30,000 people celebrating the best of Shropshire food and drink.
We talk to director of fun at Shropshire Festivals Beth Heath, the brains behind a range of Shropshire events that attract 90,000 to the county annually including the award winning Shrewsbury Food Festival.
Tell us a bit about yourself
Shropshire Festivals is a family-run business belonging to my husband Sid and I. I have been working in events and the agritourism industry my whole working life and launched the Shrewsbury Food Festival in 2013 to celebrate local food and drink producers. I went on to launch several more festivals under the Shropshire Festivals label, including Shropshire Oktoberfest, Shropshire Kids Festival, Field to Fork Festival and Shropshire BizFest, which collectively attract over 90,000 visitors to the region annually.
I also offer event consultancy supporting event businesses, coming up with creative ideas to boost footfall at local attractions and organising corporate events from parties to huge conferences.
Describe your event and how many people it attracts?
The Shrewsbury Food Festival has been held annually since 2013. On the last weekend in June, which is always a hot one, the festival attracts up to 30,000 people to the 29 acres of parkland in the centre of this picturesque town. In the festival’s nine year history, it has been voted Best Food Festival in the Midlands multiple times.
The event has grown year on year and now hosts 200 food, drink, home and garden stalls, street food vendors, plus beer, wine, gin, and fizz bars (this year we have banned mainstream alcohol brands). Talented chefs from the region’s top restaurants lead talks, demonstrations and cookalongs. There is a live music stage hosting top local bands, a huge free kids’ zone featuring a circus big top, a BBQ competition, the Fire Stage and the educational Field and Fork area.
At Shropshire Festivals we love providing a platform for the region’s small businesses and performers, which in turn provides unique experiences for our customers. Fun is at the heart of everything we do – we want to make people smile and give them memories to treasure, and we want to do it in an environmentally friendly way by making our events zero waste.
Explain a bit about your venue and your history with it
Most of our festivals are held in the Quarry in Shrewsbury. It’s a stunning park right in the centre of town that sits in the loop of the River Severn. The council has a limited number of licenses it releases every year to hold events there, and we’re proud to have them for Shrewsbury Food Festival, Shropshire Oktoberfest and Shropshire Party in the Quarry Park (our new event launching this May).
Aside from the expanse of space, we are served well by the proximity to the town centre’s shops, railway and bus stations. The park is accessed from more than one point, making it convenient for our visitors and suppliers.
What is the event’s history and what made you decide to run it?
I spent eight years as operational director at Ludlow Food Festival. Shrewsbury is a thriving food-loving town, and it felt like there was a big gap in the market for a food festival here. There is also more space and therefore room for an event to grow and evolve. My hunch was right! Aside from 2020 in the midst of the pandemic, we have held a successful Shrewsbury Food Festival every year since 2013, with numbers growing every year, and attracting some top chef names.
How is your relationship with the local authority and community?
We have a great relationship with the local authority and a very loyal following in the community. I also chair the Shropshire Business Board and Visit Shropshire – the region’s destination management organisation, which has built up my network.
Our events are a huge boost to the local tourism sector with people travelling from outside the county, and even the country, to visit us – local restaurants and hotels get booked out. We also give space at our festivals for other events to market themselves, helping to boost visitor return visits.
How have you planned the layout of the event?
Years of experience have given me a great instinct in how people move around a festival. I find it fascinating watching people navigate an event, and every year I make tweaks to get the most out of the space.
We hire in a huge number of marquees and a live music stage, but we erect our own tipis (we also own Shropshire Tipi Hire) which really epitomise the look of our events. Add a tipi to any festival and it really elevates the look of the site.
How did you research and source your marquees, flooring, bars etc?
We have worked with Burgoynes and Tents and Marquees for a number of years and as such they are brilliant at offering up new ideas. If you get a good relationship with a marquee foreman they become invaluable as they have a wealth of experience and ideas that they have seen work elsewhere!
We tend not to need flooring as we aim for sunshine and grass. For bars we take inspiration from Pinterest, good old Google and of course Open Air Business magazine!
What entertainment do you offer and how did you choose and source it?
Our aim is to offer something for everyone. The foodies will be at the Chef Talks and Demos stage, trying samples from producers or doing a cook along with a top chef. Families have a huge free kids’ zone to enjoy with our circus big top, rides, STEM activities and lots of hands-on experiences like trying out a bike, baking, crafting, digging in the sandpit or playing a giant game.
Adults that like to relax with a drink will be at the bars or sitting on the hill watching the live music stage, and the avid shoppers will visit all 200+ exhibitors until they drop! We are advocates of supporting local so we always reach out to our community if we’re looking for something new. We’ve built up a brilliant network of talent over the years.
