Milford is the opening day of Pembrokeshire Fish Week. Last year this event was funded by wag to the tune of £31,671, which I didn’t quite understand as I thought only the Milford event was classed as a food festival during Fish Week, so there’s no doubt that this amount of funding from the Food festival budget for a one day fest, was excessive. However it seems that Pembrokeshire Fish Week was the exception, as the funding from the food festival budget actually helped to support the whole of Fish Week, so it was in theory a Food Festival Fish Week. Not at all sure that any of our food producers were attending other events that week, but perhaps they were…..
This year the organisers, for some reason asked wag for £30k, despite the fact that wag had already stated that the funding for all food festivals would be limited to £10k. Milford got their £10k from wag food as well as funding from Visit Wales’ Major Events Unit of £25k. The event also had an impressive list of sponsors and supporters totalling 26, which excluded Pembrokeshire County Council, Wag food and the Major Events Unit.
We’d had quite a few of Best Of Welsh producers in attendance and they told me that they were charged £75.00 for a day’s pitch, plus £5.00 if a table was required and then £1.00 vat on the table. Concessions or food-to-go were £120.00 plus electrics. I really wouldn’t want to be a producer, because it’s really such a gamble for them and never more so than in these tough economic times. Producers have to sell a lot of product before their profit covers the cost of the stand, let alone, the cost of getting there, preparing produce, and also their time. Ok producers, I know your time is not often up to the minimum wage, but I am aware that all these factors have to be taken into account before you go ahead and book a stand.
Entry fees were first charged at Milford in 2011. As you well know, I’m not pro entry fees, but I’ve been told that in 2011, 2, 000 people visited Milford, despite the bad weather and the entrance fee. Last year when I reported on this festival, the entrance charge was £2.00 per adult with gate money raising £8,365. Not knowing Milford all that well, I was puzzled as to where there was the parking for these many people. There’s no doubt that 12,000 is a lot of people and a lot of cars. The other thing that I couldn’t understand last year was with a supposed 12,000 people, why wasn’t it busy? Plus, that wasn’t just my view, but that of many producers who were so bored at times they were wandering around chatting to each other – not a good sign. Anyway, back to entry fees which this year have gone up another pound to £3.00, so £6.00 for two people to go in, which is roughly two pots of delicious local jam that those people might not buy. I remain unconvinced that two adults will find value-for-money if all they wish to do is shop for local food. If you’ve children with you, that’s a different matter, as those under 10 years of age were allowed in for free. So if there’s plenty to keep kids amused, then that might be money well spent, so in that instance there’s some logic there.
I was informed that overall attendance last year during the nine days of Fish Week was 26,500, but that’s another area I find confusing. I can recall visiting Saundersfoot a couple of years back on the final day and there was certainly no visitor count taken there. So if not all events over the nine days were ticketed, how can a final figure be reached? Or was 26,500 a ‘guessimate’ figure that wag and Visit Wales need for their records so they can provide funding? I noted this year there was a Park & Ride available from Mackerel Quay and Robert Street Car Park so that must have helped many people struggling to find a parking space. Parking was busy when we arrived about 12.00ish, but the attendants were polite and very helpful, so that was a bonus.
I wasn’t happy with the layout of stands here last year and I certainly wasn’t any happier this year. It’s another of my grumbles that producers have to book a stand on trust, pay up front and it’s often not until they arrive at the event that they know where they are sited. Having said that some festivals have now got this down to a fine art, they’ve a floor plan and can tell producers just where they’ll be sited and to me that is the fairest way for producers and if you’re not running a festival for the producers, then in my view you shouldn’t be taking money from wag food. Last year I was disappointed that food concessions, or food-to-go, were so spread out and this was just the case this year. Cowbridge food festival have got this right, again in my view, as they’ve one long marquee where all the hot food is – simple. That makes it easy for producers and easy for visitors to find. The array of hot food on offer there is amazing, so much so that visitors are literally spoilt for choice, but that’s such a good problem to have. There’s also some seating and tables outside, which is another bonus, unless it rains!!!!! Of course I’m aware that tentage is expensive, but if food producers are at the forefront of your mind, which they should be, then somewhere to sit and eat hot food should be a priority. Actually I feel it’s essential if you have children, elderly people, or someone in a wheelchair in your party. Sitting down and eating at a festival, enjoying the local food should be a fun part of the foodie experience. All too frequently that isn’t the case and I’m not happy about it, and neither should wag be either. There were chairs and tables between the two entrances with a massive mobile van, the only bonus there was that at least they said they were selling Welsh sausages. I’m sure it’s just me, but to see a big mobile van doesn’t make me think I’ve entered a Welsh, government supported food festival more a down-market funfair.
