Wag’s festival funding changes have hit the likes of Abergavenny hard this year. They only received the maximum £10k from the food festival budget as opposed to £46,800 last year – so that was quite a drop.
But what concerned me this year was to see that Visit Wales and HCC, Meat Promotion Wales, both listed on the festival website as sponsors. This led me to believe that these bodies were then helping make up the shortfall in Abergavenny’s festival funding pot. So I asked wag’s press office and was told Visit Wales were not sponsoring Abergavenny. Then I was told to talk to HCC directly as they had their own press team, so that’s what I did, to be then told that HCC were simply an exhibitor at Abergavenny, not a sponsor. Further confused, I then contacted Abergavenny who said: we are working in partnership with them but we don’t differentiate that from sponsors on our website or other material as it gets too complicated. Meat Promotion Wales are happy with their arrangement with us. We have different levels of relationship with various stakeholders in the festival and this is reflected in how we profile the individual organisations through our various media.
I find it bewildering that HCC class themselves as an exhibitor and are shown on the festival website as a sponsor, that seemingly didn’t apply to the other 200+ traders who were also paying for stands to exhibit. But if Abergavenny class HCC and Visit Wales as stakeholders, does that mean additional money has changed hands between the three of them? Well who knows? Because despite me the real run-around I’ve been getting, I’m still not sure. So I’m afraid I’m no further forward, still perplexed so sorry dear reader, but I did try.
A brilliant bonus at this event is being able to use the hospitality section located at the back of the Kings Head. Run by Suzanah from her own company, sbh events, that lady is a star. There was an excellent range of food and drink on offer, which was what the visiting guest speakers and media required throughout the day. A board also gave a list of producers who had donated produce and I really hope that they all got good feedback for their generosity. Suzanah and her team should be congratulated for putting on such a professional and tasty show. I was impressed by how quickly the tables were cleared, which was necessary as it did get busy but everyone was so polite and helpful. Of course all the produce on offer should have been Welsh, that goes without saying, but I’ve not attended another food event that has looked after media so well, so as I say, a real bonus.
Ian and I were obviously earlier getting there this year, arriving at the event at 8.00. We tried to get in Hospitality for a much needed coffee boost, but sadly we’re too early for Suzanah this year. Not to be beaten, we continued our caffeine search and went into Cross Street, finding just one coffee shop that had the foresight to open at that time and boy that was worth the effort for them. When we sat down, there were 31 people in Luigis, * with many eating breakfasts! Good coffee, pleasant helpful service. I was just surprised that no other cafés in the area bothered to open early too. It’s only on for two days and it seemed silly not to make as much money as possible when so many people were arriving. Whilst I’m on my coffee theme, I’d a few comments from traders saying when they were setting up they’d no hope of getting a coffee. That was another disappointment. Over the years, Ian and I have done many tradestands, so we’re aware that coffee is essential to help you through the tough setting up process. I can’t understand that the few coffee stands that were around, and in fairness I didn’t see that many, hadn’t been encouraged to make and early start, make some early cash and provide a welcomed, much-needed service to the rest of the traders.
Signing in to the festival after my caffeine fix, I was cross to see a stand just by the hospitality entrance promoting Paella Fresh Seafood from Cornwall, yes Cornwall, seemingly our Welsh waters are barren! I’m afraid that annoyed me all day, even though they did describe themselves as Paella Pirates from Penzance. But of course they weren’t the only stands there not Welsh, we’d veal from south east Cornwall, who somehow got into the popular Market Hall, pies from Devon, there were chillis from Wiltshire, bread from Devon, Spanish food, and of course the regular garlic man for the Isle of Wight, who also got a priority place on the Brewery upper level with their other stand alongside selling tomato related products Their two stands looked huge, I’d guess about 25-30 feet, but there’s no way you could miss them, that’s for sure. Before attending Ian did a calculation of where the stands came from and he found not quite 50% Welsh stands, although wag food have decreed funded festivals must have at least 75% Welsh stands. I think 75% is a fair amount, but I also feel very strongly that some Welsh stands shouldn’t be pushed away into slower trading areas either. Wag food must be promoting Welsh food producers and if wag food fund a festival, the organisers must put Welsh producers first.
