A guest blog from Rosie Eccleston, who undertook an internship researching local food business and food hubs with us last year. Rosie’s internship was supported by the Environmental Change Institute Sustainability Internship programme.
Visitors to Oxford come to visit the dreaming spires, stand on the sites of ground-breaking scientific discovery, share an idyllic punting experience on the Cherwell and of course see the cloister where Ron Weasley burped up slugs in the second Harry Potter film.
Sadly, however, tourists are not crowded onto the Oxford Tube in order to spend a day dedicated to experiencing Oxford’s local food offer. In fact, proprietary research by Experience Oxfordshire points to evidence that tourists mark the food experience in Oxford as lower than average.
This is slightly upsetting for those of us who like to enjoy the ever improving food offer that Oxford provides, from tasty locally-produced bread, wine and cheese, to our favourite ethically-minded delis and award-winning high end restaurants, but it shouldn’t really come as a surprise; when leaving the bus station tourists are confronted by chain after high street chain, and if they pop into the visitor centre, whilst staff are on hand to share their own local knowledge of eateries and experiences, there isn’t much space on the shelves and website dedicated to really showcasing Oxford’s food offer.
Along with the Responsible Hospitality Partnership and Experience Oxfordshire, GFO has been devising ways in which the local food offer in Oxford could be promoted through, and used to enhance, the tourist experience in Oxford.
Upon investigation, there are a variety of exciting and inspirational food businesses operating in Oxford and the rural hinterland, providing ready-made experiences based around food and drink. Did you know that at both Bothy and Brightwell vineyards, you can go and help harvest grapes that go into Oxfordshire wine? Or at Hook Norton Brewery go on a production and tasting experience with one of the last breweries in the country that still delivers with horse and cart? If you’re into more relaxed living, the Secret Cottage Cotswold Tour will take you around quintessential Oxfordshire villages and the Secret Cottage where you will be treated to a traditional Cotswold cream tea. Or with Bainton Bikes’ Oxford Experience tour you can lazily punt along the Cherwell with a picnic lunch before working it all off on a guided cycle tour, stopping for refreshments at a traditional Oxfordshire 17th Century Inn.
Several restaurants in Oxford and Oxfordshire are really cottoning on to the opportunity to showcase the best of what Oxfordshire has to offer, through committing to delivering local and seasonal menus. This means at the end of a busy day investigating Oxford’s colleges or venturing into Oxfordshire’s countryside you can sit down to an authentic Oxford meal. The Vaults and Garden Café, the Garden Café at Restore, and The Partridge at Wallingford were the deserved short-listers for the Oxfordshire Restaurant Awards’ Most Sustainable Restaurant; several other restaurants are also amongst our favourites including the Turl Street Kitchen, Gee’s, The Old Parsonage, Organic Deli Café and Quod.
As for local produce, food can make a wonderful souvenir, but whilst in the Experience Oxfordshire Visitor Centre, the themes of Oxford’s mains attractions are well-identified and presented at the moment we see just a small section of local produce – Shaken Oak Oxford Mustard, Islip Mill Farm Oxfordshire Honey and locally preserved Oxford Marmalade as well as the usual array of boxed fudge and jars of sweets.
In actual fact, the Experience Oxfordshire Visitor Centre provides a ready-made stage for the placement of local produce. For example, the Alice in Wonderland section could frame a selection of locally produced jam tarts; local ales could be placed within the Morse section; all the components of afternoon tea alongside Downton Abbey; and the essential ingredient of a graduation tea amongst the University souvenirs – Oxfordshire sparkling wine.
And so, we ask, how can we place not just products but food experiences within these Oxford tourism themes, creating a variety of tours that combine the existing attractions of Oxford with the local food offer?
Here’s some food for thought…
Oxfordshire Adventure day package – cycling and wine tasting; punting and PYO strawberries – all accompanied by a picnic with local bread, cheese, chutneys and apple juice, and a glass of sparking wine, followed by jam tarts, cakes or scones.
Brideshead Revisited tour – Pick your own strawberries and take a vineyard tour, then indulge in a traditional English picnic with an afternoon’s punting or croquet, or just sit and enjoy the river.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for families a farm visit (children can collect their own eggs and fruit, perhaps see a production process such as making apple juice), followed by a Mad Hatter’s Tea party with stories and games – children’s croquet perhaps!
Relax in Oxford experience – a walking pub crawl (following in the footsteps of Morse and the literary greats), a trip to a quintessential country village with high tea, or a visit to Waterperry Gardens.
Weekend foodie tour– a vineyard tour, followed by a trip to the Earth Trust farm step tenants, an evening feast with local ingredients and drinks. Stay overnight in a college or a historic hotel, a local cooked or continental breakfast, followed by a chocolate-making experience or a choice of Experience Oxfordshire walking tours.
OK, so we may have got a little carried away but you get the picture: Oxford has much to offer and with a little creativity and work to bring the right organisations together in the right way we could really use food to increase tourist spend and the number of nights tourists spend in Oxfordshire, profile and value of local food in Oxford, and have a jolly good time doing it.