The Foodlink project encompasses the whole of the region including the three predominately rural counties of Cheshire, Cumbria and Lancashire, and the two metropolitan counties of Greater Manchester & Merseyside.
Within this region is arguably one of the most diverse food-producing areas in the country. Rural Cumbria is noted for its sheep & beef production together with a well established artisan micro producer base. Cheshire is the county of orchards, cereal, dairy and vegetable farming whilst Lancashire bridges the two with sheep and beef from its Bowland & Pennine regions; cheese and other dairy products from the green pastures between Chorley and Lancaster; and vegetables from the lowlands on both north and south sides of the Ribble estuary.
Tourism features strongly with the counties of Cumbria and Lancashire boasting designated areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) whilst Manchester, Merseyside, Chester and Blackpool are increasingly seen as tourist hubs to commence the journey to explore the rural northern heartlands. Cumbria is world renown for the Lake District and all five counties have significant river and waterway leisure systems whilst all except Manchester are bounded by the Irish Sea.
The Northwest is certainly blessed with geographic diversity which is then reflected in its local foods.
Connection is a key driver of the project with the recognition that when people have the opportunity to connect they are then able to communicate and through communication comes engagement to achieve.
The key targets for connection are also seen as the main beneficiaries of the project who are:
- Residents & Communities of the region
- Farmers and local food producers
- Local food retailers and food service providers
- The Visitor and Food Tourist Economy
Foodlink sees connection as requiring a multi-faceted approach to initially introduce, then reinforce and then provide an ongoing structure to sustain. The project will do this by:
- Involvement in local events such as Agricultural Shows, Community Fetes, Farm visits, Cooking demonstrations and Local food Workshops to name but a few of the wide choice available.
- Creating an interactive local food information platform which will draw contributions from all facets of the region’s field to fork chain.
- Creating and supporting local action through Foodlink Groups of committed local food supporters.
- Introducing a common bond for producers, supporters and consumers of local foods so that they are able to share their local food enjoyment and experiences with others.
Whilst connection is the initial thrust of the project it is the flow of communication which will allow the benefits of the project to be delivered.
Diversity of products, geography, local customs and the food traditions within the communities of the Northwest provides the underlying nature defining our regional local foods. This strength, born from Northern individualism and artisan tradition, needs to be heard ahead of the messages being delivered from national and multi-national sources.
Communication enables the flow of ideas, knowledge and skills to permeate through individuals and communities which in turn provides the power to change perceptions and attitudes whilst enhancing understanding.
The Foodlink project is mandated to provide better communication links which will allow local food information to flow easily from rural to urban communities and between similar communities within different areas of the region.
The patchwork of links this creates acknowledges the centuries’ old traditions of the charter market towns dotted throughout the Northwest linked by the drovers’ routes, bridleways and footpaths of yesteryear. Today we have the online equivalents of social media, web sites, and blogs to replicate the functions of the pathways to communication.
Better understanding stimulates interest, and where there is interest there is involvement.
The activity based approach of being involved in 300 events across the region is seen as the first stage in the connection process which will have the effect of publicising Foodlink to a wide and varied audience targeted at local communities and their engagement. These initial events will focus on knowledge and skill development, be inclusive and inter-active in their approach, and form the bedrock to create and help reinforce a grass roots movement.
The second stage of the project is to nurture the benefits of the event program by providing an inter-active information platform which allows further communication to take place to reinforce the connectivity the events have established.
The third stage of the project is to start to build the sustainable structure by establishing Foodlink groups through which local food communities from across the region are brought together enabling interaction and the ability to develop common strategies for northwest local foods.
Whilst the core activities of the project are described above there are additional important by-product outcomes that will be achieved by the project which will:
- Produce at least 30 authoritative knowledge & skills videos relating to local foods based on the workshops, demonstrations and other events supported.
- Compile and publish an affordable local food recipe selection for the region
- Support and promote recognised local food events such as Sausage, Pie, Vegetarian, Organic, Beef, Fairtrade, National Allotment and Healthy Eating calendar celebrations.
- Assist other local food related organisations in their fundraising efforts.
- Collect and analyse research information to inform the development of local foods in the region.
The Foodlink project seeks to provide the overarching framework aimed at bringing together the diversity of local foods and put in place the infrastructure necessary to compete effectively for the hearts and minds of the consumer in the quest to provide them with affordable local foods from a sustainable production system.