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Archive for June, 2011

Festival Criteria Is Very Shaky

28 Jun

The situation on festivals is shaky and that’s being polite. I have never had so much criticism about the way Wag have set out their criteria and then allowed some festivals to ignore it. As expected this year, festival funding has been slashed to £368,521.36 and only 31 festivals are being supported. Last year 57 festivals were supported with a budget of £529,125,70. With such budget slash, I think most people would have expected Wag to have applied just a little commonsense as to how they could give the taxpayer best-value–for-money by making best use of the funding they’ve been allocated. First Minister Carwyn Jones said: “Indeed, it is estimated that the overall economic impact of Welsh food festivals on their host communities is annually as much as £20.3m. There is a positive knock-on effect on employment in rural areas too with around 1,125 jobs linked to food festivals”.

I’m unsure whether Mr Jones is saying these figures are from last year when he funded 57 events with nearly £530k and the economic impact of £20.3m. Well £20.3m is no mean figure, so why then with such a strong economic impact, has our festival budget been slashed so harshly that Wag is now only funding 31 festivals instead of 57. Isn’t that surely going to reduce the effect of the economic impact, not to mention the impact of 1,125 jobs? I wish my limited brain power could get to grips with political thinking.    

I’ve heard so many times from Wag’s higher management that they want food festivals to be self-supporting, so if that’s the case, why are the three largest festivals: Abergavenny, (£52k) Cardiff (£37,550) and Conwy (£41k), being given nearly £131k out of this year’s budget? All these three festivals applied for the same amount of money they received last year and got it – no budget cuts there – but why not? In 08/09, Abergavenny got £37,360, Cardiff £30k and Conwy £24,665, so Wag’s self-supporting theory, is obviously that, theory. Whilst in practice these three festivals have had increasing money thrown into their rather large pots. Any chance Wag that you can clarify your self-supporting theory? 

Wag’s criteria for this year, insists that festivals have ‘food as the core activity.’

An easy example of this was that the Smallholder was shown the red card by Wag, even though Steve Shearman had been asked years ago to run this event for them. But panic not, there will be a Food Hall at the RWAS or the Winter Fair, as Wag runs both these events and funds them out of a different budget. Please don’t ask me how much those two events cost as the only way I’d get a partial answer will be to send through a Freedom Of Information question again, but a partial answer doesn’t solve the problem. 

Crymch Food & Craft festival, which has run for years, has decided not to run this year because of the, ‘food as the core activity’. Even though their food and craft were held in two separate areas, they guessed wouldn’t fund it. However Llandysul, which as far as I’m aware has had a similar split of food and craft stalls, ran again this year and were funded by Wag £9k, a reduction of £500.00 on last year. Now how can this anomaly have occurred? Wag gave Abergavenny based Miller Research, the task of visiting all their funded festivals and reporting back to them. I’ve asked for a copy of this report as I know a producer has too, but despite the fact that the organisers had their copies months ago, I’m still waiting for mine. Does that mean my copy might be edited before I get it? So how did Wag make their decisions this year? As food was not the core activity in Llandysul in previous years, why were they funded again this year? What did the Miller Research report say about Llandysul and who made the final decision for it to be funded again?

I had a press release yesterday from Hay on Wye festival, which is excellent, because despite 31 festivals being funded I shall be lucky to get 10 press releases in total from them. If festivals don’t send out press releases, they cannot possibly get any publicity and if they don’t get publicity where do the visitors come from. Festival organisers have a duty to the producers to ensure that they do their utmost to generate publicity and get people through their gates. I’m fed-up of hearing from organisers that ‘they don’t have an advertising budget’ what is core accurate is that they haven’t allocated money to advertise their event, but instead spending money on expensive chefs and aren’t bothering to tell their traders what they are doing. Traders pay their money up front and in good faith and organisers should communicate with them their plans for their event. Anyway back to Hay press releases, in the first paragraph it said busy event and estimated 4,000 people there and in the second paragraph at least 5,000 people. Well guess you can take your choice but it does raise two issues, who counted all those people as I understand it’s a free event and where on earth in Hay did all those people manage to park their cars?            

