Wells Food Festival: How it became major event in calendar

October 06 2017
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Wells Food Festival director Paddy O’Hagan, who founded the event in 2012, explains how the festival came into being and picks out some of the things to look out for this year

How excited are you about this year’s food festival?

I am genuinely excited about this year. We feel the range of food and drink on offer as well as street food shows just how wonderful our local, mainly small, producers are. The quality is astonishing. The Charlie Bigham Discovery Zone will be very interesting. The cathedral is opening parts of the building never normally open to the public for a medieval tour after each talk. The best way to find out is to get hold of our brochure – another innovation. Or join thousands of likes on our Facebook pages.

What is it that you love so much about it?

It really is a community festival with a great atmosphere. We are all volunteers and a team. There is no entrance fee. Our artisan stallholders give us such support, not least by signing up early in the year. Could be that, since their sales are so good, they really want to come back year after year. Another thing is that the festival is so well organised, from selecting who we include to parking (with a little help from Mike Phelps) I feel that we have retained the quality and focus without getting so big that we lose that smallest city, personal touch. The team feel a real sense of ownership and that is enjoyed by the 15,000 visitors who join in with us. We attract all ages and every sort of person, which is important too.

What prompted you to start it in the first place?

A friend and I were sitting in a garden in Pilton listening to the Glastonbury Festival. We just thought that if this was France, we could pop out and buy fantastic simple, local food and drink. It seemed to us that we should celebrate our producers, their skill and dedication. Vital for the local economy but also important for keeping our Somerset landscape and its traditions alive. So we thought, let’s put a rural, free food festival on in Wells. So we did and despite the rain, we are still thriving.

Did you have much of a background in food and drink previously?

Not really, other than I feel the quality of ingredients to be important. I want to support artisan makers, small businesses and their working across the Levels. We have always cooked rather than bought ready-made meals. I champion localism and have been involved in projects about farming and food. So passion but no professional background.

Can you pick out any particular things for people to look out for this year?

The brochure is the place to start. Our Facebook page is very popular and really well done. Whatever you like: eat street food, buy delicious treats and then eat some more and buy more treats. Sit in the sun – hopefully! That makes sense to me. There is a lunch in the Town Hall based on foraging with award-winning chefs. The talks in the cathedral followed by a guided tour of parts not open to the public with a tasting. Did I mention food and cider…! Most people mention the atmosphere as being friendly and fun.

What do you think of the food and drink scene in Wells in general?

There are certainly a good spread of excellent restaurants and cafes of all sorts and prices. We have two wine merchants. Our sponsor, Waitrose, offers many local fine foods and drinks as does the excellent independent Queen Street Deli.

Will the food festival continue into the forseeable future?

I certainly hope so. I think it is amazing that in five years we can go from such small beginnings to being the biggest single-day event in Wells. The festival’s success is totally reliant on the energies and time given by the core team of volunteers, several of whom have been volunteering since the first year, and we do need some younger volunteers to join the team to ensure its future.

How would you sum up living in Wells?

We moved here some years ago. Wells was really welcoming and is becoming more and more ‘cultural’. Lots of us are making things happen in all sorts of ways: charity work such as Dementia Wells, fundraising like SOUP to the festivals. It is beautiful and Wells nestles into the best rural landscape anywhere.