Food for thought
The Christchurch Food & Wine Festival is a colourful event, during which thousands of visitors descend on the picturesque Dorset town to enjoy cookery demonstrations, an International Food Market and competitions, or simply to enjoy the fine dining offered by local eateries. ICM is one of the festival’s main sponsors and is proud to support an event which has such significant value to the local community, both in terms of boosting the economy – particularly in terms of tourism – and increasing understanding of the importance of healthy eating.
The very first Christchurch Food & Wine Festival was held in 2000 as a community event to celebrate the Millennium. It was a huge success and was embraced so warmly by visitors and the local community that it has been held every year since, with an estimated 50,000 visitors flocking to Christchurch on the show’s busiest days.
The festival is perfectly surmised by Christchurch Borough Council Councillor Sally Derham Wilkes, who describes it as: “A wonderful way of promoting Christchurch as a place to enjoy a high quality eating experience in a beautiful place.” Its continued popularity and success can indeed be attributed to its enviable setting in the idyllic Dorset medieval town of Christchurch. Nestled between the New Forest and Bournemouth, at the point at which the rivers Stour and Avon meet, Christchurch is perfectly placed for those looking to explore the charms of Dorset’s beaches, historical sites and countryside. With a history dating back to the Stone Age, Christchurch boasts many hidden charms. A walk around the town’s cobbled streets reveals beautiful gardens alongside the river, the Great Chamber castle ruins, a magnificent Priory Church and a quaint, but busy, high street.
Colour and vibrancy
When the food and wine festival comes to town, Christchurch becomes even more vibrant and charming – a place that, according to Councillor Wilkes, residents can take even more pride in. She added: The festival is probably the best of its kind in the region and the community feels proud to be associated with it because it’s such a well planned and enjoyable event envied by many of our neighbouring towns.”
The most popular day of the festival is the hosting of the International Food Market, when the main high street becomes awash with colourful stalls displaying delicious foods, wines and gifts – with many stallholders travelling from across Europe to treat visitors to their regions’ culinary delights. Christchurch resident Mrs Cilla Evans has enjoyed the delicacies offered by the market since it began in 2000. She said: “My family now plan their holiday around the festival, particularly so they can go to the food market. There are so many lovely stalls – we really are spoilt for choice. I mainly buy fresh fruit and vegetables, which have been delicious every time.”
For food-lovers looking for even more inspiration, a huge marquee in Saxon Square houses cookery demonstrations presented by some of the UK’s finest celebrity chefs. Top chefs appearing at the festival have included Paul Rankin, Jean-Christophe Novelli and Festival Patron Lesley Walters who have wowed the crowds with their mouth-watering dishes.
Boosting the local economy
Whilst the main purpose of Christchurch Food & Wine Festival is to provide visitors with entertaining and enjoyable experiences, it is important to consider the significant impact it has on the economic success of a town such as Christchurch. It provides, without doubt, a huge boost to local tourism and many events held during the festival’s eight days continually sell out.
The event generates a wealth of positive coverage in both the local and national press, which is sure to influence visitors in choosing the town as their holiday destination. The festival is sponsored by ICM Chief Executive Dr Alistair Somerville Ford, who, as an expert in the fields of Tourism and Business Development, understands the importance of such an event. He said: “Visitor numbers are critical to the economic success of a town such as Christchurch and the local business community, together with the Council, work hard to develop our own special identity and to ensure the festival offers a range of products and attractions which we hope will increase footfall and the flow of visitors to the local area.”
Dr Somerville Ford’s comments are reinforced by Christchurch Borough Council Chief Executive Michael Turvey who says the town relies heavily on jobs and income created through tourism in the area. He said: “Sandwiched between two very different tourist hot spots – the beaches of Bournemouth and the outstanding environment of the New Forest National Park – Christchurch has had to create its own niche market. To make our mark in the competitive tourism environment, Christchurch has to combine the best of the talents available in both the public and the private sectors. The festival has done a magnificent job of raising the profile of the Borough as a quality tourism destination for visitors, providing quality food and accommodation.”
Mr Turvey is quick to praise all of the staff involved in making the festival a reality and highlights the fact they learn new expertise during planning that can be used in further projects. He added: “A lot of skills are needed to ensure the festival is planned well and carried out well. Staff gain greatly from the learning process they go through to hone these skills to perfection. The Council benefits from staff deploying these skills on other projects just as the community benefits through the greater use of these enhanced expertise.”
He also points out the positive impact the festival has had on Christchurch’s work with the private sector. He said: “Our relationship with the private sector has improved enormously because of joint working and we now collaborate on other projects in ways which would not have happened before. We often hear the clichés of community leadership and partnership. The Food Festival shows community leadership and partnership actually working. Here is the reality.”
Fine food and drink
With thousands of visitors flocking to Christchurch to enjoy the festival over the eight days, its presence has a significant impact on the trade of the local shops, bars and restaurants. During the eight days, establishments are packed out as visitors look for places to purchase goods, eat a hearty meal or simply sit back and relax with a drink.
