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We quiz Nick Mosley, the Brighton and Hove Food and Drink Festival managing director
5:30pm Sunday 10th March 2013 in News
The Brighton and Hove Food and Drink Festival returns to the city this spring. The largest festival of its kind in the south of England runs for ten days every April and September. Managing director Nick Mosley reveals the rewards and challenges of running the event and reveals his plans for the future.
THE ARGUS (TA): What is the big idea behind the festival and what benefits does it bring to the region?
NICK MOSLEY (NM): The festival was founded just over 11 years ago by local hotelier Roger Marlowe and a large number of hospitality and support service businesses. The initial main push was to showcase the amazing food on our doorstep here in Sussex to residents in the city and to take advantage of the rise of food tourism, thus attracting more visitors and more spend to the city.
Roger’s initial goal has been achieved with the festival going from strength to strength, contributing around £4 million a year to the economy, giving over 160,000 people to opportunity to try new local food and drink in an accessible way, engaging with around 350 local businesses each year and garnering national and international recognition including being acclaimed by the New York Post as one of the world’s top local food events. I’m proud that we’re putting Brighton and Sussex on the world food map.
We run two main festival periods each year – the Spring Harvest at Easter was started four years ago as a direct response to the recession and the Autumn Harvest which runs for around 10 days every September. We passionately believe our anchor events – the Big Sussex Market, Live Food Show, Children’s Food Festival and Sussex and The World Market – are all free access to enable everyone to try to enjoy good local food and drink.
Today, the festival has carved out a much wider role in terms of supporting, promoting and nurturing the local food economy, not only in Brighton and Hove but in the surrounding region too. Whilst the festival has always been a not-for-profit organisation, last year we formed as a community interest company with specific objectives around raising awareness of good local food, and we also formed the Brighton Restaurant Association as a sub-group of the festival to share best practice and develop apprenticeships.
We also now operate across the year with the Churchill Square Farmers Market every Wednesday and the forthcoming major Brighton Farmers Market which will be every third Saturday of the month in Old Steine. The latter has been achieved with considerable support from Councillor Geoffrey Bowden and council officers, and I’d like to thank them for their commitment.
TA: How is the festival funded?
NM: It often comes as a surprise to people, but the festival receives no public sector support or funding. Today we actually have to find money to pay the council to use public space to host our free access events, which is a continuing source of frustration. While we don’t particularly want direct funding for our events, a token acknowledg- ement in terms of the use of public space would be very welcome.
The existence of the festival relies entirely on the goodwill of our commercial sponsors, the ongoing support of the local food and hospitality industry and the unswerving dedication of the festival directors, committee and support team.
As an example, our headline sponsor PHS Wastetech has committed to supporting all of our children’s food events over the next two years, meaning we can not only keep all these activities free access but that we can in turn use our events to fundraise and promote local charities including Rockinghorse and FareShare. They’re also sharing their expertise with us and the local business community on waste management and their staff have volunteered to help steward all of our anchor events. They’ve also made the festival one of the most environmentally friendly major events in the UK, something the whole city can be proud of.
TA: What’s your vision for the next three years?
NM: My goal has always been to make the festival into not only an environmentally sustainable organisation, but also an economically sustainable one. While I’m very happy sitting in the driving seat of the festival at the moment, I want to be confident that when eventually I hang up my hat then the organisation will go on.
Over the coming years, I want to see the festival widen its support of not only the Brighton and Hove food economy but also Sussex too. We’ve established ourselves as one of the UK’s premier food showcases and the rest of the region should be sharing those benefits.
I’m also personally very keen to look at how night markets and street food can be used to reposition certain areas of the city and soften the sometimes negative impact of the night time economy, although I’m acutely aware that these kinds of events need to complement bricks-and-mortar businesses rather than compete. Exciting times ahead.
TA: If you could change one thing about being director of the food and drink festival, what would that be?
NM: I’d like all the food and drink I consume in an official capacity to be absent of all calories!
TA: Is the recent horsemeat scandal a flash in the pan or a harbinger of things to come?
NM: I think ultimately the horsemeat scandal has probably done more good than bad. It has made a very wide spectrum of consumers question what they’re putting into their mouths – and what we’re feeding our children – while it has also seriously embarrassed some of the big brand food manufacturers and retailers as they’re having to come clean about their lack of control of the production process in search of their quest to maximise profits.
I don’t think there’s any reason why we shouldn’t be eating horsemeat other than sentimentality. Then again sentimentality doesn’t stop us slaughtering and tucking into those cute fluffy lambs – which by definition are sheep under 12 months old – with a dollop of mint sauce.
Of course, we want people to buy more local food from independent local businesses particularly at a time when the British high street is in decline, but we would be foolish to think consumers will turn their backs on the choice, affordability and convenience offered by multiples. Supermarkets aren’t going anywhere. Fact.
The biggest issue facing local food is the lack of effective distribution networks, something I know that at least one supermarket chain and two national wholesalers are starting to look at. Until local farmers and producers can get their produce reliably to market in sufficient quantities, then no amount of money spent will make any significant impact on day-to-day consumption in urban areas.