Why local food events are good for urban centres

06 October 2010


Many town and city centres are really struggling at the moment and those responsible for stimulating their economic revival are looking to events to bring in customers and encourage spend.  Often the problem with this approach is that visitors come only for the event, leaving without spending in the indigenous shops, cafes and restaurants that the event was designed to support.

This year we have organised a number of really successful local food events in urban centres which have delivered economic uplift for indigenous businesses.

Here are some of the reasons why they have:

We make a concerted effort to position the main activities of the event in the heart of the town or city centre.  This means visitors seamlessly interact between the indigenous shops and restaurants, and the local food stalls and entertainment activity of the event.   Where parking is a problem we put on a free park and ride service.

Local food complements the indigenous offer
You are unlikely to find any shops selling local food and drink on high streets around the country.  Therefore introducing an event that celebrates and sells local food is unlikely to significantly compete with indigenous traders.  Where it does we always invite indigenous traders to also take a stand in the event.

Cookery kitchen featuring local chefs
Each local food event we do includes a cookery demonstration kitchen and chefs from local restaurants are invited to demonstrate their skills throughout the day.  All we ask is they use local food as a theme in their demonstration.  The cookery kitchens are relatively ‘low key’ allowing the chefs to informally interact directly with visitors.

Involve indigenous businesses
This is critical to the success of the event.  We meet with local businesses very early in the planning process to explain the event and invite any contributions  or suggestions.  We also give local businesses first option on delivering specific aspects of the event.  In Malton, North Yorkshire the local pub put on a beer festival as part of the event and sold more than 2,000 pints in a 10 hour period (they like their beer in Malton).

Event promotion
An event is a great way to generate local PR and if carefully managed this can be used to support indigenous businesses as well.  We always use local businesses to help launch the event to the press, and if they are willing, we put them forward to speak with local press on the day of the event.  We also ask the indigenous businesses to promote the event to their customers.

Local food makes people feel good
People are really nice to each other at local food events.  The atmosphere is relaxed, friendly and welcoming; reflecting positively on the rest of the town / city.  Visitors feel a sense of connection with the food that they buy and we often find local food helps to give visitors a renewed sense of local identity and pride connected to their home town.   This is not the case with the ubiquitous ‘continental market’ that local authorities seem to love using.

Roaming entertainment
A great way of integrating the event with indigenous businesses is to include some light-hearted entertainment that roams throughout the town or city on the day.  Strolling jazz bands work very well as does traditional children’s entertainment – face painters, puppet show, magician etc.

To help illustrate my points, here are some photos from a local food event we helped to organise in Malton, North Yorkshire earlier this year (May 2010).