One of the most popular amongst discerning diners is AA rosette and Michelin recommended ‘Splinters’, a gourmet restaurant specialising in modern international cuisine which offers special events over the course of the festival including a lunch and wine tasting. Agnes Putt is the festival Vice Chairman and Co-owner of Splinters restaurant. She said: “The festival is one of our busiest times of the year. We have people making bookings months ahead to ensure themselves a table during the week. We also get festival regulars coming back to us year after year which is lovely for us as it shows we’re doing something right.”
According to Councillor Wilkes, the more successful the festival becomes, the more likely the chance of entrepreneurs investing in new food and drink establishments in Christchurch. She said: “We are already seeing this with an unprecedented number of new restaurants opening or being planned. A high quality eating experience is part of our niche tourism market and the festival does a great job to ensure we develop the full potential of that.”
‘Best of the Best’ awards
The hard work and dedication of those already running eating and drinking establishments in Christchurch is celebrated at the festival’s annual ‘Best of the Best’ awards ceremony, sponsored by local newspaper the Daily Echo.
For 2007, Lychee was named ‘Best Asian’ for its: “Overall Asian experience” and The Thomas Tripp was crowned ‘Best Public House’ for having: “A very good choice of beers and lagers which are cheaper than average and well kept.” Splinters was also given the title of ‘Best Restaurant’, described by judges as providing: “A warm greeting…mains were well presented and perfectly cooked… the service throughout the evening was perfectly timed.”
Neal Butterworth, Editor of the Daily Echo & Advertiser, believes that as the leading print media in the area, it is vital that the Daily Echo works closely with the local community to promote events such as the Christchurch Food & Wine Festival. He said: “We are a community newspaper that works hard to publicise and promote such events and by working with the organisers through our daily and free titles, we can reach hundreds of thousands of local people who might be unaware of the hard work and excellence that typifies such festivals. It is also important that we create editorial and commercial partnerships with local businesses across the area to help them flourish and grow.”
A new charitable trust
The food and wine festival also has huge educational importance to Christchurch, particularly with the founding of charity ‘The Christchurch Food Festival Education Trust’, thought to be a first for UK food festivals. The trust has the aim of educating the local community about making informed choices about food and healthy eating. According to Festival Founder and President Mary Reader, the foundation has been established to help secure festival activities for the future as it opens the opportunity for it to raise its own funding. She said: “Since its inception, the festival has always aimed to include food education amongst its activities…. With the launch of the trust, it is hoped that more money will be available for the promotion of educational work and healthy eating, and the enjoyment of food in general.”
Highlighting the festival’s dedication to providing access to food-related education is its involvement with schools in Christchurch. Initiatives with local Secondary Schools have been in place for the past seven years; however, this was also extended to cover Primary Schools for the first time in 2007. During the first year, pupils were invited to take part in competitions designed to improve their understanding of healthy eating, and in the run up to the contests Mrs Reader visited schools with chefs from local restaurants to provide students with demonstrations and interactive workshops. Commenting on the initiative, she said: “It’s so important for children to find out about healthy food from an early age and I’m delighted that the festival can provide children with information about food they may not have tried which can be nutritious and tasty at the same time.”
Competitions for schools
For the 2007 competitions, Secondary School pupils were invited to create and prepare a delicious healthy meal, whilst children from Primary Schools were tasked with designing a mock healthy meal on a 3-D plate. Entrants for the Secondary Schools contest were then whittled down to three finalists who were invited to prepare dishes in a marquee in Saxon Square during the festival. 15-year-old Kirsti Maybank from Twynham School was crowned the eventual winner for her delicious serving up of salmon in champagne sauce served on a bed of rocket, spinach and watercress. Celebrity Chef Jean-Christophe Novelli presented Kirsti with her prize and said he was so impressed with the entries that he generously matched the prize fund and invited the three finalists to attend his Hertfordshire-based cookery school. Lily Waltham was named the winner of the Primary Schools contest for her colourful 3-D plate demonstrating chicken skewers with cous cous and salsa, along with full recipe details.
Mrs Reader has been pleased to receive positive feedback from all of the schools involved and has been sent numerous letters of thanks. She said: “One letter that stands out is from Dr Terry Fish, the Head teacher of Twynham School. He thanks us for our involvement stating that it has had a: ‘Hugely positive impact on students with record numbers of food students competing… It has been highly beneficial to raise the profile of food within a real context and great publicity for the school and the Borough in general.’ It’s so rewarding to hear such positive feedback from the schools involved. We’re looking forward to continuing our education work and hope to expand it further in the future. The benefits really are enormous.”
Looking to the future
The festival goes from strength to strength year on year and the more it grows in stature, the more it will do to attract visitors to Christchurch. The next event will be held 9-18 May 2008 and is sure to be bigger and better than ever before. And with the founding of ‘The Christchurch Food Festival Education Trust’, its educational work with local schools is set to take even more prominence over the coming years. Christchurch describes itself as a place where ‘Time is pleasant’, so don’t just wait until the festival comes, why not plan your visit to the town today?
Further information on the food festival can be found at the official website:
Alternatively, a wealth of tourism information and advice is available at: