Clare McGinn tells the story behind Bristol Food Connections

From an idea to a ground breaking city-wide food festival, Clare McGinn, head of BBC network radio in Bristol narrates…

picture of ClarePlease introduce yourself

I’m Clare McGinn and I came to Bristol in 2002.  I run the National Radio Production Unit for the BBC responsible for over 350 hours of BBC Radio 3 & 4 each year. We make Poetry Please, Any Questions, A Good Read and Soul Music.   We also produce award winning drama, readings and documentaries and, from January last year, welcomed back food, farming and environment programmes including Farming Today, The Food Programme, Costing The Earth and Ramblings. We reach millions of listeners every week and I love hearing the magic words “made in Bristol” at the end of each programme.

What inspired you to come up with Bristol Food Connections?

In 2009 when Casualty moved to Cardiff it made headlines even though we were still a vibrant production centre.  Critics were saying the BBC was turning its back on Bristol but actually it had the opposite effect. It spurred those of us inside the BBC to make alliances on the basis that sharing resources, ideas and talent could make a difference. It did.   Bristol became the first official BBC partnership city. Last January I was thinking a lot about food and farming. I had heard about the EAT Festival in Newcastle and the famous Terra Madre in Italy and noticed there were loads of exciting food events happening across Bristol but not one big food event to showcase the talent.    I spoke to producer Dan Saladino and to Kalpna Woolf about it, who was working for BBC TV at the time, and the three of us started to gauge support from the city and within the BBC for a partnership festival around food.  We immediately got offers of help to get it off the ground and that eventually led to the birth of Food Connections.

What do you think makes Bristol special when it comes to its food culture and community?

Bristol has extraordinary qualities – a free spirit, people who don’t wait for permission but just get on and do stuff and then have the generosity to share.  The cultural, small business and food scenes are energizing and the fact that you can find every taste under the sun in this city is great.  Bristol wears its food conscience with confidence and with humour putting ideas into action but without any finger wagging.

How is Food Connections celebrating that?

The term “food festival” carries a lot of baggage and initially people assume it’s about high end food and unaffordable niche products. But Bristol Food Connections is a food festival for everyone.  Just look at the “what’s on” section of this website and you can’t fail to be inspired by the range, affordability and scale of fun events, activities, initiatives on offer.  Instead of “THE BBC” or anyone else parachuting in, setting up our tents and stages and then leaving again we have worked for months alongside our partners to deliver something adventurous and original for the whole UK but rooted in the city.  “Connections” is the key word for me.  Food is the theme but the message is about what can be passed on through learning, doing and sharing.

What legacy do you hope Bristol Food Connections will create? 

Copenhagen, Chicago, Singapore and Melbourne have reputations as international food cities.  Why not Bristol?  Other places talk about their DIY culture but, in Bristol, we can point to the benefits of a DIT (Doing It Together) culture.  The aspiration is that Bristol Food Connections will get people to discover, see, taste, talk and think about food in new ways at a time when it is one of the major economic, social and environmental issues of our age touching all aspects of our lives – health, family, finances.  It would be great to see Food Connections grow into a magnet for those who care about good food and the future.

What role is the BBC playing in this? 

The fact that we were able to plant the initial seeds is exciting and it has been rewarding seeing it grow.  The BBC’s role will be to run a series of learning and broadcast events that play to our strengths serving up Masterchef and BakeOff TV talent like Tom Kerridge, John Torode and Frances Quinn. On radio you can expect to find Clare Balding on Radio 2, Richard Bacon on Radio 5 Live, Roger McGough and Ken Hom for Radio 4 all sharing the experience.   BBC Radio Bristol and Points West will be broadcasting and capturing the buzz for Bristolians thoughout the festival and I’m delighted that the national BBC Food & Farming Awards will start proceedings on Thursday May 1st.  And there’ll be plenty of CBeebies and CBBC activities and games for the children too with Mr Bloom, Rastamouse, Katy I Can Cook and Stefan Gates with Gastronaut Live among the attractions. We’d love people to support our shows.  The BBC in Bristol is 80 years old this year.  I hope that Food Connections shows that the bond is as close as it has ever been.

Bringing people and good food together