Discovering the hip hangouts that make Frome so special
PUBLISHED: 16:10 13 August 2018
"Fifteen years ago the town was very much down at heel. However, creative enterprises and individuals have slowly established themselves here and Frome has become a vibrant community with a thriving social scene." Laurence McJannet finds out
Frome’s star is certainly in the ascendancy. This friendly former wool town has slowly but surely drawn people from far and wide to put roots down here and has garnered accolades galore as a community-minded, diverse town full of interesting people and successful independent businesses. Over the past year alone it has been coined the ‘least lonely place in Britain’, The Times ranked it sixth in its ‘coolest places to live’ feature, and it has just been voted ‘the most stylish place in Britain’ by an online platform for independent boutiques, beating the likes of Glasgow and Brighton to take the honours.
Fifteen years ago the town was very much down at heel. However, creative enterprises and individuals have slowly established themselves here and Frome has become a vibrant community with a thriving social scene. It’s a place where people gather and mingle, where they inspire each other and collaborate. There are such a variety of these social hubs now, with many popping up in the past couple of years. There’s Brewed Boy, an eccentric little tap room with a wonderful selection of local craft beers and ciders, but so small it has more beer taps than tables; and SHARE: A Library of Things, a high street project run by local community enterprise school Edventure that encourages people to donate rarely used items for others to borrow, and holds regular ‘repair and upcycle’ cafes.
There’s a wonderfully sculpted pump track on the riverbank at Welshmill, where riders of all ages hit the ramps to show off their aerial skills; and Moo and Two, a characterful coffee shop on Catherine Hill that is popular with bikers of the motorised variety, as well as the hill’s many shop owners. It’s a bit like being a kid in a sweet shop trying to pick the best places to socialise in Frome (there’s a lovely traditional one of those by the way, on picturesque Cheap Street). At the time of writing an intriguing looking French bistro called Lotte’s has opened in place of an old auto parts and fancy dress shop but our current favourites are as follows:
The Hubnub Centre, in a beautiful old church, has the local community at its heart, As well as being home to the Openstorytellers charity for those marginalised through learning and communication difficulties, it features a fabulous gallery space that’s flooded with natural light, as well as a children’s play area, and is home to the Rye Bakery, known for its mouthwatering fresh bread and pastries baked on-site, the smell of which alone tempts many locals to stop for good coffee and locally-sourced light bites. It’s a wonderful space in which to unwind, and still has the polished pipes of the old organ set above the galleried circular walkway.
With shopfronts in Frome changing hands so often, it’s no wonder the Garden Cafe has withstood them all. This well established vegetarian and vegan cafe on Stony Street has grown as organically as its fresh produce, taking over the old photo printing shop next door and uncovering some wonderful architectural details in the process. The grocery and deli here is separated from the cafe by an open passageway that runs to the eponymous garden, a hidden oasis with running water, fruit trees and often a dynamo-equipped static bike to work off your generous lunch and generate power for the cafe should you wish. It is a licenced bar too and open most evenings for pizza and the occasional popular poetry night.
On the main bridge lies a locals’ favourite. The Riverhouse Cafe is run by a small team with a love of good coffee and a great sense of humour. Their daily specials board is covered with tongue-in-cheek epithets that are bound to make you smile while you wait for your brew. It can be hard to get a seat (there’s a tiny balcony out the back that hangs over the river, which many people don’t know is there) but it’s always worth the wait. They do wonderful milk, white and dark hot chocolates, hearty breakfasts and damn good coffee. Some folk set up their office for the morning here but most settle in for a chinwag.
Award-winning workspace the Old School House features a thoughtful modern extension to the handsome old stone school house, and attracts creatives of all types, who hotdesk here or have more permanent setups. There are a number of reasonable tariffs for using the space which features superfast broadband, showers, meeting rooms and Skype booths. You don’t need to be a member to use the refectory, which lies at the heart of the space and offers simple, good value lunches, but the table football might prove too much of a distraction to get any meaningful work done.
Perhaps Frome’s most popular pub, The Three Swans at the top of Cheap Street is an eclectic mix of vintage furniture, Boer War paintings and good old fashioned bonhomie. It does the simple things well, with a fine line in ales and gins, as well as popular Sunday lunches (you need to prebook). It’s a real Aladdin’s cave too, with huge throne-like guilded chairs, the occasional grandfather clock, and, oh yes, not forgetting the skeletons in a cage in the enclosed rear garden. It is open weekday evenings and Friday to Sunday from midday, is always busy and there is always a jovial crowd. It’s a far cry now from when popular landlady Helen took over the pub back in 2013. Before then it was Frome’s roughest, gloomiest pub; now it’s the town’s best by far.
Frome has its finger on the pulse when it comes to drinking trends. The Palmer Street Bottle Shop has tapped into the popularity of bijou beer joints, selling a cornucopia of small-batch craft beers on draught and for take-out. It’s a cosy little place and the owner’s always welcoming, and there’s guaranteed never to be the same selection twice. Enjoy a crisp craft lager, session IPA, smooth stout or sour pale ale along with moreish nibbles and cheeseboards.
On Friday and Saturday nights Palmer Street comes alive as the High Pavement opens its doors to diners. You often have to book weeks in advance but that’s testament of how good the food is here. The owners are veterans of the festival canteen circuit but you can tell they enjoy the putting on of these leisurely weekend feasts just as much. There’s often a Middle Eastern or North African flavour to the evening’s menu, which is put in the window early in the week to tempt your tastebuds. It’s always a congenial affair too, and you’ll often get chatting not only to the tablenext to you but the owners themselves.
Another rare long-standing presence off the high street, the Black Swan Arts Centre is one of Frome’s many cultural highlights. Exhibitions here are often eclectic and always thought-provoking, and it hosts numerous private views that are anything but private. With the popular Diva’s cafe, a lovely courtyard garden overlooking artists’ studios, the gallery space above a craft shop and a writers collective based above that, it’s an inspiring and creative space where it’s easy to lose a few hours.
When Frome does arts and music events, it really goes to town. More often that not it goes to the Silk Mill too. Set amongst disused factories this renovated mill has been turned into another coworking space while the main hall and courtyard provide the setting for food feasts, gallery shows, music events and much more. During the summer there are often food trucks and a pop-up bar in the gallery. It’s a great place to spend a summer’s evening, warming yourself by a fire pit amid a curious combination of industrial chic and urban decay. Summer is also the time when a hugely popular Spanish cantina pops up here, selling authentic tapas dishes at very reasonable prices. With a table tennis table and giant Connect 4 in the courtyard too, it has something for all the family.