July 15, 2015
Petition calls for rethink on council funding for Burnham Food Festival

A petition signed by dozens of businesses and residents has been presented to Burnham and Highbridge Town Council calling for a re-think on whether grant funding should be given to the town's Food and Drink Festival.

14 businesses and 55 members of the public have signed the petition, calling for a halt to the £1,000 grant funding - but the festival's organisers have rigorously defended their event.

The business petition states "we strongly object to the council grant funding the Food Festival and to the timing of the event, as it robs us of our valuable income by trading during school holidays when we expect to earn more than usual to make up for the slack time when we are open all year round."

A second petition, signed by 55 residents, also "strongly objects" to the grant and states that the festival "should be self-funding and not rely on hand-outs."

Burnham businesswoman Ann Popham presented the petitions to the council at its latest meeting and said it is "wrong" that ratepayers' money is being given to a "commercial venture" and that "it should be paying its way by now."

But the Food Festival's Beverley Milner Simonds told this week: "The festival is run on a not-for-profit basis. We take feedback from traders, stallholders, visitors and local residents very seriously. We conducted a survey with our stallholders, local businesses and residents immediately after the festival; the feedback was overwhelmingly positive."

"We are very grateful for the support from our Town Council, their backing makes it a more fun event for all the visitors. A lot of people come to the festival in Burnham town centre on that day - people we know wouldn't have been coming anyway. We would love our local businesses to maximise the opportunity to gain new customers and we want to hear from any business who wants to be a part of making the seventh festival even better for Burnham."

"The grant we applied to the Town Council for helps to pay for the free events and activities that we build into the festival, like the entertainment, competitions, demonstrations and workshops."

"The food festival is not just another shopping opportunity; it is a free, fun day out for the whole family. Both the Town Council and Sedgemoor District Council have been happy to support the festival, so that it can provide for local visitors. We believe that there is nowhere better than where we live to choose local food for good health and a thriving community."

She went on to add: "We were surprised by Mrs Popham's presentation to the council, in the pre-meeting residents' allocated time. She had not raised her points with us previously although we have worked quite closely with her on other voluntary projects in Burnham. We didn't have a chance to respond but her points made us reflect on how we can better let people know how much of the festival is free. We pour our heart and soul into the festival and want to provide an event that benefits the whole community - if you live or work in Burnham-On-Sea and want to be involved in the festival please do get in touch with us."

Town Councillor Martin Cox told the meeting he backs the event: "I spoke to lots of people who were all very supportive of the Food Festival at May's event. There was a very good atmosphere. As a council we cannot please all the people all the time and therefore the criteria is 'what is best for our town?' Well the feedback I have received is that clearly the Food Festival is very much supported by the majority."

Several local traders have also voiced their support. Heidi Leigh from Chatterbox cafe said: "The festival was a great opportunity to showcase my business. We were prepared for a slight decrease in takings due to the vast amount of delicious foods available at the festival but this wasn't the case - in fact it was our best trading day so far this year. Also, from a business point of view it was lovely to get out and meet the traders. We use as many local suppliers as possible - something I feel strongly about - so it was great to be speaking to them about their products."

Councillors voted in favour of a £1,000 grant being awarded to the festival.

Pictured: Top - the town council, centre - the busy scenes at the May festival, and above - Burnham's MP and local VIPs with the organisers


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