What provisions do you make for power, lights and sound?
We have a nightmare with power costs, the same as most people, and have a very limited supply onto festival sites which we supplement with generators. The red diesel ban is a real problem, as that is an unbudgeted extra cost that is going to really affect our clients and visitors as we pass this cost on further down the line.
For lighting and sound, we have worked with ProAudio for a number of years and they’ve always brought excellent solutions to the table. We love the projected lighting installations we do in the beer tent at Shropshire Oktoberfest where we work with artist Andy McKeown. They are a much talked about dimension. Lighting is often under used but we have done some interesting venues and the lighting has really brought them to life.
How do you manage admissions and visitor safety?
We now have a bespoke ticketing system as the majority of visitors have moved to buying tickets in advance online. One of our core members of the team, Gemma, is dedicated to admissions throughout the event – troubleshooting issues, heading up customer service and ensuring our gates are running efficiently.
Our security team bag searches all visitors on entry and we work with an external health and safety company, Online Safety Solutions, who ensure our sites are the safest they can be.
How did you cope during 2020 and 2021?
As we were unable to hold any of our Shropshire Festivals in 2020, we launched the Shropshire Drive-in. We organised seven separate drive-in events with comedy, live music and performance, with visitors each getting their own area to safely park up and enjoy a show.
Within a month of conceiving the idea we had launched the tickets on a brand new website and about a month later we were standing in the middle of a grassy field at the first sold out event. We entertained over 8,000 people during July 2020! The events were covered by every local news outlet, featured in The Telegraph and Metro, and even recorded and broadcast on BBC Breakfast!
We also launched a new hamper business during the pandemic. There are hundreds of small local food and drink businesses that have been unable to exhibit at our annual festivals, so we decided to bring those businesses together in a brand-new way, diversifying to launch the Shropshire Hamper Company, and the response was amazing! In fact, our suppliers reported selling more through the hampers than they normally would at our food festival. We will continue to run the hamper business, which keeps us busy in between events.
In December 2020 we were behind what could have been the biggest national event of the year – Carols on the Doorstep! Our idea to get the people of Shropshire singing carols in unison went national, with BBC radio stations signing up to broadcast the backing music. We were filmed for BBC Breakfast and the One Show. It was incredible to unite isolated communities across towns and rural areas to spread some festive cheer. We held Doorstep Carols for a second year last Christmas, uniting the nation in song. We simultaneously had people singing from choirs in Trafalgar Square to Great Ormond Street Hospital and from cathedrals to street parties, all in the name of boosting community spirit and combatting social isolation.
The government’s Culture Recovery Fund enabled us to plan and hold Shrewsbury Food Festival in 2021, albeit three months later than usual.
What ground protection do you use for cars and footfall?
We don’t need ground protection for Shrewsbury Food Festival as the weather is always great. For Shropshire Oktoberfest we have a real problem as it always rains, so we now own our own ground matting to combat this cost and also to limit the damage done by the cherry pickers as they hang the lights etc.
How do you publicise the event?
We have our own in-house marketing team – Shropshire ThinkTank. They market with a mix of social media, email marketing and press work. We have promotional leaflets distributed to high footfall areas throughout the year and hang banners and signs around the town ahead of the event.
What additional challenges have you faced?
We have the same challenges as everyone else – navigating through Covid and incurring bigger costs on everything, which we will have to pass on to visitors who are battling a cost-of-living crisis themselves. It hasn’t been an easy couple of years!
How have you financed the event?
We have sponsorship packages for every event – from sponsoring our re-usable beer cups through to the main stage. I wholeheartedly believe it is an incredible way to boost brand awareness and reposition how consumers view brands. We are always open to sponsorship requests!
What are your plans for next year?
We will be holding events throughout the year – Shropshire Kids Festival, Shropshire Tasty Trail (our walk and eat event), Shropshire Party at the Quarry Park, Shrewsbury Food Festival, Shropshire Oktoberfest and a host of corporate events. We are also consulting on some amazing projects – follow Shropshire Festivals on Facebook and Instagram to keep up to date!
What advice could you give to someone coming into the outdoor event industry?
It’s not for everyone as it’s incredibly physically and mentally demanding, but when the sun is shining and you have 30,000 happy visitors eating and drinking from small local food and drink producers and making amazing memories, it makes it all worthwhile. It is also very different from smaller indoor events; it might seem obvious but if you’re used to running indoor weddings then be warned this is a very different ball game!
ProAudio Services www.proaudioservices.co.uk
Andy McKeown, Wild Strawberry www.wildstrawberry.com
HEAT & POWER
Barry Hamer Electricians
Cool Services www.coolservices.co.uk
Shropshire SY1 1JA