We entered the food festival from the marina end and on entering the festival where confronted with a run of quango stands, like the life guards, Pembrokeshire National Park, Sea Cadets etc. opposite which was a very posh musical stage. So it was quite a walk until I found an actual food stand Trioni with their great drinks and Little Welsh Deli and their lovely pasties and cakes. Generally food stands were mixed in with craft stands, not a good idea and in my opinion was it was messy. It just didn’t flow, there was no improvement in my book and I disliked the layout as much as last year.
The Cookery Demos were another frustration. No tent, just a kitchen unit from Aga Rangemaster. Not sure why they’d brought Aga in as I thought PCC had their own mobile kitchen, but there we are. The rain in the morning obviously washed that area out and when I passed mid afternoon, the area was, you’ve guessed it, messy as rubbish and leaflets had been thrown on the floor and just left. There was a shortage of bins, so although people were to blame for the hideous litter, surely we need to encourage them by having more bins. People are often lazy and thoughtless so at least give them more bins and see if that works. Angela Gray was one chef working in the cookery demo area, I’m sure she’s been attending for quite a few years, plus she’s a regular at Narbeth too. As I reported last year and I’m back on my old soap-box again, I cannot understand why festivals don’t use more local chefs. There are so many talented chefs throughout Pembrokeshire, so for me that’s a really wasted opportunity. Last year Caerphilly invited a few of the professional producers to do demos or give talks. I’d not seen this before, apart from at Ludlow festival, but I have to say some of these were excellent and worked really well for the producers too, which is the whole point isn’t it? So I was not impressed by the cookery demo area basically because added to my other moans, I’d no idea who was actually cooking. I couldn’t see a blackboard or a notice board giving chef and times of demos and nothing saying what they were cooking either.
There were not many places to buy tea and coffee, which surprised me as we do have plenty here in Wales. Anyway at the very end of all the tradestands there was a small tent with singers in, and with tables and chairs outside in the open. Apparently according to a PFW flyer they were fishermen from Cornwall. Although there were some food to go stands close by, no-one sitting in this area was drinking let alone eating. Sadly it wasn’t just the fishermen singers that didn’t have a banner; some stands didn’t have banners either. I think the prize for the worst stand had to go to Pieroth who had one card table and two pop up banners, they were pushing wine tasking and address given as Bedfordshire.
Friday afternoon, 14/6, I received an email from Kate Morgan – Food Development Manager for PCC; I couldn’t read it had come through as complete gobbledygook; I replied on Monday explaining and returning it, but have received no response. I am not sure what the email was about, maybe it was a press release about the food festival at Milford, but I’ve no way of knowing. Yet that raises a few questions for me. Wag stated this year that all food festivals should send out press releases, it’s one of their criteria, but if this was a food festival press release, sent on 14/6 with an event kicking off on 22/6, why was it sent so late? I cannot believe PCC have not been sending out press releases to their local Pembrokeshire newspapers, that would be stupid beyond belief, but if they have, why couldn’t I have been added to that list? I emailed Pembrokeshire County Council on 10/6 not only asking for press tickets, but also for a list of producers as there was NO list on their website. So did my email prompt them to send me a belated press release?
I totally accept that as Pembrokeshire Fish Week are not advertising their event with us, even though I understand that many visitors come from outside Pembrokeshire, I wouldn’t have done any promotion work for them. After, if it’s not a two-way street, then it’s not fair is it? However Ian has tried many, many times over the years to get PCC to work with us and one occasion was told that their advertising budget had been cut to safe-guard staff jobs. Press releases are important, surely that’s obvious to such a large machine as PCC, but it is also a condition for them drawing their funding from wag. I’m talking to wag about this and I’ve suggested to them that they not only request copies from festivals of all press releases sent out, but a listing as to who they were sent to and finally, proof of where they were published. Now before I hear PCC and other organisers groaning that that is too much work, can I remind organisers that it’s a wag criteria that you do send out press releases? Too many festivals are seriously falling down in this area and I shall ask wag that they evaluate festival forms carefully in this area fully before paying out any funding. Press releases are a vital marketing tool, the more publicity you get for your event; the more likely you are to get additional visitors through the gate. My concern is for our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers, that you get plenty of people to your event so they have a fighting chance of making sales. That has to be your priority when running a food festival for, it’s for the producers. If organisers can’t do a good job in getting people to their event, then perhaps wag should have a further look at their criteria and highlight this factor as important and give guidelines.
