England & Wales Culture, sport and tourism

Taste Cumbria Food Festival: Boosting local economy and showcasing regional talent

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The Taste Cumbria food festival, initiated in 2010 to revitalise Cockermouth post-floods, has significantly grown. This case study explores how the council has leveraged local businesses and tourism to showcase Cumbrian culture. Expanding across towns, the festival boosts the economy, with the 2022 event in Cockermouth generating almost £2m. Future plans include further expansion, emphasising community and economic development.

Origins of the Taste Cumbria food festival

 Following the aftermath of the 2009 floods, which devastated Cockermouth town centre, businesses wanted to encourage visitors and residents that it was open for business.  With the help of DEFRA, the Taste Cumbria food festival started in 2010.  The festival has a range of features, such as producers’ stalls, a street party, a drinks tent and outdoor picnic area, hot food court, cookery demonstrations, fairground rides and children’s activities.

Evolution and growth

In 2011, Allerdale Borough Council (now subsumed into Cumberland Council following local government reorganisation) provided money for the event to be recreated. Initially managed by an events company, the council later decided to take the festival in-house.

Taste Cumbria has grown over time and prides itself on showcasing Cumbrian traders, producers, performers and suppliers. Initially held in Cockermouth, it expanded in 2021 to incorporate Maryport and Wigton. It is now held four times a year, with events taking place at the heart of the three towns.  In 2024, the council plans to expand further, adding Carlisle to the calendar, with the potential for a Copeland town to be included in 2025.

Key objectives and benefits

The key objective of the events is to benefit the existing businesses in the town, to highlight the offering and encourage repeat attendance from visitors and residents.

Bringing the event in-house meant better communications with other council departments such as legal, licensing and environmental health.  Procurement processes also ensure that local suppliers are used.  Forming a steering group has encouraged positive communications with businesses and residents, allowing the council to understand the needs and desires of the community and how they can be incorporated into the events.

Involving local businesses

Footfall has increased year on year, and the council always tries to involve local businesses. For example, it has set up an art trail which requires participants to walk through the town to get all the questions for a quiz and has used businesses as pop-up shops or Q&A venues. Businesses are offered a free pitch to allow them to showcase their products and signpost visitors to their bricks and mortar shops.  They are also encouraged to take advantage of the increased footfall, creating sales or offers that can be promoted via the council’s social media and print promotions.

So what are the outputs?

Taking Cockermouth as an example, the following was found regarding the 2022 event:

  • An estimated 25,000 people were drawn to the town, despite being held during a time of national economic turmoil.
  • Satisfaction rates were very high, as were recommend and repeat visit intentions. 69% of people said that it was better than the 2021 event.
  • The total economic impact of the 2022 Cockermouth event was estimated at almost £2m, and event expenditure by the council was £52,000. This meant that the return on investment was calculated at almost £40 for every £1 spent.
  • 97% of people interviewed said that they would like to come to another similar event in the future and 99% would recommend it to others. Spend at the festival averaged £91.98 per group and £33.05 per person.
  • 36% of businesses said that footfall and turnover was ‘well above average’, with 50% saying it was average or above average during the event.

Summary

Taste Cumbria is now an established seasonal food festival run by Cumberland Council. It has been a resounding success, not only in terms of its growth and expansion across multiple Cumbrian towns but also in achieving its objectives.  Taking just one of the events as an example (Cockermouth, 2022), it is clear that the festival has a significant economic impact on the community, generating an estimated £2m for the local economy with a remarkable return on investment of almost £40 for every £1 spent by the council.

The festival effectively engages with local businesses, providing them with the opportunity to showcase their products, increase footfall and drive sales.  The high satisfaction rates and the clear intention of visitors to return and recommend the events to others highlight the festival’s ability to promote the region and its offerings effectively.

With plans to expand in 2024/25, the Taste Cumbria festival continues to be a driving force in supporting local businesses, showcasing local talent and boosting the Cumbrian economy.



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