Fun and feasting – the UK's best community food festivals

Food brings people together, as these five celebrations of dining and craft show, supporting local producers and artisans while injecting fun and funds into their communities

By Isabella Hastings on 08/06/2019

Food Rocks Festival in Lyme Regis supports local food producers

We all know that food festivals can be a feast of fun, but they also galvanise regional communities and act as an invaluable platform for local food and drinks producers. We’ve gathered a list of some of our favourite summer festivals (in date order), so that you can fill your calendars with these mouth-watering celebrations.

Bristol Food Connections

12-23 June, 2019

Kicking off the summer, this Bristol-wide festival challenges visitors and locals to move beyond their comfort zone and try something different – particularly when it comes to all things edible.

“We want to reach out across the city and connect people through food,” says Emma Heesom, press and PR manager of Bristol Food Connections. This year the festival is asking Bristolians to get involved with the Pass It On initiative, which encourages the sharing of culinary knowledge and skills to help build a sense of community. “We work closely with local businesses and foodies to share their experiences, know-how and passion – a local forager will pass along how to collect herbs for teas, and someone will share how to make the perfect coffee,” says Heesom.

With features like the Food Passport – a £12 ticket that unlocks tasters and samples at some of the city’s most sought-after food spots – and more than 40 free events, Bristol Food Connections takes the term food festival to a whole new level.

“It’s a cornucopia of debates, talks, demos, meals, Chinese tea ceremonies, silent discos and raves,” says Heesom. “You name it, and we’ve got it.”

Bristol-Food-FestivalA spectacular view at Bristol Food Connections

Food Rocks

7-8 September, 2019

Born of a vision to put Lyme Regis, and its surrounding area, on the foodie map, English chef and restaurateur Mark Hix built this festival (top image) to support his hometown.

“Its 100% about raising money for local charities; The Royal National Lifeboats Institution (RNLI) and The Fishermen’s Mission,” says Jo Harris, communications manager of HIX Restaurants. “We do a huge amount of work to support the fishermen who are risking their lives to put fish on our plates. That’s something we feel very strongly about, so we literally don’t take a single penny.”

Whether you’re looking to participate in the loud and lively Crab and Mackerel Feast – think buckets, bibs, whole crabs and rocks for claw-cracking – or simply strolling through the 50-odd stands by the sea, every aspect of this festival promotes the South West.

“You won’t find fish that isn’t sustainable, or produce from outside of the area,” says Harris. “We’ve got amazing produce on our doorsteps. Let’s celebrate it.”

Ginger and Spice Festival

25-28 September, 2019

Based in Market Drayton, Shropshire, the Ginger and Spice Festival is an ode to the town’s culinary history.

“Market Drayton has links to Kolkata, India, and is famous for being the home of gingerbread,” says the Ginger and Spice Festival founder and director, Julia Roberts. “There’s an amazing story behind that, but nobody was telling the story, so we thought: ‘why don’t we put on a festival to talk about it?’”

This year, the festival is drumming up awareness both within and beyond Shropshire by working with local secondary schools to break a Guinness World Record for the most amount of gingerbread men decorated at one time.

“There’s lots going on in the town, and our culinary heritage is a great way to get people to come in and see what we’ve got on offer,” says Roberts. “As with many rural towns, we’re seeing a decline in our high street. But, last year on the weekend of the festival, all of the shops on the high street more than doubled their normal weekend income, so it’s great for our economy.”

Winner Ginger and SpiceThe champion gingerbread 'house' from Ginger and Spice festival, Market Drayton

Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival

28-29 September, 2019

While many food festivals are exclusively focused on curating the visitor’s experience, Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival simultaneously caters to the Suffolk food and drink producers who use the festival as a platform for showcasing their products.

“We’re all about nurturing local businesses and supporting start-ups,” says festival organiser, Jess Brown. “What’s great about a festival like this is that you get producers who come and meet other producers and share ideas. We have a special area for businesses that are under two years old, which is a great way for us, and other producers, to see what’s up-and-coming in the food sector.”

For those interested in eating, appreciating and learning about great food, Aldeburgh Food Festival is dedicated to covering all of the elements.

“Chefs come in to teach people new skills, so that visitors get to experience things that are current within the food movement,” says Brown. “This year we’re having a bakery section where people can go and ask questions about baking.”

Falmouth Oyster Festival

10-13 October, 2019

Calling all oyster lovers, we have the food festival for you. This event celebrates the beginning of Falmouth’s oyster fishing season. While, technically, the oyster season runs from October 1st through March 31st, the festival’s mid-October date gives the fishermen enough time to bring in oysters to supply the festival.

“There were about 1,000 oysters supplied for the original festival, but nowadays we go through over 25,000 oysters,” says event coordinator, Samantha Groom. “It has grown massively, but what makes it special is that the festival is very much supported by the local community, which keeps it authentic.”

That’s a lot of oysters, but the sheer volume of bivalves isn’t the only challenge faced by the fishermen who make this festival a reality.

“Nobody is allowed to use engines for oyster fishery in Falmouth, so they have to use sail power and hand-pulled dredges,” says Groom. “Since all of the oysters are naturally farmed, we make sure everything within the festival is environmentally friendly and supports that. Even the oyster shells are recycled!”

Falmouth-Oyster-FestivalShucking good – customers queue up for more at Falmouth Oyster Festival