You only have to read welshfoodbites to see what massive interest and concern there is about food festivals. Regular readers will know that Wag Food Press Office have since March, refused to answer any questions from me, in case I blog it and upset as they say they have no right of reply! Well I’ve had had to remind them that when Wag food were working with us in 2008 and 2009 there was no negative food news at all published in Welsh Country magazine. Yet behind the scenes, that was a different matter. No-one should under-estimate the amount of hard work that was going behind the scenes whilst my team tried to get some communication going between the food producers and Wag. The Press Office then told me not to talk to Wag officials directly, but to talk to them. When that system didn’t work too well, I decided to create welshfoodbites in July 2010. Initially the idea was to use it for questions I wasn’t getting answers to, but in effect it has provided a forum for all foodies to air their views and ask their questions.

As far as Welsh Country is concerned, Wag sadly has now had negative coverage. We were waiting and waiting for the list of food festivals which was promised, but again did not arrive so that was published. I have no intention at all of apologizing for doing this, in fact Wag should be very grateful I haven’t devoted pages of welshfoodbites in every issue of Welsh Country. My reason for not doing so is not to save their blushes, because in the world of Wag, nothing is ever wrong. Wag appear to work under the B.S.E. rule, Blame Someone Else. The only reason, so far that I’m holding back is that I feel I should try and paint a picture of positivity in our Welsh food world. The only worry for Wag now is my pot of paint is running very, very low ……………………..……..

 
 

Llandysul – Food Festival Or A Town Fête?

27 Jun

It was mid afternoon when I called into to this festival and must say I hadn’t realised it was due to close at 4.00pm. Which if you’re paying for stand and only allowed to trade from 11.00 until 4.00pm, those hours are akin to a farmers’ market but with stand prices that are usually much higher. My question as to whether this is a food festival or a town fete is that there were about 23 craft and school stands and about 22 food stands. I have so many complaints and anger from food festival organisers following Wag ‘s criteria that food will be the core activity to receive funding, yet we are only part way through the festival season and there are already far too many anomalies or festivals which Wag have allowed to slip through their very own net. Wag you are aware this situation is not acceptable, but the question is still outstanding as just what you are going to do about it and when?  

Anyway back to the festival, I started my walk around at 3.00 which was not a good move, as stands had not only packed up by then, but a few had actually left. There were bare empty tables with still an hour to go. So who allowed ‘traders’ to disappear before the event officially closed? One of the schools had a huge run of tentage with what appeared to be a pupil painting display, but this was also cleared and away by 3.15pm – why? 

I’m sorry guys, I just don’t get this. You have professional traders, struggling, yes struggling to make a living, and you have an abundance of amateur/charity stalls that seem to throw in the towel when the day is just too much, or too long for them – why? I went into the cookery demonstration area which was busy, whether it was the inclement weather or the draw of the chefs, I’m not sure, but busy is good. I was puzzled though to see in a corner of the marquee, a tea/coffee/cake stall which I think was run by one of the schools, was this a paid-for stand? My concern, as always was with the professionals, in this instance, Preseli Coffee, which I do confess a huge bias to, as in my view they have the best coffee on the circuit. The Coffee Box was also on site, again selling hot drinks. Popty Bach Y Wlad, Orgranics and Llandysul Country Market all had an impressive stands, with scrummy cakes and biscuits etc. and sadly they’d lots of stock left. Preseli Coffee had no idea this festival was running and were only approached by the Llandysul team at the Newcastle Emlyn festival the week before. I must ask Preseli next time I see them, were they told a stand would be set up in the demo area and that Coffee box was also attending? You simply cannot ignore the hard, cold fact that these people need to sell to exist. The producers will rightly’ blame you if you haven’t got huge numbers of people through, haven’t got a good mix of traders, haven’t planned a packed day to keep people there, and before you think that traders are never happy, remember that guys depend on sales not to holiday in the Bahamas but to keep their businesses afloat. If it’s difficult to understand what the producers need then ask a couple of them if they’ll come on your committee and give a few hours of their time and expertise to raise the standard.         

