Morpeth will be a hive of activity this weekend when the annual Food and Drink Festival takes over the centre of town.
Now in its fourth year, the event promises to be the biggest and best yet.
A lot of hard work has gone into making this the biggest event yet and there will be lots going on throughout the day right across town.Medi Parry
More than 100 food and drink traders from all over the North East will be setting out their stalls on Saturday, between 9am and 4pm. There will be around 60 stalls lining Bridge Street, which will be closed to traffic, with more in the Town Hall and the Market Place, where the monthly Morpeth Farmers’ Market will also be held.
The Market Place will also host the demonstration kitchen, which has become a popular feature of the festival over the past few years, with local chefs cooking up a tempting array of dishes.
Some of those taking part will be Jimmy ‘The Lamb Man’ Bell, David McDonald of Geordie Bangers, Deanner Carter from Café des Amis, and Abdul Muhit from Morpeth Tandoori. Also joining the line-up will be the head chef from Sambucca Morpeth and John McKale, the former London Ritz chef. Capital FM’s Matt Baker will introduce the chefs and invite the public to taste their fare.
For the third year running the jam competition will be held in The Chantry, along with a scone contest. For the first time judges will also be looking for the festival’s Best Pie. Judging for all three competitions starts at 11am, with the winners announced at 1pm.
Music will feature strongly in the festival at the O2 sponsored music area in Bridge Street, with Bin21 serving Processo and Pimms nearby. New this year will be a picnic area in the Old Bakehouse Millennium Green, and a sausage fest and Gin Bar in Sanderson Arcade.
The band of The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers will be marching down Newgate Street from around 11.30am.
The festival is organised by an event committee, with support and sponsorship from Morpeth Town Team, Stratstone Tyneside, Taylor Wimpey, Northumberland County Council, Sanderson Arcade and the More in Morpeth Market.
A free park and ride bus service will operate every 30 minutes into Morpeth Bus Station from County Hall, from 8am until 6pm.
Sanderson Arcade manager and committee member Medi Parry said: “A lot of hard work has gone into making this the biggest event yet and there will be lots going on throughout the day right across town.
“Each year we try to add something new to the festival and we’d like to say a huge thank you to all the sponsors, as well as the volunteers who work with us all day to help make this a really special successful event in Morpeth.”
The festival is one of many events organised throughout the year to bring people into the town to help promote what Morpeth has to offer as a visitor and shopping destination. There’s the Morpeth Northumbrian Gathering, Fair Day, Picnic in the Park and weekly open-air Music in the Market Place concerts during the summer.
And, of course, it won’t be too long before the Christmas lights are switched on, heralding the start of the festive season. The Town Team is once again planning a late-night Christmas shopping evening at the beginning of December.
Work has also started on pulling together a Shop Local campaign to encourage more residents to shop in Morpeth, as well as shoppers from surrounding communities.
Lee Richardson, Deputy Vice Chairman of Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade, is heading up the team working on ideas to promote the town.
“Morpeth has got such a lot going for it as a town to visit and shop, and that’s a message we are keen to get across not just to visitors, but also as a reminder to local residents just what they have got on their doorsteps,” he said.
“There’s an unrivalled mix of big name high street stores trading in Morpeth alongside many independent niche businesses that you can’t find anywhere else in the region, then add in the excellent cafés and restaurants that help make shopping in Morpeth such an enjoyable experience. New shops and businesses have recently opened around the town centre, particularly in Newgate Street, adding still more to the attractiveness of Morpeth.
“This Christmas what we want to see is more local people shopping in Morpeth and keeping trade in the town, rather than going to places like the MetroCentre and out-of-town retail parks.”
Over the next few weeks Morpeth Town Team will be launching two online surveys to build up visitor and shopping data.
One will be aimed at shoppers and visitors, asking such questions as what they like about Morpeth, what could be done to improve the town, how they travel into the town, and how often they shop in Morpeth, as well seeking views on parking.
The second survey will ask businesses how they are finding current trading conditions.
Coun Ken Brown, who leads on surveys for Town Team, urged people to complete the questionnaires.
“At the same time we will be carrying out our annual benchmarking exercise, looking at the retail offer and car park usage, as well as counting footfall around the town centre,” he said.
“The value of building up this data is that it helps give us as accurate a picture as possible about shopping trends and habits to inform decisions about marketing and promotions, as well as what can be done to make Morpeth an even more attractive destination.”