There was a fish preparation area which was a good idea but why, oh why did I find clearly marked packs of DEVON crab at Pembrokeshire Fish Week? For goodness sake does this say to the visitors and local people that Wales has now run out of crab? Or is this just PFW giving another kick in the teeth to our hard-pressed Welsh fishermen. The title Pembrokeshire Fish Week should give us all a clue, but seemingly not the organisers.
Now websites. I’ve already had producer complaints about lists of producers not being available on food festival websites and rightly so. It’s yet another way where organisers are failing producers. Goodness knows when PCC uploaded their list of producers attending but it certainly wasn’t there when I looked on 10/6 and I was told it would be uploaded in a few days. Well I’ve better things to do than keep looking, I would have thought as media it could have been sent to me. It would have been polite and professional for my contact to apologise and say she’s doing that, but seemingly the onus is on me to keep checking their website, presumably because they are so busy ……..and I’m not!!
Eventually I did print off their tradestand list and again I was disappointed with it. The company name was there, phone numbers were there and some website were shown too, but there was no description of was each company did. Another instance of how this festival didn’t seem to be working for the food producers. My list showed me 121 stands and 67 of them appeared to be craft or quango stands. Yet according to another of wag’s criteria:
Welsh Food and Drink producers must form at least 75% of the total exhibitors, with no less than 25 Welsh food and drink producers exhibiting to be eligible for support.
This is another point I shall take up with wag. Milford didn’t feel like a food festival to me, it didn’t look like a food festival to me either but my focus is on our Best Of Welsh & Borders food producers, so here are some of their comments:
· Pleasant welcome when we got here in dreadful weather.
· There are a lot of craft stands, what have they paid to be here at this food festival?
· I can see stands for guides and all sorts of charities – what have they paid?
· I have no idea why the organisers run the opening day in Milford. It’s not a wealthy area, it’s known as a foodie area either and after running it here for years, it hasn’t improved. It’s the wrong place but no-one in power has realised that.
· I didn’t do well last year; I should have had more sense then to come back. I will not be attending again.
· This event is getting worse rather than better. I did far better at Emlyn last week and it was cheaper too.
· You’ve only to watch the people milling about to see they are not carrying bags at all let alone food bags.
· The layout is always poor here. If wag and supporting this event then it should look like a food festival not a fete, or a fun fair.
· I’ve just done ok, but way down on what I’d expect to take on a one day festival. I hope Lampeter is better than this.
· There’s a lot of litter about although I’ve seen a few guys making an attempt at picking it up. Not enough bins, which is poor. People are lazy can’t walk far to a bin. It’s simple enough, more bins, less litter.
· I can’t stand this noisy entertainment walking about and making it difficult to talk to people. This is not a carnival and they should be on a stage or out of the way. We are here to talk to p[eople and sell.
· Surely in the whole of Pembrokeshire there’s a better site than Milford to run the opening, with a supermarket on the doorstep.
· The market in Haverfordwest has gone down and down. I can’t say that’s happened here, because it’s never been even reasonable here. Pembrokeshire despite having some great producers doesn’t put on good events for us. It’s disappointing and one I’ll not be returning to.
· I came in from Haverfordwest and didn’t see any signs. Never saw a single promotional book about the festival and not sure why they weren’t distributed. Is that a lack nof marketing, I don’t know.
· Who paid for that big posh performance stand at one of the entrances?
· On a personal level, it makes little difference to me if this event was a success or not, apart from the fact that it eats into another precious Saturday, but it does make a heck of a difference to the livelihoods and the future of our Best Of Welsh, BOW, producers. Our BOW producers support us with advertising and I will continue to talk to them listen to them, agree with them sometimes, tell them off at others, but fight their corner so that they get a better deal from festival organisers and from wag. It is though very depressing to walk around a festival and get so much negative feedback from our BOW producers. In a perfect world when I attend a food festival, our producers should all be too busy to talk to me and I should be able to walk around the event in an hour and go home!!!