North Leeds Food Festival Returns to Roundhay Park

early bird tickets have been released for this year’s North Leeds Food Festival, to take place on 11 and 12 May in Roundhay Park. Britta Carlson finds out more:

For the eighth year in a row – with a ‘gap year’ during COVID-19 – the Leeds community comes together to celebrate all things food and performing arts. Its return is expected to be bigger and better than ever!

Michael Johnston, director of the North Leeds Food Festival.“You can bring your son or you can bring your grandma, and either way, you’ll have fun.” 

Michael grew up near Rounday Park, immersing himself in food culture from an early age by working in hospitality. He always felt that events like the North Leeds Food Festival were lacking in England, sparking his initiative of the event. Since its debut in 2016, the Festival has grown to three times its original size. 

“These events cost a lot of money, and there are a lot of risks,” says Michael, explaining that Leeds City Council used to have more funding for community events than they do now.

For the North Leeds Food Festival, this was a risk worth taking in terms of recognition. As it continues to grow, the application process for vendors becomes more difficult. Johnston says that the spaces available for vendors have become competitive.

“We look for a variety of niche products; competition is high to secure a spot now,” says Michael, who, along with the Festival team, began planning this year’s event immediately after last year’s ended.

It comes as little surprise, considering its 150+ exhibitors and performers, eight independent bars, and over 31 cuisines spread across numerous produce markets, street food trucks, and dessert stations.

Environmental initiatives are highly important for the team when choosing vendors. They prioritise local traders within three to four miles of the event and offer a 25% discount to environmentally cautious brands. They also prohibit single-use plastic where possible and use recycled containers and eco-friendly cups.

Supporting the event, Johnston emphasises its positive impact on local farmers, the reduction of food miles and the preservation of local food traditions. He also mentions Leeds Minds as a partner, with funds raised at the Festival going into services dedicated to the Leeds area. Last year saw over £95,000, with the aim to break this record in 2024.

The Festival also partners with Yorkshire Food Guide, offering hourly live cookery demonstrations. In its dog-friendly environment, guests can expect everything from independent beer tents and a reggae shack to performances by local community bands on a stage surrounded by lawn chairs. This year, Johnston reveals, there will be tribute acts.

Michael: “Ultimately, it is about the atmosphere and the connection at the event, the collective enjoyment of the food and the music. Just being a part of the community, really.!

He isn’t alone in buzzing over the atmosphere. Ned Richards, a waiter at Beck & Call, Meanwood, is attending this year’s Festival for the third year in a row.

Unsure of what to expect in his first year, Ned says he was blown away, not just by the variety of food, but also the bands and welcoming venues. “Everything was affordable, and even as a younger person, I felt included.”

Ned attends many events in Leeds but feels disappointed as most emphasise alcohol over the community. He highlights the range of food at the North Leeds Food Festival and reflects on last year’s international representation.

“I mean, what’s more classic than an opportunity for people to come together and break bread?” he says, with a hopeful smile about this year’s event.

Here’s what to expect at North Leeds Food Festival:

Images: North Leeds Food Festival 2023/Photography by Stephen Midgley

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