In my ideal food festival world, the focus would be on food and on the food producers. In my ideal food festival world there would be a covered area for visitors to buy produce from the producers and sit, eat, drink and chat with their friends and family. In fairness Llandysul had got chairs set out by the podium, but these were being cleared away whilst I walked around. But it does show that my idea food festival world is a long way off ……………………….

This festival did put the spotlight on the cookery demonstrations, but I was sad to chat to a couple who had left the demo because it was only being conducted in Welsh. Wag has decreed that all printed matter and websites must be bi-lingual, but have they made a ruling on cookery demos?

I’m not sure what happened at Llandysul, but another of my soap-box issues is that all cookery demos should use produce from the producers at the event. This suggestion is not only logical, it’s also fair. Food festivals, especially those that are being funded by Wag, as this one was to the tune of £9k, has to support Welsh producers, but generally some organisers are losing the food focus and this cannot continue.

My view is that this event was successful as a fete, but not really working as a food festival. The majority of traders didn’t have a good day; although I do appreciate the weather was not on your side as it would have been on Sunday. I am aware that you had tried hard to get in a good mix of producers, but as your date clashes with Hay On Wye, which is another Wag funded festival but not receiving anywhere near as much as Llandysul, it was not going to be an easy task. Producers do talk about the number of visitors through each event and you are just not getting enough onto the field. I have no idea about how you arrange you marketing and advertising perhaps you focus is too local, but I have said that I haven’t received a press release from Llandysul festival. But Llandysul is far from alone in ignoring press releases as a form of communication. Of the 31 festivals Wag is supporting this year, I will be surprised if I get a Press Release from 10 of them, and if any are advertising with us, my team will have pushed for Press Releases so we can give them more publicity.

I got complaints from producers who didn’t know that they had been judged for the ‘Best Stand’ and also didn’t know who had won it! I have no idea who took on the judging, but if they didn’t make themselves known to each stall, is there any point doing it? Surely the traders of all people should know what’s going on. shouldn’t they? Traders also complained to me that they couldn’t even find their way to the festival because there were very few signs out. I only saw two, which is just not good enough the whole area around the town should have been blitzed with banners.

I was told a Wag official visited in the morning, but it would be interesteing to know whether this was just a box-ticking excercise  or whether our notes actually agreed on anything!!!

 
 

Lots Of Visitors

23 Jun

After another busy day, it was good to see our J/Aug issue of Welsh Country speed its way across to Cambrian printers in Aberystwyth – what a relief. After that I updated welshfoodbites and checked out not just our rankings, which are still doing well, but also Wag’s True Taste TV, which are still poor. But I also checked out the number of visitors we’d had, which was a rather amazing 70. Which for a food blog, 70 unique visitors in a single day, for a site that we’ve done very little to publicise, is quite extraordinary. (Source: Google Analytics).

Sadly not many of the 70 visitors left comments. That was disappointing, but makes me wonder why. It’s always useful to get feedback, whether you agree with the posts and other comments, or not. It’s a good way to get a feeling of the mood and concerns out there at the sharp end. Maybe those visitors were concerned their identity will be revealed, but can I say again that the only person who will know your detail is ME. Our system is set up to ensure confidentiality – and that’s a promise. Assembly Member Elin Jones, as well as many Wag staff always insist I name people with queries and complaints, but I will not do so. My concern is they deal with the complaint – end of story! The only time I will say, is when a company wishes their name to go forward. If you doubt my word, then please ask any of our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers and they will verify what I have said, no question. Many companies will not put their names to queries because they say they will be blackballed by Wag, which although Wag insists doesn’t happen, many of us disagree.

 
 

Has Newport Found A Loophole To Get Festival Funding?

21 Jun

This year Newport are running a food festival for what I understand is the first time and are receiving financial support of £15,171k  from Wag. As Newport have asked for more than £10k, that means they’ve had to supply Wag with a business plan for the event, but with the Council’s financial department to hand, this is not proved a deterrent to Newport as it has to other festivals. Newport takes place on 28/29th October, partly clashing with Cowbridge, with Newport having the advantage of free entry on both days apart from having some ticketed activity.     

