Feast your eyes

Words by:
Glynis Fox
Featured in:
May 2011

Excitement is mounting ahead of a new events “first” for one of Lincolnshire’s best-loved and most historic towns.
Preparations are underway for the Stamford Feast, which promises to be a gastronomical and educational delight for food and drink lovers, who are being invited to kick back and make the most of this special occasion.

The date to remember is Sunday May 29th. Entry to the Feast is free and there will be lots happening between 10am and 9pm.

Stamford Feast, which takes place on The Meadows, has already won the support of local councils and other agencies and it has also been given the ‘thumbs-up’ by many of the town’s businesses.

The idea came about when organiser Ali Hawley-Smith took the idea to the Stamford Town Partnership, a Community Interest Company, and got the go-ahead to start planning the extravaganza.

And she is now juggling what promises to be a real crowd-puller, with the capacity to supercharge the town’s economy, with running her own online crafts and homewares enterprise, Ali’s House of String.

“I was formerly Stamford Town Centre manager and I ran the town’s highly successful Christmas Festival (which is likely to be repeated, subject to funding). That has just grown so fast and has been really good for the local economy,” said Ali.

“In 2009 it brought in 10,000 people and in 2010 that number rose to 15,000.

That event, which also features a full day of entertainment, mainly takes place around Broad Street, Ironmonger Street and the High Street, but it benefits businesses all around the town. Many community groups get involved too.”

It was whilst planning last Christmas’ event, that Ali realised that it would be a great idea to have a major Summer event as well. So she researched what was already on Stamford’s calendar, including the June Festival Parade, the July Riverside Festival – cancelled this year – and other events such as Apple Day and antique shows.

“However, we didn’t have a foodie event and there are lots of restaurants in Stamford, a variety of different nationalities live here and there are strong community groups too, so I felt that something centred on cuisine, culture and community would be good,” said Ali.

With funding for her town manager’s post with South Kesteven District Council running out in January (2011), Ali took her concept to the Stamford Town Partnership last Autumn and got the go-ahead to project manage the Feast, working on a self-employed basis.

Since then she has been involved in a whirl of activity, chasing funding, getting community groups on board and talking to businesses and harnessing their support – and she was still hard at it as we went to press!

“My vision is simply for people to come and have a lovely day out and also to learn something at the same time. I am hoping that the Feast will attract about 15,000 people this year and that it is something which can be repeated annually,” she added.

Of course, getting funding has been vital from the outset, but Ali has already secured £500 from Lincolnshire County Council’s PIP Fund, £500 from the Grassroots Task Fund Group, £500 from Stamford Town Council and £1,007 from Stamford Town Partnership.

“What I want to make clear is that the Feast is not a replacement event for the Riverside Festival. I am devastated that is not happening,” said Ali.

“The Feast will feature demonstrations of ways of preparing food through the ages to the present day. We will include all sorts of different cuisine. In every culture food, or eating together, is how individuals, families and communities honour each other. It is what we do when we come together.

“We will be promoting locally grown food from farmers and allotment groups and we are having a good trail designed to raise cultural awareness.”

Experts will also be on hand at the Feast, giving healthy living demonstrations and offering advice in line with local government-supported ‘Love Food Hate Waste’ campaign.

Representatives from the NHS will also be on hand to carry out health checks and give people sound nutritional advice, added Ali.

School cooking competitions are yet another aspect of the celebrations and fifty schools have already got involved.

But the day will not be solely about eating and drinking – irresistible though those activities may be!

People will be able to enjoy all sorts of music from around the world, including Jazz, Salsa, Cuban and Steel Band sounds. And if that gets people up on their feet, that’s fine, because the event will also feature fun and exciting demonstrations including Zumba and Belly Dancing.

“The aim is to offer something for all ages and to really encourage community cohesion – think everything from marquees serving champagne and Pimms to a children’s entertainments area.”

Businesses and organisations throwing their support behind Stamford Feast include Cummings Generator Technology, Taylor’s Amusements, The George Hotel and New College, along with many others.

New College school and events co-ordinator Laura Brant said: “We are based in Drift Road and the Feast’s organisers are using our car park on the day for Park and Ride purposes. From where we are it is about a ten minute walk into the town.

“The Feast is a good idea, it’s the community aspect of it, it is nice to get people involved.”

John Dawson is the owner of Dawsons of Stamford. This well-known business in Red Lion Square, has been trading for thirty-six years, and specialises in jewellery, watches, antique furniture and decorative objects.

“I think you have to look at the long-term aspect of the Feast, it is about keeping promoting the town. Stamford is prosperous and offers better quality shopping.

We have a higher occupancy rate for our shops and empty premises soon get re-occupied,” said Mr Dawson.

“We hope Ali is successful because the Feast is a form of advertising for the town. It will bring different potential clients into the town and we should ultimately benefit. If it brings our business one new client for the next twenty years, it will be well worthwhile.”

Chris Pitman is executive chef and managing director at The George Hotel, a landmark building in the town.

“I think the Feast is a great idea. Stamford has some very good restaurants and it is becoming a very good food town. We also have some lovely teashops, good delicatessens, a good bakery and makers of great homemade sausages.

