Food festival shows how we can market town

HATS off to the organisers of Alnwick’s annual food festival, which brought tens of thousands of people to the area over the weekend.

It was a wonderful sight to see the Market Place and Bondgate Within absolutely packed with people on Saturday and Sunday, all enjoying the diverse range of stalls and – perhaps most importantly – spending their money.

Even the farmers’ market on Friday, which was hooked on to the festival this year, was buzzing.

There has been a great deal of debate in recent years over the use of the town’s central square which, sadly, has become mired in the controversy over car parking.

What everyone saw on Saturday and Sunday was the way things should be – a market place hosting a thriving market.

There’s nothing worse, in terms of advertising what Alnwick has to offer, than seeing this space completely devoid of productive activity.

And that’s compounded by the haphazard parking of those who choose to ignore the rules and leave their cars there day after day.

In short, when the Market Place isn’t being used for its true purpose, it’s an unsightly waste of a prime location.

Events like the food festival and the international music festival are shining examples of what can be achieved with good forward planning and hard work.

But while they remain high points in the calendar, they are limited by their relatively short duration.

Someone now needs to step up and fill that space every week, at least during the main tourist season from Easter to Hallowe’en and in the run-up to Christmas.

There’s no reason why this can’t be done.

One barrier would be ground rents for stalls, another would be attracting traders to market their goods in the town.

It has to be a viable proposition.

But by targeting specific themes – as the food festival has so admirably done – you keep people interested and coming back for more.

Most folks like nothing better than a good browse and that in turn leads to impulse buying.

Add to that a constantly-changing range of goods to tempt visitors and you have the basis for a successful model.

There is clearly a market for markets, so to speak.

You only have to look at the number of people in Alnwick over the weekend to see the benefits – and that’s not just for the market traders, but established businesses as well.

Which brings me on to my next topic.

Why, oh why, were some town centre shops not open on Sunday?

It beggars belief that anyone in business would make a conscious decision not to take this golden opportunity to capitalise on the interest generated by the food festival.

But it is by no means the first time this has been the case.

I’ve been told that there were 25,000 visitors to the event over the weekend – that’s four times the population of the town passing through the Market Place and Bondgate Within.

And it’s not a stretch of logic to suggest they ventured further.

Comments were overheard, however, about shops being closed.

Amazingly, among those who didn’t open for business were a few food retailers and even cafes.

I’d like to take this opportunity to invite any trader who decided to remain shut to write a letter to this paper and explain the reasons why, because it frankly baffles me.

Was it because of staffing costs, or was it down to the time and effort required? Or was there another pressing issue?

Perhaps if we can understand why this repeatedly happens, we can move Alnwick forward to ensure that everyone – whether a stall-holder or business-owner – benefits in future.