I’ve been onto Newport Food Festival website today, which is actually Newport City Council website.  Then I got rather confused as to whether this festival is a stand alone event or not. It appears to be running through the tail end of Newport Festival which is launched on 24th July. Our office has rung Newport Council and been told it’s part of the Newport Festival, but under Wag’s 2011 criteria, ‘food activity must be the core’. Well as we;ve been  told it’s part of the Newport Festival, how can food be the core activity?  Another interesting fact to throw into this mix is that the Newport Food Festival website url is owned by Miller Research. Regular readers will be aware that Miller Research from Abergavenny were asked by Wag to do an analysis of all the food festivals they funded last year……………..   

Regular readers will also know how angry I am that Smallholder was thrust into turmoil when Wag refused to fund them this year. Bearing in mind that the Smallholder was originally run by Wag themselves. No funding caused huge problems for everyone, plus gave no alternative but to have increased tradestand prices, just because Wag stuck to their criteria – well in this instance they did. The Royal Welsh and the Winter Fair will not have this problem as both these events are conveniently funded by Wag out of a different Wag budget!!

I have never had so many calls and emails about matters festival related as I have this year. Plus I have no idea at all why Wag needs to make life in the food sector more complicated that it is. When Wag have their usual Food Festival Organisers meeting in February, why couldn’t all these issues have been sorted out there and then? Why am I now in a situation where I’m being asked questions that I have no answers for? If I give people what should be the ‘easy’ solution of ringing Wag and talking to Jon Parker, who I think is still responsible for food festivals, for some reason that never appears to be a favourable option, I wonder why…………………………….

If you have any more news or insights into this situation, then please help me out and let me know. I just don’t understand how this can have happened.

 
 

Newcastle Emlyn Food Festival

20 Jun

Newcastle Emlyn bravely took the plunge and organised their first food festival on Saturday 18th June, which was held on the King George V Playing Fields. I drove through the town around 9.00 on my way into Pembrokeshire for a meeting and I was disappointed to see only one sign. I guessed the Park & Ride was running from the rugby club, but there was no signage there either and I was very concerned – this is my local festival after all!!!!

I guess it must have been about 1.00ish when I retunred to Emlyn and I was delighted and relieved to see lots of people about. It was quite blustery, but thankfully the rain stayed away which did encourage more families to check out what the festival was all about.  The traders I spoke to, which numbered quite a few I must say, were all fairly pleased with how busy they were. There was even one stall, which shall remain nameless, that had sold out in under a couple of hours!!!!!!  Oh dear, that’s not what I want to hear and not what I want to see either. After running tradestands for years I do appreciate it’s difficult, if not nigh impossible to get your stock levels right, and more so with food as it’s such a gamble, but this stand did disappoint a lot of visitors and potential customers. 

It was great to see Lorna Mattocks there, an former Welsh Country staff member. She was taking lot and lots of shots of the event which will be a great addition to their website, which when I tried today was not there……. They will also be a great help with future marketing. Not many festivals get the photography side sorted out, so the event was lucky to have on board Lorna, who is such a talented photographer.  

Taking on any event is a huge task, it’s a huge commitment in time and energy, and that must be doubled or trebled when running an event of this size for the first time. There are bound to be teething problems, with so many jobs to sort out and lots of help needed, which of course means that lots of volunteers are required. Some locals that came to have a chat later on said that they’d offered help, but for some reason had been told they were not needed. Well I’d certainly never decline offers of help. I go with more hands make lighter work – not the too many cooks spoil the broth adage, especially if there’s someone there to direct them and keep them focused on ‘their’ jobs. Hopefully that’s a matter the committee will be able to address if they get similar feedback to mine. So with happy traders, reasonable weather, I’m sure that the organising committee will be relieved to have got their first event over with and look forward to planning next year.  

I’d like to suggest some areas that I think can be improved:

Signage, I’ve mentioned signage and do think that if signs/banners can be out days, if not weeks before, it does jog people’s memories, especially when they are simply driving through the town.

