In this blog Julia Roberts, the Festival Director, talks about the Ginger & Spice Festival, an initiative which brings the community together to celebrate the heritage of Market Drayton, and to create a brighter future for the town’s high-street and independent businesses.

Thousands of high street businesses and outlets in the U.K. have closed in the last few years, leaving behind a high street filled with empty premises, betting and charity shops. According to the centre for Retail Research more than 12,000 major outlets have gone bust since 2008, affecting 175,000 employees. And rural market towns, like Market Drayton in Shropshire, are no exception. Retail guru, Mary Portas, cites supermarket sprawl, out-of-town shopping, the internet, and poor communication between councils, traders and landlords, as contributing factors towards the high street decline. She goes onto say that ‘We have sacrificed communities for convenience.’

North Shropshire based, Market Drayton, has always celebrated strong connections to the farming community and for hundreds of years, farmers’ would trade livestock at the weekly Wednesday market in the centre of the historic town. This created a regular & busy trading place, where farmers and their wives would meet, exchange goods and do their weekly shopping, as well as enjoy local delicacies such as gingerbread, for which the town hence became known as the ‘home of gingerbread.’

Within the last two decades, the livestock market has been relocated to on a 7-acre greenfield site on the fringes of the town and the town landscape has been dominated by several large supermarkets who have taken away business from local and traditional bakers, green-grocers, ironmongers and butchers. Whilst this problem is not unique to Market Drayton, it has had almost certainly has an impact on the traditional and local businesses and the local economy.

Although Market Drayton has a local co-operative of artisan food and drink producers who sell their produce and wares weekly in the covered market, there is still a challenge to motivate the whole community to visit the weekly market and support these local producers. 

The annual Ginger and Spice Festival, held in the town every September, was founded with the aim of tackling some of the issues facing the declining high street and rural town centre today. The four day festival, now in its second year, aims to bring together the local community to discover, explore, re-connect and celebrate their unique culinary and cultural heritage, as well as to promote and celebrate their local produce.

By mobilising the community through a four day festival of fringe events, and educational activities held in the town and relating to the town’s heritage, it is hoped that the community will not only learn about their history, but go on to champion their unique and seasonal offering, in turn, attracting more visitors to the town and boosting the local economy.  The festival also collaborates with British Food Fortnight, an annual and national celebration of British food and drink held every year around Harvest time.

It is hoped that the festival, and all of these additional collaborative activities, will encourage a renewed interest in local and seasonal food, plus a renaissance of innovation within the town.

For further information on the Ginger and Spice Festival, please visit www.gingerandspicefest.co.uk

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