Departing owners of Snape Maltings leave food and drink legacy

Johnny and Alesha Gooderham at Snape.

Johnny and Alesha Gooderham at Snape. - Credit: � Chris Terry 2015

Johnny and Alesha Gooderham announced earlier this year they were selling Snape Maltings, a cultural and retail hub which has become a magnet for foodies. As they head to Australia to start a new life, SARAH CHAMBERS assesses Alesha’s legacy to the food and drink industry.

Her drive and vision put Snape firmly on the local food map.

Eleven years ago, ex-Ipswich Town Football Club PR Alesha Gooderham got the bit between her teeth and decided to establish a monthly farmers’ market at Snape Maltings with the support of husband, Johnny, whose family owned the site.

The following year, the Australian-born marketeer joined forces with food entrepreneur William Kendall, hotelier Tim Rowan-Robinson and local food campaigner Caroline Cranbrook to create an annual celebration of local produce to be known as the Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival.

Both events proved to be big hits – surviving the 2007/08 credit crunch and offering a recession-busting showcase for East Suffolk’s burgeoning army of artisan food producers.

Visitors flocked to the picturesque 22-acre site to enjoy food, music, breath-taking views of the meandering River Alde, and a bit of retail therapy.

The food festival weekend, which attracted around 2,500 people in its first year and celebrates its 10th anniversary in September, now draws more than 12,000 visitors.

Most Read

This year, Alesha and Johnny decided to sell the freehold on their collection of independent retail and residential properties, including shops, galleries, cafes and as yet undeveloped maltings buildings, to their high-profile neighbours.

Aldeburgh Music, owners of the world-class concert hall established at the site through the efforts of British composer and Aldeburgh Festival founder Benjamin Britten, pledged to continue to support the events. The 100-strong workforce which runs the site is also being retained.

The sale to Aldeburgh Music has been widely welcomed, in particular by the food festival founders. But the couple, who are heading to Australia’s Sunshine coast with their four daughters, aged five to 15, will be sorely missed, and Alesha’s festival co-founders believe she – and Johnny – have left an indelible mark.

“The great thing about Alesha is that she not only understands what an extraordinary local food scene we have here in coastal Suffolk but she is the sort of person who gets on and does something about it,” said William.

“Several of us, Caroline and I in particular, had been talking about setting up a festival here as we saw so many emerging elsewhere on far less impressive local food credentials. Alesha galvanised us.

“She set up a fabulous farmers’ market at Snape and then built on that to make the first food festival.”

Food festival chairman Tim Rowan Robinson, who is also chair of Suffolk Coast Destination Management Organisation, and of TA Hotel Collection, said both Alesha and Johnny had been “wonderful” in the way they had developed the Snape Maltings site and made so many different things work within it.

“It will not be the same without her. It will continue wonderfully well, and she’s established it, but it’s her style, her brilliance and her sense of detail and fun that have made it such a special festival,” he said.

“Thank heavens she had 10 years at it and a lot of her is embedded into the festival and the farmers’ market.”

The whole food production business in Suffolk was “a great family business”, and Alesha had got to know them, he said.

She had brought “huge personality” to the festival, and a sense of fun, combined with quality.

“She does nothing badly,” he said. “She’s a tremendous marketeer and tremendous on the PR side and she will be much missed.”

She would be a hard act to follow, said William, and he suspected the GDP of Australia would grow as a result of her arrival Down Under – Alesha, now 42, left the country at the age of 21 and eventually settled in Suffolk, but her family is still based there.

“Her judgement about what is good is flawless,” he said.

“She is a creative genius with impeccable taste and relentless energy. She is commercial but she understands that the best businesses have their hearts in the right place and need to stand for something good.”

Festival president Caroline Cranbrook said: “One of her great achievements is the way she has fostered and encouraged tiny food producers.” Helping these micro-producers progress up the ladder meant events at Snape had become a seedbed for such businesses, she said, and the Gooderhams had left an “amazing” legacy. Their departure would be “a great loss to Suffolk”.

“They have done so much to make Snape Maltings and east Suffolk a focus for good food and a visitor destination second to none,” she said.

The three remaining festival founders are nonetheless excited to be working with Aldeburgh Music as they gear up for the tenth event in September, and believe that combining food with music makes for a very powerful combination.

Alesha also believes they are leaving the maltings, and the food events, in good hands. She sees many opportunities for Aldeburgh Music to use its resources to develop the offer further.

“The thing with the food world is it’s really about relationships and people,” she said as she prepared to depart.

“People talk about a culture village. But actually there’s food culture and there’s art culture. When you weave all the tapestry together, that’s a really magical offer.”

The local food producers she had worked with were “fantastic people”, and seeing them become successful was “a huge buzz”, she said.

“I think it’s a great springboard. It’s something I can feel I have been part of. It’s certainly not just me but its something I’m really proud of,” she said.

It will be difficult for the couple to say goodbye to Snape Maltings after devoting so much of their lives to it, Alesha admitted.

“We have put our heart and soul into it, and I think we have done it alongside some really good people who have worked alongside us.

“It’s shaped the quality of my life in terms of the friendships I have made.”

But even without her and Johnny, she believes, as do all of those involved, the offer at Snape will continue to flourish, and its food events will thrive.

“I think they (Aldeburgh Music) will do a great job because having been on site for four decades, they understand and value, what’s special about the place. There’s nowhere else quite like it in Britain.”