Litter – there was lots of it blowing about the field – bins, there were simply not enough and they were not being emptied throughout the day. They were so over-filled that the wind did damage and made the field look rather a mess.  Perhaps a local school or scout group might be persuaded to do that job in return for a small donation……? 

Re-cycling, I’m not sure what happened to re-cycling. I couldn’t see any on the field, only in the car park, which is fine for locals, if they remember, but how do visitors know it’s there?  Re-cycling is something that we can’t and shouldn’t ignore.

Local traders was my other main concern, because there were so many of them there. I think from about 36 stands, 16 were local traders. The wonderful shopping complex around the Clocktower was virtually closed as those shop owners took stands at the event. Although it was great to see them all there, I really didn’t like seeing that area in the town closed for the whole of Saturday. I accept that those locals wanted to be there, desperate to grab any trade that they could and of course they hadn’t the staff to cover both areas. But if I’d been a first-time visitor to the town I’d have assumed that the Clocktower was always closed on Saturdays – which is not a message this town needs to give out, as we are being attacked on all sides with more and more supermarkets wanting planning permission.  I’d love to know how many people attending were locals and how many visitors. I’d have loved that the shops in the town had embraced the event much more, maybe a shop-window competition could have been run over the preceding week to generate enthusiasm, perhaps with the Mayor doing the judging? I think my confusion arises, that is this a Welsh food festival or a fabulous town fete with food?  

There was some great produce on sale though and of course that had to mean some of our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers including: Caws Cenarth, Teifi Cheese, Cowpots ice-cream, Preseli Coffee, Celtic Crab products, Trioni milk products , Popty Bach Y Wlad cakes, Pommes, advertising their catering with some very different Welsh Cakes and the Emlyn Arms Hotel. But unless I missed them, I couldn’t see any breweries there, no cider, no perry, no wine, no fruit juices, no chocolate or fudge and not much jam and chutney or bread,. I feel it’s so important that all food festivals really push our wide and wonderful selection of local food that is available on our very doorstep. I am aware that it’s not easy to get them and yes I know I’m giving the organisers yet another headache, but even within Ceredigion, Carmathenshire and Pembrokshire, there’s some of the best local produce to be found in Wales and a festival has a responsibility to showcase our food to help our producers and help locals and visitors understand how good a selection of artisan producers Wales has.  

I was told that a Wag official did visit the event in the morning and hope that Wag’s feedback was as thorough as mine and not simply a box-ticking exercise. Other visitors that I was told also attended were ‘spies’ from Llandysul Food Festival that runs shortly who were trying to persuade traders to attend their event too!

 
 

Welshfoodbites Versus True Taste TV – Website Rankings

17 Jun

 As of today, our rankings for welshfoodbites is @ 303,880 – source Alexa Rankings over a 3 month period, whilst Wag’s True Taste TV is way down below us @ 2,111,071.

If I were Wag Food, I’d be very concerned, especially after they took down their other food website, Wales the True Taste, WTT, on 1st April. Sorry but can’t resist the April Fools Day parody, because who with any computer web know-how, would pull down a website? Had no-one thought about working behind the original site? I’m amazed and horrified that nearly 3 months later, WTT is still not back up and running. So the difficult question for you is, any idea who is doing the re-build? Mmmmmmm, well that didn’t take long, so well done you smart people – you’re right – Wag are doing it themselves!

Now though, back to rankings. The traffic from WTT has been re-directed to Wag’s other food website, True Taste TV, which I assumed would have had twice the traffic through, especially as they have been asking for True Taste entries via the website, but why are their rankings still so poor for a site that has been running for what seems like forever. If Wag Food were a business, this would not be acceptable and could not continue, but I’m talking about the real world guys, aren’t I?    

Wag should be horrified with both their food website performances. Mind you, I’m sure deep down, they are impressed with our welshfoodbites rankings, they just don’t want to make a fuss about it!