A disappointment to me and the producers sited there was the Lower Brewery Yard, because there was no traffic flow, or more precisely people flow. There was no entrance/exit at that end, so what it was a cul-de-sac, which doesn’t encourage people to move down to that area, when they did they didn’t stay there very long, even though there were some tables and chairs there. Many traders allocated space there were most unhappy and I can see their point. It was a shame another entrance/exit couldn’t have been sited there, but you will certainly not have traders wanting to go back in that area again, not that they seem to have a choice where they are sited. I do wonder when the garlic man is allocated space in that lower quarter instead of the busy Upper Brewery Yard itself. I appreciate it’s impossible to keep all traders happy, I appreciate that traders aren’t always easy to deal with, but then all organisers aren’t either and we all must remember that traders are there to earn their living. I do wish there was a fairer way to allocate the better sited trade stands more fairly. If traders are put in a known slower area then a fair way would be at least to adjust those stands fees. What I did like in the lower area though was a new walk way through to the Priory, which has never been a favourite area of mine I must admit. But this walkway did move some people through quite easily to it. The Priory didn’t seem to quite know which sort of area it was, but having said that some did say that they’d not had a bad time overall – so something was working – and that’s all that matters, despite my misgivings.
An area that did work well was the Lion’s Place, some brilliant artisan cheese stalls, wine, beer, hot food all in all a great selection that created a wonderful atmosphere. This area really works. When I say I spoke to quite a few traders in that area at the beginning and at the end of the day, I didn’t chat to anyone who’d had a bad weekend. In fact one said it was the best event he’s been to for a long time – how about that? With another difficult trading year for producers, that was music to my ears, especially as the company was on of our Best of Welsh & Borders producers! A few of our Best Of Welsh & Borders who normally attend this event weren’t there this year but they’d had problem over the last few years, and had been moved form their usual busy pitches and pushed out to the quieter Priory. Some of them complained, during the event and some after and this year, they weren’t there. Whether they’d decided not to apply again, I’ll have to find out later, but these were professional long-standing Welsh producers. In my ideal world I would have hope someone from Abergavenny might have picked the phone up to them and tried to re-build bridges, but as I say I’m not sure yet if anything did happen. I got good feedback too from many traders sited in Cross Street, they’d also been busy and enjoyed themselves.
I called into the Monmouthshire craft area, which was around the back of Lions Place, on Lion Street in Horsington’s Yard as we’d a few advertisers with stands there. But I was livid when I arrived to hear a Jazz band, literally belting out their music. Now I’m not anti-jazz, in fact, especially as the group was quite good, but they needed a volume control, they were way, way, too loud. People were stood enjoying the music, but the few people trying to shop, couldn’t hear themselves speak. The traders were there to sell, not be deafened by music. As one trader told me – We traders are the entertainment, not jazz musicians! After the close of business, the jazz band would have been brilliant entertainment, but not when traders are trying to engage potential customers to purchase in what is a very tough trading climate. Light background music is great, it creates a good atmosphere, but people and traders should not be deafened out by loud noise, even it is music!
Overall I have to say that the event was good and for those Welsh traders that did manage to get a space, many did seemingly do well. It is also good that the festival attracts so many people from all over the UK. I do though remain worried about the funding, the smoke and mirrors of Visit Wales and Meat Promotion Wales. Taken on its own, the value from Wag’s food department has to be good, but will the criteria be upheld from that department? I just can’t see any policing of their policies that wag food have set in place. So why bother?
*Sorry but I completely forgot to tell you about meeting Mr Holtister in Luigis. This lovely gentleman was soon chatting with me about the festival and showing me some super photographs he’d taken. But what also surprised me was he was also a poet. He gave me this poem which I wanted to share with you:
The Glory of a festival is there to be seen. As you go round the corner it will make you beam,
Enjoy yourself while you can – because our festival is so grand.
From the festival poet G. Holtister
Abergavenny Update posted 020113
I have obviously hit a nerve!
Today I have received a letter of complaint from HCC stating that I am implying that HCC is corrupt.
I state most emphatically that I am not implying that at all. What I am saying is that HCC is not giving me all the facts about their spending.
HCC have been asked how much they spent overall on their stand at the Royal Welsh, no specifics, just an overall figure. This question followed comments into us from butchers, who felt that this was not the best way to promote Welsh Meat. So this is HCC butchers that are not happy and have different ideas about meat marketing. This question would not have been raised unless it came from one of our Best Of Welsh & Border producers. HCC told us that this was information was commercially sensitive and could upset their stand builder. I didn’t think I was clever enough to work out how much the stand provider gets from HCC from an overall figure, but there we are. That’s financial information HCC can’t supply to me.
Abergavenny Food Festival lost in excess of £30,000 of Food Festival Funding this year. On the Abergavenny Food Festival website both HCC and Visit Wales appeared as sponsors. My admittedly cynical view was wondering if the funding had been directed via different ‘government’ parties. So I asked questions, to be told that both HCC and Visit Wales are just exhibitors. I then asked why all the trade stands are not listed as sponsors, as this simply still doesn’t make sense.
So I am not implying or accusing any corruption, but I am stating that in my view, transparency and openness is lacking and obviously raises queries.