“I believe that anything that promotes Stamford is good for business and the town.

A lot of people know Stamford but there are a lot who don’t, so this is a good idea to get more visitors in. It’s superb for all the businesses.”

Stamford has had many claims to fame down the centuries – and that its fantastic buildings are a good clue to how wealthy it was in past?

The town is claimed to be one of the first to produce wheel-thrown, glazed pottery.

But in the Middle Ages, it made a name for itself for its wool and cloth, especaly a woven material known as Haberget.

And its architecture reflected the town’s success, because it ended up with its own castle, fourteen churches, two monastic institutions and four friaries.

When the wool trade shifted to East Anglia, it was down to the great and the good to help revive the town’s fortunes.

Famous names linked to Stamford and the locality include William Browne, who founded an almshouse in the town and Sir William Cecil, Lord Burghley. In the sixteenth Century, Sir William – who became secretary of state to Queen Elizabeth 1 – left Burghley House, which was built between 1565 and 1587.

In the 1960s Stamford’s exceptional character earned it recognition from The Royal Commission on Historic Monuments and in 1967 it became the first Conservation area in England.

Stamford is certainly a place which attracts new businesses and exciting enterprises.

And one of the latest is The Stamford Cookery School in Brownlow Street, which claims to be another ‘first’ for the town.

The brainchild of award-winning chef Thierry Daugeron and businesswoman Denise Taylor, it aims to provide courses for people of all ages and abilities.

Thierry has been an international chef for the past twenty-five years, running his own businesses locally.

Latterly he has concentrated on his outside catering business and he was awarded ‘Business Personality of the Year’ in 2008 and earlier this year named ‘Best Lincolnshire Caterer’ of 2011 by ‘Tastes of Lincolnshire’ magazine and Lincolnshire County Council.

Mrs Taylor, a director of Stamford Vehicle Hire and Store It, said Thierry rents space for his outside catering business at her premises and it was a natural move for them to get together and develop the new venture.

The Stamford Cookery School features a professionally-built kitchen, for between six and twenty-four people, which is designed to host courses to suit everyone from a beginner to a Masterchef contender!

Half and full-day courses and regular Wednesday evening classes are already on offer. Topics on offer have so far included French Cookery, Traditional Breadmaking, Lardering a Pig and French Patisserie. But delegates can come up with their own suggestions for courses.

“During the summer the School will expand to offer two and five-day courses where, in addition to the cooking itself, delegates will get to see a demonstration of one or more of the products used in the recipes,” said Mrs Taylor.

“The demonstrations will be given by local producers and where appropriate people will be able to visit the farm in question and get an insight into the history and provenance of the food they are using. Participants will stay locally at a highly-commended B&B, where food cooked during the day will be served to them.”

Teambuilding sessions, birthday parties and other occasions will have courses specifically designed for them, but the focus will always be on using Lincolnshire ingredients, such as Cote Hill Farm Cheeses, Myers Plum Bread, Redhill Farm Pork and Abbey Parks exotic vegetables and herbs. A range of businesses are working in partnership with the school on this front.

Thierry is a recognised teacher of City & Guilds courses and The Stamford Cookery School is also in the process of registering to teach various elements of this qualification among other

Despite dire predictions of shortfalls in disposable income, job cuts and increases in inflation, Stamford’s trading community continues to show resilience.

Stamford Chamber of Trade president, Tim Lee, said that since the start of 2011 one town centre business has closed, but three have opened, which is a good indication that optimism is still a driving force in this historic market town.

“We are very lucky here, because Stamford remains an attractive place to visit, either for shopping or just as a tourist,” he said.

“While the trading picture for the business community is patchy, depending on which business sector is involved, there is a general feeling that we have seen the worst and that things are gradually improving.”

As we went to press the town was being dug up for the purpose of gas pipe and electricity cabling upgrading. But Mr Lee said that, although this is disruptive work, it cannot be avoided as it is imperative.

“While there has inevitably been some inconvenience, the works have been expeditiously handled (gas and electricity contractors working in parallel rather than sequentially) and few traders have noticed any effect on their business that can be directly attributed to this project,” he said.

“We are never complacent. The town does have difficult issues around parking and traffic access, due to our narrow streets.

“That’s the price of being a beautifully preserved old market town. But we are trying to work with local partners like the Town Council, the Stamford Town Partnership and South Kesteven District Council, in order to address and overcome these problems.”

Becca Brown, of T & C Robinson of Stamford will be raising money for two charities when she runs five half marathons this year.

She ran her first race in Grantham in March and the next is in St Albans in June. Becca will compete in the Great North Run in September, followed by the Great Eastern Run in October and finish with the Great South Run at the end of the same month.

The Evergreen Care Trust, a local Christian charity which supports the elderly community through advocacy, friendship and practical support will benefit along with the Alzheimer’s Society which leads the fight against dementia.

If you would like to help Becca raise money, you can buy a raffle ticket from T & C Robinson at 4, St. Mary’s Street, Stamford and you could be in with the chance of winning £100 of goodies from T & C Robinson. Alternatively, you can donate at www.sponsor-me.org/5halfmarathonchallenge

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