So can I just send my thanks to you for your support, not just for welshfoodbites but for Welsh Country magazine too. We are making a huge difference, despite the many Wag barriers we have to knock down to get anywhere.

 
 

Does Wales Know Where It’s Going, Or Even Where It’s Been?

17 Jun

The Retail Sales Index recently showed a 3.5% decrease in food sales in the month of May as compared to last year. The Retail Sales Index is a monthly inquiry into retail sales and this is  sample survey carried out by the Office for National Statistics on 5,000 businesses in Great Britain. It includes all large retailers and a representative sample of smaller businesses.

The quoted comment was “Predominantly food stores sales volumes decreased this month, with a decrease of 3.5 in May 2011 compared to May 2010. This follows last months brief respite from contraction. Within predominantly non-food stores, there was volume growth across all sectors apart from household goods stores which fell for a fourth consecutive month to 6.0 per cent. Non-store retailing again saw the largest volume growth between May 2010 and May 2011 with an increase of 19.0 per cent.”

On the other hand, the British Retail Consortium, which is generally taken as representative of the High Street Multiples including the supermarkets, say that “Food Sales slowed markedly after April’s strong growth” but is still 1.9% up on a weighted 3 month average compared to a year ago. 

So do we presume from this that smaller retailers are suffering more than the ‘big boys’?

But what does this mean to Wales? I tried in vain to fine any statistics about food sales in Wales, either year on year, month on month, multiple retailers compared to direct sales, but to no avail. But bear in mind that Wag’s Food Press Office still refuse to answer my questions so this was not an easy challenge!

Wales has had an Assembly for 10 years and food, as part of Rural Affairs, is a devolved area of government (but food has now been demoted in that it only justifies a Deputy Minister). Why, as a government don’t we have these figures published for all to scrutinise and evaluate and then allow us to adjust our businesses so that they move forward and grow?  

So much money is being put into food promotion, so would it not be a good idea to find out where we are so that we can measure what effect this money is having?

If a privately owned business sector put millions of pounds* into it as a project, would they not have an accurate financial figure from where to start, as well as a target to meet that could be accurately measured? Whilst of course, being constantly monitored and adjusted along the way?

Many of our Government ideas are good, but they appear to be spending millions of pounds on ticking boxes instead of ensuring that each process has a substantial benefit to the farmers, growers, producers and food retailers down the line. Surely this should be a basic business role.

Your comments and feedback are invaluable and can I say again that any comments left on welshfoodbites are anonymous and will stay so – the only person who will know, is me and I promise you it will remain that way.

* Millions of pounds is derived from the monies spent on Food projects from the RDP and True Taste, but again accurate spending is difficult if not impossible to find.

 
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Food Festivals Get Into Full Swing

15 Jun

We’re now in the midst of the busiest time in the WAG food festival supported calendar. But sadly the discord behind the scenes continues. I’ve already posted on the demise of Llanwrtyd Wells, Smallholder and Aberystwyth. Llanwrtyd couldn’t have it’s funding confirmed and as it’s an April festival, they decided not to run this year. Smallholder lost it’s funding because being at the Royal Welsh Showground, food was not the core activity.  Aberystwyth has lost funding for its Xmas Fair, although they are appealing Wag’s decision. News has also come through to me that Frenni in Crymch has fallen foul of the Wag’s ‘no craft stall rule’ so they are not running this year, whilst other festivals have been told, no craft or no funding.

Wag state that all food events they support ‘must have food as the core.’ Festivals with less than 20 producers exhibiting are not eligible for support. If the festival fails to attract 20 producers, funding may be reduced or withdrawn. Even if there are twenty food producers the number of other exhibitors e.g. craft, community will be taken into account when assessing an application’.

A review team considers each application but I have no idea who the review team consists of. Then a panel drawn from the Food Drink Advisory Partnership will make the final decision. 

