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Petition launched to make Christchurch Food Festival 'local again'

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ORGANISERS of the Christchurch Food Festival have hit back after a petition was launched to “make it local again”.

Martin Nicholls is behind it the protest which yesterday (Tuesday) had gathered more than 300 names online.

But the event's organisers said feedback has instead been “overwhelmingly positive”.

Christchurch Food Festival crowds (56689520)
Christchurch Food Festival crowds (56689520)

Mr Nicholls said he feels the annual event is now “just run by a big event company, only selling corporate stuff you can buy from a supermarket at a fraction of the price they charge you for it”.

He told the A&T: “I got fruit and veg there and when I asked the bloke where he was from he said just off the M5!

“I struggled to find anywhere that was really local to Christchurch. This used to be a really good community event supporting local producers but now it feels they don’t actually want any local businesses taking part.”

Mr Nicholls, who lives in Christchurch, said he the atmosphere of the event on The Quomps had been “destroyed” by no longer including the High Street.

He would like to see a community interest company (CIC) take over the festival which is now run by Lymington-based Onyx Events and Real Food Markets Ltd.

It took over in 2019 after the CIC, which had run it for 20 years, pulled out and efforts to find another voluntary group to take over ended in failure.

Commenting on the online petition, one person said: “It used to be all along the High Street and the Quomps with so many stalls. So disappointed this year.”

Another said: “At Highcliffe food festival one felt much more part of the local community.”

Philip Lowery, from organiser Real Food Markets Ltd, said he found the criticism “hugely disappointing”.

He added: “The overwhelming feedback we received after the 2021 event was actually hugely positive, and particularly noted from the point of view of the venue and the fact that it was no longer in the High Street.

“The grassy, riverside setting of the Quomps made for a much more enjoyable experience for many visitors for whom the High Street had been an intimidating scrum of thousands of people crammed into a narrow space with nowhere to sit, gather or enjoy things.”

He claimed the feedback from this year’s event was also “overwhelmingly positive from traders and visitors alike”.

Mr Lowery said: “We are not a big event company, we do not only sell ‘corporate stuff’ – in fact, there are virtually no high street brands taking part in the festival.

“Local brands included Dorset Tea, Conker and Pothecary gin. We have added more local produce in the last two years with a new relationship with Hampshire Fare to bring their members into the event at subsidised rates. We do the same with Dorset Food and Drink.”

“If ‘local’ means only businesses in Christchurch, that would make for an extremely small festival.”

Mr Lowery said no local bars or restaurants had applied to take part in the festival, with almost 50% of the profits to be donated to the Christchurch Food Festival Education Trust.

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