It’s not professional to have favourite food festivals, I know that, but being human, I must confess this is one of mine. Ian and I have been visiting this event for many years and the welcome we receive is always warm and friendly. Alison Belton is the lady in charge of promotion and marketing and if only some other festivals could clone her, their life would be a little easier! I get regular press releases about this event, their website is up-to-date, including food producers attending and I’m kept totally in the loop of what’s going on. There was also plenty of signage coming in too – another of my gripes sorted.
RWFF’s move from their usual site on the outskirts of St Davids to The Bishops Palace in the cathedral grounds, courtesy of CADW, plus changing the date again to take advantage of the Bank Holiday, was in many ways a massive gamble. But one I thought made total sense. Yet at the Smallholder the previous weekend, I had producers moaning saying this new venue would not work, the date wouldn’t work, they shouldn’t have said they were going to attend…………Well my reading of this was the Smallholder was too quiet, producers therefore had too much time to chat amongst themselves and the moaning began to take hold. Of course moving venue and date was risking, but at least give it a chance! Attending an event in a negative attitude never works, and I know because I’ve done it too!
Ian and I had a super drive across to St Davids on Saturday morning; the sun shining made our early start worthwhile and we had to be early as we had so many of our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers attaending. When we’d parked up, our first stop had to be Preseli Coffee whose mocha coffee I absolutely love. If Preseli stand is at a food festival, then my day is off to a good start. Preseli coffee owner Deryck’s stand was in the concession area, the Food-To-Go, or Sit-Down-And-Have-A-Chat-Area and I was pleased to see that another of my regular food festival gripes had been addressed. Tables and chairs were already set out here and it proved a very popular meeting/resting place as I called back here quite a few times during the day to check it out. Of course the weather helped this area, if the rain had arrived that would have caused problems, my only concern was perhaps more tables and chair were needed. As it was, people were happy to sit on the grass and enjoy a delicious array of local produce, goodness me you were spoilt for choice and there was no reason at all for people to leave hungry. It was a joy to see fresh fish, courtesy of Solva Fish. Fisherman Jonno had come up with a new idea of a fish box, containing a lobster, 2 dressed crab, and four sustainable fillets of fish, I think it’s a brilliant idea, plus Solva Fish can also mail order. I think this is going to be a winner for them and will help the people who are struggling to buy Welsh fish.
Walking through to the main food producer area, which was well laid out, each producer under bright blue and yellow pagodas made for a very cheery setting. But early on, I again met some producers that were saying it was quiet, people would be off to the beach etc, etc. Well it was a quiet start, but if I’m on holiday, getting up at the crack of dawn and rushing around is not holiday, it’s like work!!! The team from CADW were brilliant and justifiably proud of this wonderful setting. They have got really behind this new venture and I’m sure it will help them in the future. Early in the afternoon I asked CADW lady on the gate about numbers through and was given a very accurate 2,000, though it wasn’t even 2.00. Brian Powdrill has since emailed me and given me the official, verified figures through the gate were 2,220 on Saturday and 3,815 on Sunday. So if producers didn’t have a good time then maybe they need to reassess their trade stand and find other ways to tempt punters to taste and buy. We cannot escape the fact that the recession continues and here in Wales trade seems harder and harder, but if producers want to survive then they’ll have no option but to keep thinking and trying different ways to tempt visitors to spend. Some stands had made an extra effort, including Cwm Deri who had some festival offers including Pembrokeshire Pimms, which was delicious! Mike had a board advertising his specials and it appeared to be working well. Other producers did work hard to smile at punters and engage them in conversation, whilst the odd few, sat at the back of their stands and did not look at all happy, sure you can guess which stands did best. I must also mention that I was pleased to see many stands that had business cards and literature out too, another of soapbox gripes.
The guys parking cars were brilliant, so polite and helpful, in fact everyone I chatted to was friendly, not a grumble in sight. I am amazed that this festival has got together a team of volunteers willing not only to give up, in this case the bulk of a Bank Holiday a weekend, but to attend the necessary meetings to, which take place before and after the event. Founders Julia and Brian must take much of the credit for building such a great team.
I think more tables and chairs in the concession area, more waste bins dotted around, and more signage showing where the different areas are would help but with a new venue, I cannot imagine the headaches the team have had. As always though with the RWFF they never rest on their laurels and always listen to and want feedback, just make it constructive. I caught the end of a cookery demo which proved popular and I wonder if this event might consider using some of the producers, next year to showcase their companies. Another constant soapbox gripe is that anyone doing a cookery demo uses produce from the event, along with local chefs, thinking that this is what these events are all about, bringing communities together and pushing our local food, which in this case was with a really wild theme. I’m sure there was a map somewhere but guess I missed it, but these are always a great idea.
So my congratulations to the RWFF team for your bravery in taking on a new venue and your determination and planning to make it work. You must all be shattered, but delighted in what you managed to achieve this weekend. Whoever said prayers in the cathedral for warm sunny weather, deserves a pat on the back too!
See you next year!