Apparently the ‘no craft – no funding’ has come from the review of all the festivals Wag funded last year that was undertaken by Miller Research from Abergavenny. I have noted the comments made by some on welshfoodbites relating to the fact that Abergavenny’s funding remains the same as last year, so no cuts or reduction there, despite the fact that Wag’s objective was that food festivals should aim to be self-funding. Wag will consider ‘size of financial contribution from other (non-WAG) partners and direct contributions from festival resources’. Your guess will be as good as mine as to what this means in the world of Wag! I asked for a copy of Miller Research report in March, but have yet to receive it, I’m told it will arrive soon.  Which is rather strange as I’ve spoken to quite a few organisers who had their individual reports months ago. I’m sure it will make interesting reading, whether I’ll agree with the content remains to be seen………………………………..  

It’s very disappointing that this year Wag are only able to support 31 festivals instead of 56 festivals, as last year. Of course we are all aware that budgets have been slashed, but the question is now, has Wag made best use of the funding they have received? Is it better to keep supporting to the same level our 3 biggest festivals, namely, Abergavenny, Cardiff and Conwy, to the tune of £130,900, at the expense of many of our smaller events?    

Taken from a Wag Press Release:

The 31 festivals – large and small – feature a wide range of products and are an important showcase for producers and Welsh produce among who are many Wales the True Taste Food and Drink Awards winners. Said Carwyn Jones, First Minister of Wales, “I am delighted the Welsh Assembly Government has been able to continue to support food and drink festivals across Wales. During 2011/12 the festivals will collectively receive £368,521.36 in assistance, signifying their importance to the economy and Wales’ reputation as a producer of high quality and diverse food and drink.

Another concern is that I don’t know which Wag person/s are visiting all their supported festivals this year – does anyone know? But I’m not impressed seeing Wag officials scurrying around an event 30 mins after it’s opened and hardly talking to anyone. I just can’t see the point. How can you get a true impression of an event with that time-scale and attitude? Visits must be made later in the day, or on the 2nd day of a two-day festival, they must talk to stall holders, organisers, vistors and volunteers too. That’s how to get feedback, but maybe producers wouldn’t be honest with Wag. That could be a problem. But it’s so important that each festival is still visited by someone and feedback given, if not how are these events going to improve and grow? The most important and relevant point is how do we know that value for money is being achieved?

 
 

Usk Farmers Market

06 Jun

I’ve heard too many tales of markets that are still struggling despite the huge amount of funding that has gone into farmers markets, farm shops and box schemes. The main complaints from traders are that the markets are not promoted well enough, occasionally poor stands are allowed in and then the people are not spending as much. Well in all fairness, market organisers cannot be blamed for people not spending but it’s down to traders to tempt them with samples and background about their product, and special offers and recipe ideas often stir more interest. Maybe if customers were able to forward order from traders so their order was ready for them to collect on market day, would be an incentive too. 

Anyway I’m digressing – so back to Usk market, which is one I had never been to, but I thought I would check out what Steve Shearman was doing with his markets under Farmers Markets in Wales’s banner. It was rather late when I got there with only one hours trading still to go, but it was encouraging to see both inside and outside stands and plenty of people about. There was a wonderful array of stands including: coffee, meat, olives, cheese, jams, chutneys, cakes, veg, sauces, beer, apple juice, Welsh cakes, with plenty of samples to get those taste buds flowing. There was a lovely friendly feel around the market which made it really worth the long drive from Ceredigion. I was delighted too to see a fish stall there too, fish is quite a rarity at markets these days and the fisherman was so helpful in giving ways to cook the various fish he had for sale. What I didn’t expect to find, but was an added bonus, was a lovely café area at the side of the Memorial Hall, a ideal place to catch up with friends and have a gossip.

I did struggle to find where the market was, only seeing one sign as I came into Usk, but apparently the guy charged with doing that job wasn’t able to do it that day!!! The other slight niggle was a couple of stands that left early. I don’t accept that if they have sold up they can up sticks and leave, I think they should still stay there and explain to people who they are and what they do and remember next time to take more stock…………

Congratulations to Steve and all the traders at Usk for a super market which hopefully others can learn from!

