Invisible festivals

Are we invisible here in the North East? Last weekend I eagerly opened the Sundays to read a feature about the “Lip-smacking foodie festivals in the UK and Ireland” that was boldly proclaimed on the front page. Food festivals! Now that’s something that gets me going. Not only do I get to smooch around getting ideas and fill myself with free tasters but there’s also the opportunity for Oldfields to take a stall or two. Great stuff.

But to my dismay, there, at the top of the article, was a map of the UK with bold dots wherever the paper knew of a festival – and the nearest dots to us were in Edinburgh and Nantwich; the latter being in (just in case you don’t know) Cheshire. And for no other reason than to make a point, those two places are 245 miles apart. The next nearest to us were Ludlow in Shropshire and Evesham in Worcestershire. Where was Leyburn? Durham? Bishop Auckland?

Just to put it into context, 30,000 people attended the one-day festival in Bishop Auckland last year which is a phenomenal success by anyone’s standards. And Leyburn’s annual foodie bash is a must in any food-lover’s calendar.

Ok, the North East is less populated than many other parts of the British Isles. But rural Ireland boasted two festivals with one on the West coast in Galway which, when I was last there, was closed due to a lack of people. Galway’s smaller than Darlington with little around it but bogs. I’m not being rude about the place because it’s one of the most beautiful areas to visit. But if they’re so isolated and sparsely-populated, how on earth do they get to promote their food festival in the Sunday Times when we, in the North East, are completely ignored?

And you know what? It’s entirely are own fault. If people don’t come to my restaurant it’s my fault. I can’t blame the weather or the papers. I can’t even blame the government. It’s my decision to have a restaurant where and when I do and if, for some reason it can’t attract customers, then I shouldn’t have opened it in the first place. Or I should have run it differently. Or I should have had a different menu. Or, and here’s my point, I should have told more people about it in a way that might make them come.

That’s our problem. We, here in the North East, do not do a good enough job of telling others how good our region is. Somehow we don’t get the message out or we tell it in the wrong way so that it doesn’t interest those outside the region. There’s no doubting the delights of the North. We have some of the best scenery in the country, if not the world. And I promise you that we have world-beating produce to satisfy the most discerning palates.

I know that there’ll be many of you who extol the virtues of the place where we live and that the tourism authorities go that extra mile to promote us. But it’s obviously not working. If I’d been given a pound for every time I’ve heard that County Durham’s in Northern Ireland I’d have enough to buy a meal for two in our restaurant. With wine.

We’re very good at looking inward and blaming our ills on the rest of the country. But it’s not the fault of Southerners if they don’t know we exist. Do we make a point of learning about the rest of the UK? No. They tell us about it in the papers and on the telly and so on.

So, you really ought to put these festivals in your diary. And there’s always a chance that Oldfields Pantry will have a stall there.

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