9 August 2020 Portishead Marina, Bristol

The Culmstock Chilli Co, at the 2020 edition of the eat:Festival, Portishead

Portishead was alive with “the buzz” of normal life on Saturday (8th August), as thousands flocked to the marina to take in the enticing sites, sounds and smells of the first eat:Festival of the summer.

Aided by clear sky and scorching hot temperatures, an estimated 10,000 people attended across the day, helping provide local independent traders with a much-needed boost to their businesses in the process. 

Marking the not-for-profit festivals first event post lockdown, organisers Sarah and Beverely Milner-Simonds were understandably delighted with this initial response from the public ahead of further planned festivals across the region during the summer season.

“We are so blessed that today is the most wonderful weather. This is showing Portishead at its best” said Sarah.

“Portishead is heaving” added Beverley, “but in very socially distanced sort of way.” 

An important return for local businesses

The importance of being able to hold such an event and return to something like ‘normal’ life was clear to see from the facial expressions behind the face coverings of traders and those attending

And whilst there were plentiful stories from stall holders of undergoing a difficult period of uncertainty and having to adapt their business models to survive a tricky period, a determined spirit and sense of their business being stronger having faced adversity was prevalent throughout.

But ultimately show piece events, such as the eat:Festival are crucial to these locally run enterprises and the surrounding economies they support, as Beverley explained;

“The opportunity to sell face to face is the bread and butter for most of our producers, the vast majority of them rely on markets and smaller festivals like ours.

“Throughout lockdown quite a lot of them have developed their wholesale business, but they all love selling at markets, they all love getting that feedback. 

Festival organisers, Beverley and Sarah Milner-Simonds.

One of the many stallholders we spoke to that echoed this sentiment was Mark Davey, Co-Director of Epic Beers Ltd (Trading as Pitchfork Ales).

“It’s affected us greatly” said Mark, referencing the nationwide lockdown period, “obviously our normal trade went overnight.”

Thankfully the incorporation of a successful click and collect service run from their Weston-Super-Mare base and online sales have been able to support the business through that interim period, but Mark nevertheless described the return of events such as the eat:Festival as “vital” to his business. 

Another striking a reassuring positive note was Anna Blake, owner and baker of the family run supplier of sweet treats, Cake Bar.

"It’s our first festival back and we’ve had an awesome day" enthused Anna, who was equally looking forward to eat:Festival returning to her home town of Minehead later in the month.

"It's so important [on the return of the festival], it’s been a very, very empty few months not doing these."

The COVID-19 inspired 'Isolated Pale Ale' appropriately named "Can't Touch This" which was on display at the Epic Beers Pitch, at the eat:festival, Portishead, 2020
The COVID-19 inspired 'Isolated Pale Ale' appropriately named "Can't Touch This" which was on display at the Epic Beers Pitch

Socialising safely

A further notable aspect of the eat:Festival on the day was how well it was organised.

With plenty of hand sanitising stations positioned around the expansive festival area and floor markings providing a constant reminder of social distancing, the event felt a safe environment for people to enjoy their day out in the sun. 

The High Steaks team at the 2020 edition of the eat:Festival, Portishead
The only notion of "high steaks" on the day was the serious steak sandwiches been served by William Price and his team

And these were sentiments echoed by people in attendance, from a safe distance of course. 

This included Katie and Kevin who we spotted wearing eye-catching face masks. 

“We think it’s been brilliant, they’ve really looked after us," said Katie.

“It’s been spread out really well so we don’t feel bottle necked. Yeah, just feels a really safe environment, it’s fantastic!”

Another social bubble that we briefly disturbed was that of Portishead locals Elaine, Mark, Tony, Carol, Sue, Edna, Paco and Mabel as they enjoyed a relaxing drink by the river.  

“It’s incredible to be honest, we haven’t been out much since March, so to come to something like this it’s just really nice” said Elaine, with the rest of her party nodding in agreement.

“It feels really safe, people are wearing masks around all the stalls and there’s music playing, it’s really good fun.”

Simon BowdenFestival attendees Kevin and Katie at the 2020 edition of the eat:Festival, Portishead
Kevin and Katie who praised the organisation of the festival said they felt "really looked after"

"It works for the traders, it works for the peoples; it's a lovely day out."

That the eat:Festival received such a warm welcome from the people of Portishead on its return will be of no surprise to those who have attended previous years events. 

Having initially been setup as a single event in their home town 8 years ago, the award winning festival's ever growing popularity has seen it expand to becoming an eagerly anticipated fixture in towns all across Somerset. 

Explaining the inspiration behind setting up that initial event, Sarah said, "we set it up to be the change in our own local town in Burnham-on-Sea and it seemed to be popularly received so we were asked to do it again"

For stallholder, Simon Bowden representing his business the Bath Soft Cheese Company, the reasons why the festival has grown to what it has was both numerous and obvious as he praised the work of the events organisers.

Simon Bowden of the Bath Soft Cheese Company at the 2020 edition of the eat:Festival, Portishead
Simon Bowden of the Bath Soft Cheese Company

"Beverly and Sarah have developed this eat:Festival concept over several years and it’s grown into well over a dozen festivals a year, maybe two-dozen and the reason for that is that it’s successful.

"It works for the traders, it works for the people; it’s a lovely day out.

"You’ve got so many of the good traders and good producers of the areas in one place and you know, people love it, people like to get food from the people who produce it. It’s fantastic."

But whilst the festival will not always enjoy days of cloudless sky and warm sun - a hint to how different the conditions were for last years edition - the ethos behind this social enterprise is something that will always remain a constant, as Beverley explained;

"They’re always free to attend, always locally focused and always like this one, in the heart of the community, giving a chance for people to come together, shop in the open air and have a great day out,"
Harry Calvert of Ginger Beard Preserves at the 2020 edition of the eat:Festival, Portishead
Harry Calvert, the creative talent behind Ginger Beard Preserves who was also exhibiting at the eat:Festival

The next eat:Festival's to be held are in Minehead (Saturday 22nd August) and Wellington (Saturday 5th September) with further events planned up to October, before Christmas editions begin in late November.

For full details of these events or to find out more about the eat:Festival, head to 

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