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Food and Drink Festival award shared

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Three community heroes have shared the single award presented by this year’s Enjoy St Albans Food and Drink Festival.

The winners were two publicans and a restaurateur who all rose to the challenge of the pandemic and provided help to some of the District’s most vulnerable people

Normally, the Festival – which is now in its 14th year – makes around a dozen awards to celebrate the District’s vitally-important hospitality industry.

However, with the COVID public health emergency having disrupted the hospitality industry over the last year, it was decided to suspend all but one of them, the Kate D’Arcy Award.

This is for an individual who has given exceptional customer service.

Residents were asked this year to nominate online someone from the food and drink industry who went out of their way to help the community during the pandemic.

Nominations included people involved with takeaways, fish and chip shops, market stalls, fine dining and family restaurants, cafes and pubs.

The Festival’s 14-strong judging panel met to decide the winner on various criteria including the number of nominations and voted for the title to be shared among three outstanding candidates. These were:

Caz Kaur who runs the Portland Arms pub in Portland Street, St Albans. She was described by one of the many people who nominated her as “a hugely loved and respected part of her community”.

During the first lockdown, Caz turned her pub into a community shop, making deliveries herself to people who were isolating at home. She also set up a hub for local businesses within the pub grounds so they could sell essential goods.

As part of a joint initiative with St Albans City and District Council's COVID business support team and  St Albans BID, she also set up a community hub within the pub grounds. This allowed local businesses who could not open or trade inside their own premises to sell essential goods.

Jamie West who runs the Hare and Hounds in Sopwell Lane, St Albans, as well as the Rose and Crown, Sandridge. During the lockdown, he cooked and delivered meals along with volunteers to the homeless and other vulnerable people while home-schooling his twin daughters. He ran a soup kitchen at the same time.

His work during the COVID-19 emergency was described as “inspiring” and “selfless” by those who nominated him.

Raihaanah Ahmed co-owner of the Meating Room restaurant, Catherine Street, and a trustee of the Sopwell Community Trust. She organised the distribution of food parcels to people isolating, as well as setting up a Foodbank outpost at the Abbey Theatre for the elderly and vulnerable.

Raihaanah also mentored women, including some refugees, to set up a  food business of their own.  She worked with the foodbank, Councillors, volunteers, restaurants, caterers and pub  to coordinate and deliver thousands of meals to NHS staff and vulnerable school children.

One nominator said: “I don’t think any other single individual has contributed as much for the wider community.”

The winners were presented with their trophy by the Mayor of St Albans City and District, Councillor Edgar Hill, at a presentation event on Monday 20 September at St Michael’s Manor Hotel.

The Food and Drink Festival is organised by the Council with the support of a number of partners.

Councillor Mandy McNeil, Vice-Chair of the Council’s Business and Regeneration Committee, said:

Our hard hit hospitality businesses have such a heart for our community, and jumped straight in to work collaboratively to provide groceries, or to cook and serve thousands of residents needing support throughout the lockdowns, as well as trying to look after their own staff and each other.

Some businesses opened up community hubs or community shops like Caz in St Albans District, including in Wheathampstead and London Colney, or provided heat and eat meals or cooked for vulnerable people, the NHS, our homeless and a Foodbank, like Raihaanah and Jamie.

The judges just couldn’t choose between the three winners and were in unanimous agreement that the Kate D’Arcy Award should be shared by all three of these outstanding community champions".

Our food and drink businesses were exceptionally prominent in rising to the challenges of COVID and I am delighted that we are able to recognise that effort with these awards. Thankfully, with the easing of many social distancing measures,  hospitality sector footfall is heading back to normal, although our businesses are facing additional challenges, including staff crises and supply chain issues, but they are fighters and we hope that the community will be able to honour more businesses at next year’s awards, with a multitude of categories such as our best pub, restaurant, cafe and food or drink producer.

The Enjoy St Albans Food and Drink Festival has been taking place throughout the District over the month of September with the events programme  published on the Enjoy St Albans website:

Picture: award winners, from left to right, Caz, the Mayor, Jamie and Raihaanah at the presentation evening.

Councillor contact: Cllr Mandy McNeil, Vice Chair of the Regeneration and Business Committee:, 07584 198999.

Media contact: John McJannet, Principal Communications Officer: 01727-819533;