Sarah and Bev Milner Simonds relocated to the southwest of England in 2009. An epic house hunt which led them to discover fantastic local food & drink producers along the way.
When they finally found their home, they started inviting their neighbours round and sharing food stories. They decided they wanted to bring their love of food to the people of their new hometown and the rest, they say, is history. In 2021 the dynamic duo is delivering 26 locally focused free to attend food and drink festivals.
Sarah and Bev have strong vision and values, from the bursary scheme they set up with Thatchers Cider to help start-ups, to the ongoing support and development they give their eat:Festivals family. Sarah and Bev cultivate great relationships with their traders and are always happy to help others run great events that people want to go back to time and time again.
It is always a pleasure to catch up with them, and most recently we had the pleasure of having a chat and cuppa with Bev [Head of Spreadsheets], albeit virtually, to find out more about the dream team that is eat:Festivals.
Firstly, how did you go about founding eat:Festivals?
Initially we created an event in our hometown in September 2012. It went down really well with locals, and we received lots of positive feedback and requests to do it
more often. We then moved the events to twice a year and then another town asked us to help with their festival. It snowballed from there really; people were getting in touch with us to put on an event in their area in order to encourage people back to discovering food and drink on their local highstreets.
It’s really important for us to create an event that we want to go to and that it’s an authentic experience. Visitors make memories and local businesses see an uplift in footfall because people are enjoying the experience of being back out and sampling what the local food scene has to offer. You don’t have to go to expensive restaurants to taste good quality food, it can be found right on your doorstep.
Has your audience changed much since you set up in 2012?
Yes, people visiting the first few events were very curious and came along to see what to expect, but the biggest growth we’ve seen is new super fans inviting their friends, family and acquaintances to the next event. They’ve really come to realise just how much quality produce is made on their doorstep, which in turn is having a massive impact on the producers. Many have told us that a pitch at an eat:Festival is the most profitable day in the year for them – that it’s really enabled them to diversify and is a big responsibility for us to make sure each one of our events is as good as the last for our producer & traders.
We’re really proud of the relationships we have with over 20 Local Authorities and in fact, we delivered events over Covid – we really couldn’t have done this without the support of these Local Authorities and PHE. Being able to demonstrate that outdoor events and markets can be done safely and get people back to the highstreets has been invaluable and we even won best event last year for an event we ran during Covid-19!
Maintaining relationships has really helped us get through the last 18 months. It’s a vital and intrinsic part of our placemaking strategy – small producers are the breeding ground to filling the business rated properties, they are revenue generators for Local Authorities and it’s important we maintain good relationships with them.
What were you doing before eat:Festivals?
Really quite different: Bev worked in Corporate HR and Sarah was an award-winning garden designer, so our jobs were very much centred around people and we have brought that engagement and focus on the human perspective to our work now.
What’s been the biggest challenge since you started?
The perpetual balance of sweating the details and keeping an eye on the big picture.
What’s been your best moment so far?
Getting the award for Festival Organisers of the Year NOEA 2019 and winning Gold for Responsible, Ethical and Sustainable Tourism at the South West Tourism awards were recognition that in an industry that can be incredibly wasteful, the food & beverage angle can set an example for event organisers and work in an environmentally friendly way. It goes without saying really that in 2020, pulling off 6 events during Covid was also massive
What gets people returning to your events & what do you do to grow your customer base?
We deliver consistently high-quality events with a relatable story, with amazing producers at a friendly welcoming event.
What do you love most about the industry?
The opportunity to create memories. It’s wonderful when we can chat to visitors on the day and hear all about their experiences.
What has been your best food experience?
Porto in 2005 on a sunny week away. We had the perfect custard tart, freshly squeezed orange juice, a short coffee served at a zinc counter in a tiny bar – it was very much the case of simple things done exceptionally well.
Who are your food heroes?
Elizabeth David, Madhur Jaffrey and Phil Rosenthal (Somebody Feed Phil) – I love that show! It is his raw, childlike enthusiasm that is such joy to watch.
What are your plans for the future?
We enjoy going back to the drawing board regularly and examining what’s working and what’s not and looking for ways to improve. We’ll also be focusing our attention on sourcing the next superstar trader; we publish a directory three times a year with 15 locations to choose from, so we’d advise any interested traders to take a look at our website and get in touch if they’re interested in applying for a pitch.
What advice would you give to people who want to get into the industry?
Go and work for someone else first and see if you can stand on your feet for that many hours! Find a niche and do something you enjoy. Importantly, if you think an event is a rip off don’t trade there, we charge a fair rate and we think other event organisers could do more to increase transparency and trust in the sector.
The best way to find out more about eat:Festivals is by getting down to one of their events! You can visit the website to have a look at what’s on www.eatfestivals.org