Exeter Food and Drink Festival

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Exeter Food and Drink Festival opens its doors on April 29. Stand Out talks to project manager Sandra Sullivan, director of PS8, about its plans for the three-day food fest…

When Clarence House confirmed that Prince William and Kate Middleton were to be married on April 29, organisers with events taking place on the same day had two tasks – to accept the occasion as an opportunity to capitalise on party spirit, and secondly to get on the phone and book a large screen.

Thankfully, Sandra Sullivan, director of PS8 – project managers of the festival – has done both… the festival for serious foodies is using the Royal wedding to its advantage, describing in its marketing that the event will be a right Royal occasion with food producers also joining in on the fun. Also, ADI is supplying a 6.4 x 3.8 metre giant screen so that visitors can attend the event and watch the wedding as they sample the tastes and smells of 100 exhibitors offering South West delicacies.

Explains Sullivan: “The festival has always taken place the first weekend after Easter so plans were already in place to hold the Exeter Festival of South West Food and Drink. When they announced the wedding, we saw it as a bonus, and hopefully we’ll attract more visitors because everyone will take advantage of a four-day weekend.

“The wedding is a blessing, so everything we do has to drive traffic to the festival. We’ll decorate the site with bunting, and visitors will be able to watch the wedding but we don’t want people to watch the wedding then go.”

The organisers are currently working on picnic ideas, enabling visitors to purchase food then watch Kate walk down the aisle, and so the festival’s gates will open earlier than originally planned to allow visitors to take their place on a grass slope within the site – Exeter Castle and the surrounding Northernhay Gardens.

Continues Sullivan: “The festival is very family-friendly. We’re working on sensory tastings for children with a Royal theme and will perhaps encourage children to come dressed to the event as kings and queens. The wedding certainly adds something different, and it’s great that it will bring the whole country together.”

Sullivan and her team – Paddy Edwards, signage and site plans, and Sarah Briones, operations – are anticipating 15,000 people over the course of the three-day event, perhaps more now that the Friday is a bank holiday. PS8, which specialises in the exhibition and event management of food events and expos, is working on the festival for the second year running, having first been appointed in 2010. And the team is making changes to the 2011 show.

With tickets priced at just £7 for a day or £15 for the entire weekend, a decision has been made to introduce wristbands so that the team can get “a better handle on demographics” and so that each ticket type sold can be more clearly assessed.

In March, Sullivan will be visiting a local university open day to talk to event management students about becoming volunteers on-site, and the site has expanded this year, increasing its perimeters to incorporate the grass slope, which will provide a welcome chill out area for visitors to rest and soak up the atmosphere.

“We are working closely with Exeter Council and Paul Faulkner within its parks department because the site is tricky. It’s a long thin garden with only one way in and one way out, so we have some very strict logistics plans in place. It’s a challenging site within a city centre location, and being council-owned means close collaboration with the council team. We need their co-operation so that we can hang banners across the High Street and reserve car parking space.” But also from a tourism perspective, it too is keen to get involved,” she says.

But it’s not just the local council which Sullivan is working with… the festival is very much supported by the local community.  PS8 is working with Exeter’s Phoenix Theatre to hold open mic nights every Monday until the festival begins in the hope of finding local bands to play each day at the event. Last year, music was present at night during the festival but it was lacking during the day. The 2011 addition of music and entertainment as visitors wander through the stalls tasting local produce, wines and ales will hopefully add movement to the food extravaganza.