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My favourite places: Gemma Crawley-Roberts

We asked Gemma, owner of quirky local art and gift shop, The Arc, to share some of her favourite places to eat, drink and shop in her hometown of Bedford.

The Arc Bedford has been around since 1932 when it started life as the Art Centre. During lockdown Gemma took over the reins from her step-dad, Don, to give the place a new lease of life, selling cool arty gifts and homewares, as well continuing to offer art supplies and a framing service. Having grown up in Bedford, Gemma returned to her hometown after 18 years of living in the Big Smoke, just before the Pandemic. She gives Muddy the lowdown on the local hotspots worth checking out.

Best place to start the day?

I’m lucky enough to share our space with The Gallery (owned by my bearded baby brother). They sell the locally roasted Wooden Hill coffee and there really isn’t a better cup. They also do a mean bacon and sausage sarnie using the sour dough bread baked on site.

Where’s your favourite place for a stomp in the fresh air?

If I don’t need to be at the shop until a bit later I plug in to a podcast (my current favourite is Stuff The British Stole) and head out for a walk around Priory marina. I still cant get over the fact that this beautiful marina is now just down the road from where I live. The mist sits on the water in the morning and there are herons within touching distance. It really is a stunningly mindful walk.

Where do you go for some time to yourself?

I have two small children so if I get the chance to have a lunch out without them I’ll jump at it! I love sitting by the river at The Embankment and watching the world go by with some good food and a glass of wine.

Where will you be doing your Christmas shopping this year?

Bedford is choc full of incredible indies that I could talk about for days – I’ll pick a couple but there are so many more to discover… Epanoui sells beautiful handmade gold jewellery (I’m angling for a necklace for Christmas with both my kids’ initials on). Beerfly and Flying Cork sell brilliant craft beers and gorgeous wine so I’ll be going there for my Christmas booze.

The Bedford Cheese Company is an online company owned by Decant Wine Bar, which sells incredible cheese and wine hampers – I have ordered a few already! And for brilliant bold and bright screen prints, Hannah Carvell is a local artist with a huge following (I have three of her ‘Don’t Be A Dick’ prints for good measure!) We do all her framing for her so if you do order something can I recommend the neon spacers!

Favourite place for a special meal…?

I love going to St Helena’s in Elstow, it’s been around for years and was always the go-to occasion restaurant when I was growing up. We visited again recently and it still felt like a really special treat. The staff look after you brilliantly and the food is fantastic.

Best place for a night out?

Due to having small children it’s been a hilariously long time since I went out for dancing and live music, but for a late night drinking spot though you can’t go wrong with Bears and Tales. Tom the barman is some kind of magician – the drinks are out of this world and it’s a really cool, sumptuous, environment.

Gemma is the owner of The Arc, which stocks art supplies, vintage pieces and gifts, and has a framing studio, too. Find it on Howard Street in Bedford.

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