Food festivals have been happening for years, it doesn’t matter where you live, there’s a chance you may live close by to one of these events. This year alone, I’ve been to four. Over the recent bank holiday weekend, Bolton town centre was busy. For anyone who knows Bolton well, it has suffered in the last few years. Other towns and cities in the region have developed and improved, gaining much of the local business. Even our out of town shopping complex, which was controversial when it was originally opened, is often considered busier (something they predicted before it was built). But for once, Bolton was busy.
Lining the streets of the town were stalls, food carts, local, national and international people. Everywhere you turned, there was something to see, another food to try, another person to talk to.
In the past, the food and drink festival has never really taken over the town as much as it did this year. A place otherwise filled with shoppers taking a break on a bench, charity workers trying to get donations and people selling balloons to children, was transformed into something quite extraordinary. To the average, bustling town, it may have looked like average busy outdoor seating for a café, but for Bolton, it was something else entirely.
The town hall square is always filled with tents, it’s always got something going on filling up the square. The same tents get dragged out of storage for whatever event they’ve got on, whether it’s a volunteers fair or activities for children and young people in the holidays, the square is packed. During the food festival it was filled with a massive tent, where Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood, amongst other chefs, held demos.
Taking a step away from the usual hustle and bustle, it was a surprise to find the Market Place shopping centre house demonstrations including one from Sean Wilson who played Martin Platt in Coronation Street. In the other shopping centre, though I didn’t see it, was activities for children around the food and drink theme.
Even the market, which quite frankly, is a bloody good market when compared to others, was in on the action. I didn’t realise it until I saw it in the local paper, but there were demos being held there too. I just happened to be in the market on the day Sean Wilson did his demo, and he was being interviewed by BBC Radio Manchester, sat at a small table in the middle of the Saturday market crush.
The most pleasant surprise was when a group of people known as Ski Band appeared, dressed as chefs and playing instruments. Their performance as they strolled through the market was a real highlight. I wish I could give credit to Bolton for that one, but they’re from further afield and their website suggests they’ll dress up in other outfits too. (They’ve already done Father Christmas!)
Another pleasant surprise, when we sat down to Hungarian something or other (it wasn’t the Goulash, it was the other one they had on sale, something beginning with an S) was two ladies dressed up as housewives/cleaners, carrying around fake brick walls. When they came past us they told us they were from (using your best Eastenders accent) ‘the south’. It was all rather strange, and funny, and kind of perfect.
According to the local news today, record numbers attended the food and drink festival. A whopping 130, 000 people. That may sound minimal to anyone who attends festivals like the Notting Hill festival (which was on the same weekend) but for a town with about 140, 000 people (though that number is actually around 260, 000 when you include the small towns which are now part of Bolton, which are on the outskirts). I know a percentage of that 130, 000 will have come from out of town (someone even came all the way from Australia!) but to almost equal the population of the town is quite an achievement.
If you’d like to read more about this local news story, then you can head on over to The Bolton News, which will tell you all you need to know about the success of the festival. And if you’re really that interested, there are other news stories, including other articles on the food and drink festival from over the weekend and before.
I can’t help but feel proud of my little (massive) town, it’s been really struggling lately, but things like this make me feel like it might just be okay.