 
 

WAG Axe Falls On Aberystwyth Christmas Fair

02 Jun

I had a phone call yesterday from a producer asking why Aber Fair had been axed. He wasn’t one of our Best Of Welsh & Borders members, so wasn’t aware of the furore that’s been going on and the difficulties we’ve had even obtaining this year’s dates from the Welsh Assembly Government, Wag. Apparently he’d read a piece in his local paper and was very upset that this fair was not now going ahead.

Ceredigion Council have said that as Wag are now not going to fund the £4,200 that the event got last year, it could not go ahead in it’s current form.  Wag has funded this event for eleven years. In 08/09 Aber received £3,840 and in 09/10 £4.000. However this year Aber has fallen foul of Wag’s new ruling that states: ‘all events supported will have food activity as the core’. Culture, tourism, arts, crafts and Christmas markets now do not qualify for Wag support. The Council state that last year’s poor weather badly affected the Christmas Fair, but in 2009 the event attracted over 4,000 people. I really do disagree with the Council on numbers for 09, how, if the event is free, do they get even a rough number count? Am I’m sure I’m not alone in wondering where Aber managed to find parking for such a number of cars, it’s difficult enough on an ordinary Saturday!! However I’m told that of 46 stalls, only eight were non-food. So I’ll continue to stick to what I have been saying for some time which is that that craft stalls do add interest to a food event. The longer people stay at an event the better. Of course I can understand that Wag feel that are then supporting craft, but maybe a compromise is that crafters pay more for their stands. But to drop support for this event because of 8 craft stalls is childish and short sighted and is certainly not supporting food and producers.

Whilst this dispute was raging Ceredigion AM Elin Jones slammed Wag’s decision saying that the festival gave important support to local producers. She then went on the political bandwagon, trying to shame Labour on cutting back support for local food festivals. Well I’m not in total agreement there but do accpet that I haven’t all the facts but it’s not for the lack of trying, is it? I’ve been asking for a list of the festivals Wag were supporting in January and was told I couldn’t have the list until the end of March. Then, at end of March I was told I couldn’t have the list now as we were in ‘a pre-election period’. So my thinking is that this list was already done and agreed, and who was the Minister responsible for signing this off? Step forward Elin Jones…………

We then had our elections on 5th May and I received Wag’s funded festival list on 13th May. I’m not sure if you think in just over a week; Wag started from scratch with the new Labour team, made their decisions, informed the organisers and then told the media. I don’t think so as the organsiers were told I believe on the 6th May. I think all decisions were made whilst Elin was still in ministerial power and were rubber-stamped by Labour, but we’ll see what else we can find out about this………………………

Of course budgets have to be slashed, there isn’t a choice because as a nation we are broke|. But who agrees to Conwy and Abergavenny getting the same amounts as last year, no cuts for them let alone even a reduction for two huge festivals who can get sponsors in, whilst Aber gets axed for £4k? Has Wag changed it’s mind about getting festivals to be self-supporting? It must have, because otherwise wouldn’t these two have had their funding requests reduced at least?   

Wag have apparently responded by saying that with a reduced budget and the evaluation of food festivals taken over last two years, then to make the best use of resources it was decided that events where food was not the core activity would not receive funding. For those of you not up to speed, last year Miller Research from Abergavenny, were asked to visit all Wag supported festivals and evaluate what they were doing. Most organisers I have spoken to have received their copy of the Miller report, but I’m still waiting for Wag to send through my copy. I have been told that Crymych Food & Craft Fair also fell foul of the new no -craft rule so that event is also not running this year. Lampeter was also told by Miller that they had too many craft stands, even though the craft stands are set in a different part on the Lampeter University grounds, plus a new festival in Newcastle Emlyn was told ‘no craft or no funding’.

I also wonder if this ‘no craft or no funding’ was made clear at the organisers meeting in February, otherwise surely this issue could have been clarified and sorted then and not left until now. I’m sure Jan Fenner who organises the Aber fairs and markets would have been there, but why that didn’t happen is rather puzzling.

Ceredigion County Council are appealing Wag’s decision and I look forward not only to hearing the outcome, but an explanation too!!!

Food Festival funding has been a hot topic on welshfoodbites so  please check out posts around March this year for more background.