The Melksham, Calne and Chippenham Branch
of the
 Wilts & Berks Canal Trust


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September 2015

Two Festivals Combine with Stunning Success

Last year, on the River Avon in Melksham Wiltshire, the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust held a River Festival to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the canal’s closure in 1914. This was planned as a stand-alone, one-off event, but was so successful, that the Trust was frequently asked when the next one was planned!

For the last six years, Melksham has also held a very popular Food and Drink Festival in the centre of the town. When this location was no longer available for 2015, Pam Wiltshire, previous chair of the Food and Drink Festival, suggested it would be a good idea to combine the two events for Melksham’s first Food and River Festival, an idea which proved to be a winning combination.

The Festival was organised over two days: Saturday 5th and Sunday 6th September.

Saturday’s event, Littlefest, was a mini ‘regatta’ styled food festival including live music, a series of delicious tasters from Waitrose (the event’s main sponsors), ice cream or sorbet lemonade at CJ’s Café, plus a number of competitions and stalls by other local traders

Chris Smith Branch Manager of Waitrose Melksham said: "We pride ourselves on how we can get involved with the local communities we do business in, and the Food and River Festival is an excellent example how these events can create a great community spirit. The Partners from the Melksham branch and local suppliers are very proud to show off what great products we sell.

On the river, the Melksham, Calne & Chippenham Branch (MCC) of the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust organised boat trips, and the Wiltshire Youth Canoe Club (WYCC) offered try canoeing sessions.

Lisa Davis from WYCC said: “We were pleased to be asked to join in the Festival again this year. We had 70 people try canoeing and, out of that number, 30 of them said they were interested in attending club sessions. We are already looking forward to next year’s event.

The boat trips proved a great success, with more people wanting them than spaces available on the Sunday, although there was spare capacity on the Saturday.

Brian De’Ath, the Chair of the MCC River Team who organised the river displays and activities said: “It was a lot of hard work, but the outcome on the days exceeded all our expectations. It is an important event for the Trust as well as the Branch as it gives us a chance to show the public just how much work, much of it unseen, is going on to deliver a canal for Melksham.

MCC also provided a very popular display stand with detailed information on the Melksham Link Project, which caused huge local interest, and Frankie, the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust’s honorary canal horse, made a guest appearance

Michelle Donelan, the MP for Melksham and Chippenham, visited the event and helped to present a cheque for £430 to the Food & River Festival. She then went on to crew the trip boat Damselfly for a special cruise, when MCC Branch hosted the Melksham Carnival ‘Royal Family’. They were accompanied on the trip by the press, as befits any Royal Family

Sunday, the main event day, saw the arrival of nearly 60 stalls, selling a variety of great food and drink and offering cooking demonstrations; there was also face painting and a fun fair for the children

One highlight of this year’s festival saw brave competitors with a passion for pungent peppers, test the strength of their taste buds by eating chillies of increasing intensity, all of which were provided by the Wiltshire Chilli Farm

Thomas Chiad was crowned winner and won a £150 voucher for the local pub the Milk Churn for his attempt at eating a reaper chilli which exceeds 1.5M on the Scoville scale

On the river, in addition to the boat trips and canoeing, there was a display by the Bradford-on-Avon Sub Aqua Club, and a cruise past of visiting wilderness boats and steam launches

The sun shone, the river sparkled, music played, much food and drink was consumed and enjoyed, and a great time was had by all, thanks to the efforts by the event organisers, MCC & Trust volunteers and Melksham Council

Adrienne Westbrook, the Chair of the Organising Committee said: “
The weather was out of this world, and the festival was incredibly well received by the people of Melksham and surrounding areas who came out in force to support the day – we estimate over 6,000 people attended. It has taken a year to plan and obviously it has been hard work but the biggest worry for us was the weather. We were so happy that it was beautifully sunny and the day went without a glitch from the time the traders were setting up to the balloon release at the end of the day. “We are so pleased with the success of the event that the Committee have agreed to run it again next year. It is too early to at this stage give more details of the event format, but the date has been fixed for the 4th September 2016”

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