It is really difficult to start this one off. Our annual festival of celebrating independent food and drink culture was in the process of maturing, with a fixed focus on shouting higher and wider about how amazing Leeds is as a food city.
We had also started a process of becoming a not for profit, with any income going back into championing the best food and drink in Leeds. We never had a chance to write the full mission statement.
We planned to launch on 16th March with the first round of Leeds Indie Food events. From walking food tours, to nose to tail dining, ramen and donut nights, to tacos and tequila and plenty of street food and beer. Those first events were on sale to our passport holders already (they have early access to tickets and one of the biggest perks of being a passport holder).
It quickly paused as day by day the COVID-19 news changed and accelerated. We were already planning on shouting louder for Leeds and shouting for the City to be the food City it deserves, so we switched over to pushing what makes it all so special: our indie community.
It was the dreaded Friday 13th where we issued a statement saying “Now is the time to be supporting your local businesses.” That weekend we saw huge support on social media and we started a list of people doing great things at a time where they had no clue or idea whether they were doing the right thing. It was here that we encouraged indies to adapt, get vouchers up and explore new ways of working. Little did we know how fast this would move, from telling people to stop going to bars and restaurants, to lockdown – in a week.
The stresses were felt across the sector. We opened our office line and left our DMs open to anyone to chat, but the first thing we did was change the festival event pages into a directory. We built each indie into that, with information being provided by the businesses themselves, but it was mainly us going to look for it. We had around 150 businesses listed on there as quickly as we could, with links to vouchers and other ways to support. On the 31st March we launched a proper, colour-coded directory. It took a lot of time to switch over but it looks great and it’s amazing to see so many people using it.
Indies United. I use that phrase a lot as it makes me incredibly proud of the speed, adaptability and ingenuity of the whole community, especially when under so much pressure. From Laynes pivoting from coffee shop to takeout deli to save stock, Bundobust gifting the stock they had left over to local charities, NHS campaigns to feed hungry and tired nurses and doctors (HOME, Matt Healy, Little Bao Boy; Northern Monk giving away thousands of beers to NHS staff as a big thank you; Breweries and drinks people driving the beer and gin to your house – social distancing rules applied); Lean Lunch adapting their healthy lunches to also provide fruits and veg boxes; The Swine That Dines doing Pies at home (even if it was for a short time); the list is endless.
From closed restaurants, we now have Ben Davy (Ox Club) teaching us his bread skills on Instagram, Leeds Bread Coop running Youtube videos, Chow Down offering colouring in templates for the kids, and numerous people doing quizzes and keeping people as busy and engaged as possible during these hard times.
Eat North and Chow Down
It pains me so much to spend a lot of time planning events across the North and then to sit and wait on what we can do. The hundreds of meetings, the contracts, the phone calls, the ideas. Obviously we want to run these events (events have up front costs) and the supply chain is massive, but safety comes first and we are looking at more options for events later in the year. It’s all to give confidence, keep businesses optimistic and hopes high.
Since this all began, we have been helping with the government guidance and working with the Leeds City Council by forwarding the information they send us, direct to the indies. We have helped the media conduct interviews and hopefully offered some hope in all the madness. It also offers us hope, too, as the community is strong, we can help each other and once this is over, look at delivering an incredible festival, setting up the incubator programme, but more importantly more focus on what makes Leeds so great.
Our Directory (updated regularly)
Hospitality in Action- Donate to help hospitality workers
NCASS – loads of great tips for street food traders.
Photograph provided by Simon Fogal.