A foodie’s haven in the Forest of Dean offering a wide range of entertainment
Taking on the festival from the district council in 2010, Amanda Smith and Rachel Salway have worked hard to make it sustainable and now attract 100 traders and 4,000 visitors with support from local sponsors and the community. We talk to Amanda.
Describe your event and how many people it attracts
The Forest Showcase Food Festival is held in the Speech House Hotel grounds on the first Sunday in October every year. We showcase creative producers from The Forest of Dean and surrounding areas, alongside invited traders who have something that ‘little bit different’ to bring to the festival.
We are lucky to have a whole array of producers who join us, from cheese mongers, bakers, brewers and baristas! You can also find chocolatiers, butchers, winemakers and those that create delicious ice cream. Over 100 top local and artisan producers, stunning hot food, real ale, gin and wine, interesting talks, parent and child cookery lessons and lots of children’s activities, top chef demos, excellent live music, arts and crafts; all together it makes a lovely foodie family day out.
The annual Forest Showcase is now a major event in the local calendar, attracting approximately 4,000 people per year.
Explain a bit about your venue and its history
The Speech House Hotel is a former 17th century hunting lodge set in the heart of the idyllic Royal Forest of Dean. Nestled in the centre of a tranquil forest environment, the hotel is independently owned and offers the perfect combination of original charm and modern hotel and wedding venue facilities.
The festival is held in a field adjacent to the hotel and is surrounded by woodland with space for onsite parking for both traders and visitors.
What is the event’s history and what made you decide to run it?
The ‘Forest Showcase’ food festival was started by the Forest of Dean District Council in 2001 to declare the area ‘open for business’ following the foot and mouth epidemic. The event was funded by the district council and various grant bodies until 2010 when the council withdrew their support due to the credit crunch.
Having been actively involved in the event and contracted to run the festival from 2007 onwards, I took it on, along with coordinator Rachel Salway, believing that it was too good to lose. We struggled for quite a few years, just about covering costs and with a huge amount of goodwill and volunteer hours.
Eventually we moved the festival from Beechenhurst picnic site to the Speech House Hotel field, which allowed it to grow and offer more free onsite car parking facilities and therefore become more sustainable. A new working partnership was made with The Speech House Hotel owners who are very keen to keep the event at its new site.
We have previously attended many food festivals and organised various events so we understand festivals from the exhibitors’ point of view as well as the visitor. We attract good quality local producers who are passionate about their businesses. That means they tend to be extremely knowledgeable about their produce and that’s fabulous for the consumers.
The other important factor is that this has always been, and remains, a community event, and therefore supported by both the residents and visitors equally. This is because we don’t rely on one major national sponsor, instead we have a number of smaller local companies who help support the festival.
Also, the majority of our participants, who range from cheese, cider, ice cream, bread and delicious cake makers, are from the Forest of Dean or nearby – we accept a few from further afield but only if it is something we don’t already have in our area, so it supports local business.
The festival includes a cookery theatre, which showcases some of the talented chefs we have in the area, and a talks stage where you can hear stories from local producers and taste some of their wares. As well as being great fun, the festival is a fantastic showcase for the Forest of Dean.
How does the relationship work with your venue?
The relationship works very well. We have a great working partnership with the owners of the Speech House Hotel and regular meetings running up to the event help. They participate by running a tea room on festival day and their fabulous chef also entertains the crowds in the Cookery Theatre, so the hotel receives a lot of publicity.
How did you find applying for permission to run the event?
We run the event on a premises licence from The Forest of Dean District Council. Last year’s event was cancelled due to Covid and we had planned to move it to a ‘Spring Showcase’ but that had to be cancelled too. We have produced a detailed event plan demonstrating Covid-security and what we are planning for this year, which includes larger marquees, increased space between traders, physical distancing etc.
How have you planned the layout of the event?
The layout has evolved over the years and we now hire marquees for different elements of the festival plus have invested in gazebos, tables, seating, flags and site decorations. We have a large Food Hall which contains around 60 local producers, one Cookery Theatre, a live music tent, Kid’s Cookery Space, plus various gazebos for kids’ activities.
New to our last event was a Talks & Tastings tent, which was very successful in promoting new producers to potential customers.
How did you research and source your infrastructure?
We have an excellent relationship with many local companies who have supported the event over the last 20 years, but Covid-19 has affected what is available this year as it seems many structures are on long term hire in pub gardens! This year we have gone to market to source new suppliers and we are pleased to be working with Severn Events as well as Protech Events for our sound, lighting and cookery theatre PA.
What entertainment do you offer?
We have live music throughout the day, sometimes we might book a community choir or brass band as well. They are all sourced through our local community music festival, The Coleford Music Festival.
One of the festival’s key features is the cookery theatre with individual demonstrations from chefs from around the area, all hosted and compèred by head chef Lawrence Jeffries from Cheltenham Racecourse. We also team up with a local award winning Deli, The Forest Deli, that runs the Talks & Tastings tent.
How do you manage admissions and visitor safety?
We sell tickets online and have a separate entrance for pre booked tickets. Most of our customers pay on the door, which can mean long queues.
We have stewards and staff that make sure the marquees do not get too crowded and keep our visitors safe.
Please detail the measures you have taken specifically for Covid-19
We will have hand sanitisers throughout the festival on each entrance to marquees and the event itself. We will have larger marquees to allow more space around each stallholder and for the visitors to circulate freely, they will also be well ventilated. There will be extra cleaning of both toilets and the common dining areas, and stewards to help control crowd numbers in each marquee. The majority of the festival is outside which helps.
What ground protection do you use for cars and footfall?
The field is a hard flat surface, well grassed and dries out very quickly. We have not needed to provide any ground protection, but the wet weather does deter some visitors from visiting, and some from parking on the field.
How do you publicise the event?
We publicise the event in various ways, advertising in local free newspapers and ‘What’s On’ websites. We also promote the event across all our social media channels, including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, as well as our own website. One of the best ways for us to advertise is through our roadside boards, which are distributed widely, along with posters and flyers.
We have a very loyal following and people return to the event regularly so we have a mailing list that receives updates and information running up to the festival. We also send out information to our exhibitors so they can promote the event through their channels too.
What challenges have you faced?
Apart from the weather (our site is very exposed), the struggle has been to make the festival sustainable. The Forest of Dean is a rural area without a main centre of population and the various parts of the area have distinct and diverse characteristics.
Public transport across the area is very poor; we do try to encourage people to take to the bicycle or use our local Dial-A-Ride service.
How have you financed the event?
The festival was originally financed by The Forest of Dean District Council. They provided a grant for one year when it ceased to be a council run event but since then we have strived to make the festival sustainable.
We charge a pitch fee for our exhibitors and a ticket fee for visitors; the event is now sustainable, but we still worry if the weather is bad!
What are your plans for next year?
To put the Forest Showcase Food Festival firmly on Gloucestershire’s cultural map and in the festival calendar. To create a festival audience by involving more people and attracting visitors from throughout Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Bristol, South Wales as well as the Forest of Dean. To develop marketing concepts and materials for promoting the festival into the future. To grow the capacity of local businesses and organisations to promote the festival.
What advice could you give to someone coming into the outdoor event industry?
Plan well and be organised, have all eventualities covered and hope for good weather!
Pro Tech Event www.protechevents.uk
Pro Tech Events www.protechevents.uk
Ticket Source www.ticketsource.co.uk
The Forest Showcase Food Festival
Speech House Hotel
Speech House Road
Gloucestershire GL16 7EL