Community workers and activists stuck a cocktail stick through Derry and Strabane Council’s inaugural beer and cheese festival earlier this year, after learning it cost rate and taxpayers over £46,000.
The celebration headlined by The Four of Us and soapstar-cum-cheesemonger Sean Wilson (aka Martin Platt) cost £46,584 in total.
The biggest outlay for the Big Cheese and Beer Expo, which took place over a single weekend in April was event management, which generated a bill of £15,000.
Music, provided by The 4 of Us, Best Boy Grip, the Paul Casey Trio, Balkan Alien Sound, Ports, the Paddy Nash Trio, Glenn Rosborough, Ryan McMullan and Eilidh Patterson, cost £6,600.
A marquee in Guildhall Square cost £4,200, while security cost £3,834 and the chefs who took part were collectively paid £3,500.
Gary McClean, a community activist, who has worked across the community sector over the years, estimated the money could have funded two part-time youth workers for a year.
“With so many living out of food banks it seems excessive in the extreme,” said Mr McClean.
“It is certainly money that could be put to good use in, for example, engaging the disaffected youth in areas like Tullyally and Currynierin, which have been neglected for years, as well as disaffected youth in the Bogside.”
Eamonn O’Donnell from the Enagh Youth Forum in Strathfoyle concurred: “Derry City and Strabane District Council in my view have their priorities all wrong. It’s time for them to put people first.
“In particular they should fund grassroots youth and community groups who are struggling but continue to work at ground level engaging with young people and others to make communities safer and better places for all.
“Also with the bid currently ongoing for Derry to become the European Youth Capital in 2019, there is much work to be done in all areas of this city including many of the forgotten communities in the Waterside and Rural.
“Whilst the city most definitely needs arts, culture and culinary events; fifty thousand pounds is a lot of money and could have been much better spent supporting and reaching out to young people who are struggling, have been let down and demonised a lot recently in the local media.”
But Head of Culture at Derry City and Strabane District Council, Aeidin McCarter, has said that the expenditure, was worth it, that the event attracted 15,000 visitors and that it was one of the main highlights of the Northern Ireland Year of Food and Drink 2016.
The council spent £21,799 on the event whilst external funding of £24,785 was provided by Tourism NI and the old Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) Regional Agri Food programme.
She said the event engaged local event management, security and animation services, four major cheese producers in Northern Ireland and ten major craft beer producers in NI.
“All of the above had significant sales and this is a key growth industry - foor and drink represents a third of visitor spends,” she stated.
“Among the star attractions was Sean Wilson, aka Martin Platt, from Coronation Street - now a celebrated chef and cheese maker - who impressed fanfs with his cheese-inspired cookery demos in the Festival Marquee on Saturday afternoon.
“Our own wealth of popular local talent included demos from Brian McDermott and Emmett McCourt,” she added.
Brewers and cheesemakers were also given a platform by the festival.
“Local craft breweries who took part in the Big Cheese and Beer Expo included Northbound Brewery and Walled City Brewery, both based in the city; O’Connor Brewing in Faughanvale’ Lacada in Portrush; Kinnegar (Rathmullan)’ Knockout Brewing (Belfast); Clear-sky Brewing Company (Dungannon); and others.
“The biggest artisan cheese board in the North West was on display by Tamnagh Foods from Park, Co. Derry, makers of the Dart Mountain brand including Sperrin Blue Cheese (2015 Irish Food Awards Gold), Dart. Mt. Dusk Cheese (World Cheese Awards 2014 - Bronze), Kilcreen Cheese (Great Taste Awards 2015 - Gold Star) and the newly released ale washed Banagher Bold Cheese. Indie Fude, representing all of NI’s top cheese producers was there and supplied cheese plates,” explained Ms McCarter.