Britain & Ireland Michelin Guide 2015, on the recommendation of the Michelin inspector who arrives and dines unannounced.  The Newbury has also received an entry in Michelin’s new Eating Out in Pubs Guide 2015, featuring just 580 pubs.  Adding to The Newbury’s recent accolades are their inclusion in Sawday’s Special Places 2014, and being named Berkshire’s Dining Pub of the Year 2015 in The Good Pub Guide.

Brebis and The Newbury: well worth a visit!

Brebis is open Wednesday–Saturday for lunch and dinner (12.30–3pm and 6.30–11pm); see their website for special opening times over Christmas and New Year
16 Bartholomew Street, Newbury RG14 5LL
01635 40527

The Newbury is open Sunday 10am–11pm; Monday–Friday 12noon–1am; Saturday 10am–1am, with brunch/lunch and dinner served Sunday 10am–4pm and 6–10pm; Monday–Friday 12noon–3pm and 5.30–11pm; Saturday 10am–4pm and 6–11pm. 
137 Bartholomew Street, Newbury RG14 5HB
01635 49000

Friday, 7 November 2014

Welcome Advice Available at Newbury College

Newbury College welcomes Adam England to the College as the new Career’s Guidance Officer, providing independent advice and guidance. The position will see Adam supporting students and the local community regarding their career progression.  

The College helps people of all ages get ready for University or employment by providing a one to one personal service, group sessions and drop in slots for students and the local community. For College students, this compliments the work done in tutorials, independent learning and employability sessions that all students participate in as well as events such as the Higher Education Fair recently held at the College.

Talking of his new role Adam England said, “I’m delighted to have started working at Newbury College. With 26 years experience working in the further education sector with a focus on careers, recruitment and progression, I feel confident in providing support for individuals and look forward to seeing the routes that they take!”

A key element of the careers advice given is the Higher education plan for each student. All Level 3 students are encouraged to consider higher education as a possible path. As part of their higher education plan, first year students are invited to talks regarding what to expect at University level study and how to write a personal statement, followed by one to one advice. Adam works closely with a number of Universities who offer interactive sessions for the students who are encouraged to attend University Open Days. The College is able to provide students with continued support with their education and employment throughout their time at College and after, should it be required. For those interested in studying at Newbury College, Adam offers after school tours to those who wish to see classes in action.

Adam will be available at the College’s Open Evening on Tuesday 11 November from 4pm – 8pm. Whether individuals wish to further their education with a vocational course, begin A Levels or develop their career with a part time course, there is help and support for people to make the right decisions for the future.

Visitors to the Open Evening will be able to meet course leaders and current students, experience a range of exhibitions, displays and activities. The College has invested £3.2 million in new facilities over the last few years and visitors will have the opportunity to have a tour of the College to view these fantastic areas.

Newbury College will be offering a number of new courses from next September including, Events Management, Fashion, Landscaping and Horticulture, Performing Arts and Production, Music Technology and many more.

For those in Year 11 and their parents, the evening will be a chance to discover options after their GSCEs, with Apprenticeships, A Levels, and vocational courses; Newbury College really does cater for all interests. Should you be unsure of what path to take, subject specialists will be available on the evening to guide you and help you make the right decisions for you.

For adults, the Open Evening will be an ideal opportunity to find out more about courses of interest and to discuss aspirations with subject specialists. Whether looking for career development or to start a new hobbie; there are 100s of adult courses on offer.

The College Open Evening is held at their Monks Lane campus on Tuesday 11 November, 4pm-8pm. For more information on the open evening or for any other queries please do not hesitate to contact Newbury College on 01635 845000 or visit their website

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Biddy Says ‘The Corn Exchange Has Got Talent’!

I’ve been lucky enough to go to one of my favourite places in Newbury twice in the last few weeks – the Corn Exchange. In September it was to a performance of ‘Romeo and Juliet’; I do enjoy a bit of Shakespeare now and then, and this particular performance remained loyal to the Bard’s script but added extra spice with contemporary dance.

My most recent trip to the Corn Exchange was to the finals of Star Search Newbury – and if you were to ask the question ‘Has Newbury got talent?’ the answer has to be a resounding ‘YES!’

There was 10-year-old aerialist Leah who performed with great skill on a suspended hoop (no safety net either!); talented 9-year-old violinist Samuel (favourite composer: Beethoven) who surely had the whole audience rooting for him; and a fantastic all-girl dance crew, Unleashed, whose energy and perfect timing saw them win second prize. All the other finalists were singers and bands – many of whom had written their own material – and I certainly did not envy the judges their role. I’m a bit of a rock chick (sadly aging!) at heart, and the fast and furious Imprisoned were particular favourites of mine. Winners of the third prize were Basecamp – a really together four-piece band, and their female lead singer has an amazingly strong voice for one so young.

The solo singers were impressive and the choice of song from two of them (Izzy with The Beatles ‘Let It Be’ and Poppy with Bob Dylan’s ‘Knocking On Heaven’s Door’) were a surprise; old songs but absolute classics that everyone loves, and beautifully performed. Then there was Courtnie with her velvety smooth voice ... she is sure to go far. But hats off to the worthy winner who walked off with the first prize: singer/songwriter Jenny Bracey. At 18 she was slightly more mature than the other contestants, and that experience and confidence shone through in her terrific guitar playing and amazing voice.

Congratulations also to The Breeze radio station who, supported by Newbury Building Society, Newbury BID, Newbury College and the Corn Exchange, brought the event to town and put on such great family entertainment. I wonder if Jenny will spend her prize money donated by sponsors Newbury Building Society on more fabulous shoes? (You had to see them to believe them!) And if you haven’t seen Jenny yet, look out for this rising star performing when Newbury’s Christmas lights get switched on in November.

There is such a lot up and coming at the Corn Exchange – truly a venue with something to suit everyone. October may be drawing to a close far too quickly for my liking, but there is still lots worth seeing so check out their website to find out what’s on. Looking ahead, in November there is much diverse entertainment to be had: ‘The Trench’ comes to Newbury on 6 November – Les Enfants Terribles and their award-winning Edinburgh Fringe show brings music, puppetry and physical performance together to tell the tale of a miner entombed in a tunnel during the First World War; famous chef Albert Roux comes to town on 17 November – and there is the option to enjoy pre or post show cheese and wine (yum yum!). Or how about starting to get in the Christmas spirit with an evening of Carols with the Central Southern Area Fellowship Band on 22 November? 

There are dozens of other things too – comedians, fun for children, creative events – so there is no excuse; pop in to pick up a programme or go to, get booking and support your local theatre and arts centre!

Biddy x