A CAMPAIGN to help the food and drink industry reopen once lockdown lifts is being launched by the New Forest tourism group.
Running from May to Christmas, the initiative by Go New Forest will shine a spotlight on businesses from across the hospitality sector, including pubs, restaurants, cafes, hotels, B&Bs, food producers and sellers.
Entitled Taste the New Forest 2021 – a Celebration of Food and Drink, it will look ahead to when venues can reopen their doors to showcase the quality of food and drink the area has to offer.
One of the highlights later in the year in September will be the Great New Forest Feast – a 10-day festival of music, food and drink.
Part of the new campaign will be aimed at restoring consumer confidence in feeling safe while going out for a meal and a drink.
Anthony Climpson, Go New Forest chief executive, told the A&T: “We all need a bit of joy in our life, especially now.
“This campaign is not just for the hospitality industry, it is for the whole community. We want everyone to come together and enjoy food and drink and everything else the sector has to offer.
“The reopening is something for everyone to cheer about.”
The campaign will feature stories about people who make up the industry including farmers who produce dairy foods and meat, vegetable growers, micro-breweries and home bakers, along with restaurant, café and bar owners.
Every month there will be a seasonal theme including seafood in May, asparagus and strawberries in June, salads and charcuterie in July, mushrooms and pumpkins in October and pannage pork in November.
There will also be special offers along the lines of the government’s Eat Out For Less promotions.
Mr Climpson said: “We really want to highlight the fantastic quality of food and drink in the New Forest to residents and visitors alike.”
Activities revolving around food and drink will also be happening throughout the year, Covid-19 restrictions allowing.
Indications are that Prime Minister Boris Johnson will announce a planned change in Covid-19 restrictions next week. There are hopes it will enable the hospitality industry to offer food and drink on outside tables by as early as April and fully open by May.
The news is being welcomed by many cafes, bars, restaurants, pubs and other eateries in the Forest but there are fears that customers may still feel worried about using them.
Mr Climpson said that many in the sector were “desperate” to re-open, saying: “We have never been busier than during the lockdown supporting people who fear their businesses are going to go bust.
“We have 200 members and even the large companies are really struggling. They have not been open for nearly a year. There are a lot of people who are absolutely desperate.”
Many owners were angry that the hospitality sector had been hit so hard by the Covid-19 restrictions, he said, adding: “The government are quite rightly taking a cautious approach to unlocking restrictions.
“But it’s very annoying and frustrating that on the one hand they say science suggests that re-opening schools carries a very low risk and yet the very same science is not applied to hospitality.
“Since the initial outbreak hospitality has had the lowest transmission rate of all industrial sectors at just under 3% and yet it is being proposed we are the last sector that should re-open.
“The health and safety of its customers is the very bedrock of hospitality so there is no industry better equipped to ensure customers are at low risk.
“We have always had a level of protection built in before the pandemic hit. Stringent measures were put in place by the industry to increase that protection afterwards.
“Above all what we want now is for customers to feel safe and comfortable when they are allowed once again to go out and enjoy themselves. Eating and drinking out is one of the joys of life.”