Cumbria’s big day in Westminster drew in a big-name visitor to sample the very best food and drink the county has to offer.
Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow visited Cumbria Day in the Palace of Westminster after being invited during Prime Minister’s Questions.
The flamboyant speaker popped in to meet nine food and drink producers and try out everything from sausage rolls, chutney and crackers, to fudge, gin and vodka.
He said: “I’ve been to the Lake District in the past on holiday and greatly enjoyed the experience.
"I’ve been to Keswick and Ullswater and a number of other places and I hope to go again.
“Today I had the joy of sampling the traditional fayre of Cumbria, both food and a very modest tot of specialist Cumbrian vodka and I enjoyed everything I had.”
Mr Bercow would not be drawn on whether the food on offer was better than that served in Westminster, but added: “It was different, and very distinctive.”
A goodie bag of food and drink was also prepared for Prime Minister Theresa May, who requested it after she could not make the event, which had been organised by Cumbria’s six MPs.
Exhibitors included food and drink companies Mint Drinks, Dent Brewery, The Byre, Nestle, Shed 1 Gin, Sillfield Farm Foods, Cranstons, Penrith Toffee Shop and the Coffee Kitchen Bakery.
There were also stands from Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership, Cumbria Tourism, University of Cumbria and CN Group, which was promoting its Taste Cumbria, Cumbria Life and in-Cumbria magazines as well as the Choose Cumbria initiative, which brings together businesses from across to the county to promote it as a place for a fantastic career and lifestyle.
Tim Farron, Westmorland and Lonsdale MP, whose office took the lead on co-ordinating Cumbria Day, “It was a superb event and the great thing is that it drew in people in who would not normally come to an event like this because, let’s be honest, we have lots of lovely nice things to eat and drink in Cumbria.
“We’ve had MPs of all different parties in here, Ministers, the Prime Minister’s PPS and others, but it is about people coming here, getting a sense of what Cumbria is about, the beautiful products that we have but also that is a very, very important player on the national economic stage.
“We need to remind people that Cumbria is Britain’s second biggest visitor destination after London – that’s colossally important. It really means something.
"In this regard, the Lake District is a bigger deal than Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow, Edinburgh."!
Rory Stewart MP for Penrith and the Borders, who helped to initiate the first Cumbria Day five years ago, hailed Cranstons and its approach to sourcing produce in close proximity to its Penrith headquarters, along with apprenticeships schemes for local young people, as an exemple for Cumbria’s approach to developing its economy.
He said: “Everything about it is Cumbrian – Cumbrian rain, Cumbrian grass, Cumbrian food. For me the future of Cumbria, particularly east Cumbria, is about really embracing that.
"We should be proud of the engineering in West Cumbria but that’s not the whole story and I sometimes worry that when we talk about economic development in Cumbria that is all we talk about.
“What will really make us unique, white different to anywhere else in the country, in the next 20 to 30 years is going to be our landscape and food because, frankly, so much of the rest of the world is getting wrecked. It’s getting over developed, it’s getting destroyed and we’ve been lucky to keep one of the most beautiful environments in the world.”
John Stevenson, MP for Carlisle, who also chairs an all-party group on food and drink manufacturing, Sue Hayman, MP for Workington, and also Shadow Secretary of State for Defra, and John Woodcock, MP for Barrow and Furness, all stressed the economic importance of Cumbria’s food and drink sector.
“Food and drink really matters to Cumbria and the manufacturing of food and drink is a huge employer,” said Mr Stevenson.
Mrs Hayman said: “It has been amazing to see so many people come through and getting really excited about the produce that we have to offer in Cumbria. Cumbria is a brilliant place to live and it is a brilliant place to eat and drink.
“Food and drink industry is clearly a critical part of the Brexit negotiations over the next few years so we will be fighting hard to ensure we protect it.”
Mr Woodcock added: “I think it is really great to see us promoting Cumbria in London and to see our colleagues coming here and enjoying produce from the county.
Copeland MP Trudy Harrison said: “I’m particularly proud to have the Byre Café here today, not least because they are from my village but because it is two young women who are running a business of the highest quality, employing local people and young people, which really helps the Cumbrian economy.”
Andy Walsh, of the Coffee Kitchen, Cockermouth: “I have had so many people come up and being very positive about the products we have on show here.
"Hopefully they will come up to Cumbria to see what’s going on. It’s good to remind people that Cumbria’s not just about beautiful scenery, but about industry, about food, about drink, about lots of different things. We’re not in the edge of the map, it is a good place to visit."
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Andy Arnold-Bennet, of Shed 1 Brewery, Ulverston, said: “We’ve surprised a few, which is always a good thing, made some friends, handed out some leaflets, given out plenty of samples and had lots of smiling faces.”
Peter Potts, of Cranstons, added: “We’ve had really good feedback, people have been really interested to see the quality produce coming out of Cumbria.
"People have been really interested to hear more about our ‘fork to plate approach’, and that our meat and produce is coming from 10 to 20 miles from our main head office.
"It is really important to us, and obviously important to consumers.”
Jake Berry, Northern Powerhouse Minister, who visited Carlisle and Penrith last week to talk about the Borderlands Deal, said it was fantastic to see Cumbria’s food and drink sector being promoted.
“What people will see from the Borderlands Deal is not just a focus on place, because we all know how proud Cumbrians are of where they live but actually on sectors, and that will include food and drink, tourism and leisure, high tech engineering and energy. “We have to make sure those crucial investments in digital infrastructure, road and rail come through.”
The event was sponsored by Sellafield Ltd and Taste Cumbria.
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