Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Just how tasty is Leeds – can food make our city more distinctive?

The idea behind Experience Leeds 2 was to take a good hard look at the way we do food here in Leeds – especially at how the local food and drink could help make the city more distinctive – could Leeds become the kitchen of Yorkshire?

On the drive into Leeds I listened to a programme on Radio 4 about Northern orchards http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00v6dqx and wondered how easy it would be to find these wonderful fruit in Leeds….

As usual, Experience Leeds would not have been possible without the generosity and help of David Kanarens the General Manger of the fabulous Queens Hotel – thanks David for letting us use your iconic hotel for our event!

Some 25 food fans turned out, with people from the supply side, artisan producers, chefs, and some of the instigators behind some of the more adventurous edible delights of the city.

The evening began with a short presentation from Andrew Critchett about the concept of Slow Food, a wonderful idea that began as a response to fast food, but now has a membership of over 100,000 people in 150 countries. Andrew’s point was that the aims and aspirations of Slow Food would make a good set of guidelines for the kinds of food and drink that Leeds could celebrate – and thus become all the more distinctive. You can find out more here http://slowfood.org.uk/Cms/Page/home

My little presentation reiterated some of the points that Andrew made, mainly that Leeds is incredibly well-placed in terms of geography, proximity to some of the finest producers, growers, farmers, and boasting some of the finest restaurants in the North. Leeds has a thriving market, great transport and some of the best food in the UK on our doorstep… so what’s stopping us?

The discussion that followed was both informative and passionate. Topics included the difficulty for local suppliers to sell directly to larger organisations who have centralised purchasing teams and where economy of scale is part of the equation.

Other conversations covered the difficulty for consumers to access the information they might need to eat and buy local food and drink – although Deliciouslyorkshire was recognised as a useful site for some purposes, and an active participant in fairs and shows, but not ideal if you are searching for an outlet. It was also noted that the cost to join was prohibitive and the criteria less than rigorous. We discussed schemes like their Deliciouslyorkshirebreakfast accreditation which costs £50, requires receipts and seems to provide no more than a window sticker.

We also talked about how few local food and drink outlets were in Leeds – compared to Huddersfield or out in the countryside.

It was agreed that if food was to be part of the experience in Leeds, it has to be underpinned by local support and involvement – people talked of their favourite shops, some hidden away, some better known, in general it was agreed that more flexible opening may help – as we all work long hours and ‘normal’ shopping hours’ are not always possible… the supermarkets do it, so perhaps a late-night shopping day might work?

Overall it was agreed that it would certainly help if there was some kind single web site or similar that could point people to locally made and farmed foods available in Leeds, in retail or restaurant. Some made the point that is was often hard to include local information as an independent directory – that whatever was done would need strong leadership and some considerable impetus, which may be difficult to maintain if it was entirely free and voluntary?

We agreed that this was a good start, and that it would be useful to stay in touch and build on this small network…

The rest of the evening was taken up with more generalised networking – once more it was good to see people making connections and sharing contacts.

All in all, another great meeting, many thanks to everyone who contributed – there were no clear answers, but perhaps the question became clearer.

The next Experience Leeds will be in November….

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Experience Leeds Episode 1

The idea behind Experience Leeds came from conversations with Howard Raynor from Manchester about what they've done over there to link lifestyle/leisure business with cultural and other events - to avoid clashes, work together more effectively and co-ordinate efforts generally.

My take on this was to see it as a way of not just enabling more joined-up thinking between the hotels and tourist attractions, but a way of firing up the unique identity of our city, supporting and promoting smaller events, local artisan producers and suppliers, and getting business involved in a more meaningful way in the life of Leeds.

The more I looked into it the more I saw that yes, there are great support networks for culture (culturevulture) and although not eveyone's cup 'o tea, Marketing Leeds is working hard to generate national and international interest.

Howard and I decided to put together a group that would take over where other forums left off, and aimed to fill the gaps left by the bigger agencies.

The result was Experience Leeds. A forum where people with great ideas can find people who want to help them, where business can get involved with the real life of Leeds, and where we can celebrate great food and drink - bringing them all together to make Leeds a more distinctive place to live and visit.

Phew. No pressure then.

The first meeting was on 8th September at The Queens Hotel in central Leeds (thanks again to their manager David Kanarens for the room, the beverages, the enthusiasm and breakfast-based refreshments).

The turn-out was good for a first date - lots of usual suspects, but a few new faces too.

After milling around we listened to Howard tell us about his view of the current economic situation, and what Manchester has been up to, as well as the potential for collaboration here in Leeds.

Then I got up and set out how I think Experience Leeds could operate. This is simply to have regular monthly meetings where people can share diary and other details, get people to share knowledge, expertise and experience, and carry out what I called and Ask Auction - a session where people can make 'demands' - say what they need - and we can all think about how we could help, or who we might know who could help?

So here are the first few 'demands' - if you want to help, let me know, or if you know someone who can, tell them to get in touch with me on nick@verbal-id.co.uk

(These are all the 'demands' I received - apologies if yours did not make it - email me if you want to change, add, amend anything here.)

Nick - I need a speaker for next the next ExpLeeds preferably from the hotel sector or indie food/drink - not 100% sure on dates yet but early October.

Emma - looking for a space to hold a weekly activity event for under fives in the city centre - play, creativity, dance etc... I need help to get parents involved, and some sponsorship to get started...

Louise - looking for a city-centre open-community hub for creatives, producers, to meet/hotseat/network etc. comfy seats, tea, engagement with the public/audiences...

Helen - looking for an arts package to promote to my UK meeting incentive conference and events buyers to help business tourism in Leeds.

Karina - needs help promoting events in Leeds - and our new Style Club

Joanna - looking for:
(1) Artists to use our exhibition space at the theatre and help to refurb it.
(2) Local food producers to speak to our cafe
(3) Performing artists to make connections with our shows/projects and make creative responses.
(4) sponsorship for shows and projects with partners who can help promote our work etc.

Yorkshire Telly - looking for any support so we can continue to 'show don't tell' the world about the talented people of Yorkshire and the fantastic sights...also advice on sustainability, mutual networking opportunities, sponsorship and funding.

Paul - I want to raise the profile of the restaurant at the Wardrobe which already champions great local food, I want to get to the top of unmissable places to visit in Leeds, looking for hotels who can recommend us to guests, as well as find good rates for touring artists etc.

Wendy - I write a fortnightly Tourism Bulletin with a round up of Leeds news and events, I need to know who would like to receive this, and what kind of information people would find most useful.

Jordan - Our hotel wants to build relationships with the community to achieve shared goals...

David - discover what we need to do to interest people from outside the city in Leeds leisure - what does the city stand for to the outside world?

Dominique - how to get improved awareness in the business sector about the museum's and galleries commercial offer and support - e.g. business volunteering, sponsorship packages

If you can help with any of these demands, or know someone who can, contact me and I will put you in touch with the people - or contact them yourself if you have their details... I'll be sending the contacts to all attendees anyway....

So, now, over to you.
Thoughts for the next one - gratefully recieved....

This is positive, tangible and really exciting!

Thank you for your time and input everyone!

Nick and Howard