One of Northern Ireland’s highly anticipated events, the Chocolate Ball & Fine Food Festival is a bi-annual event hosted in the grounds of 15th Century Killyleagh Castle in the historic town of Killyleagh. The Festival is a celebration of former local Sir Hans Sloane, the inventor of Chocolate!
We have been appointed as the event management company for the festival for the last four events and are tasked to support & guide the local organising committee in pulling all elements of the event together from sponsorship and marketing, to logistics and healthy and safety. Our team oversees the entire project management of the festival from start to finish. Our overall aims & objectives include showcasing the uniqueness of the area and driving footfall throughout the village & surrounding businesses, ensuring positive exposure for our headline sponsor & raising money for local charity, Cancer Fund for Children.
Our job began approximately 10-12 months before the festival was due to take place and was kicked off with an initial meeting reviewing our project plan & projected income/expenditure report created to set out a realistic budget for the festival as well as what our organisational priorities over the subsequent months would be.
We began with obtaining sponsorship & funding, a process that we actively progressed undertaking key meetings with potential sponsors & researching and applying for suitable local grants. We successfully brought on a headline sponsor & a fleet of supporting sponsors (ranging from monetary to contra) as well as obtaining grants from the local council & Tourism NI.
With this funding secured, we set out to put a marketing & communications strategy in place working with our partners at Mammoth and Impact Communications to re-brand the festival from it’s previously beige & brown branding to a bright, modern & fresh look representing what this festival stands for. Our comprehensive communications strategy to include a mix of traditional & digital PR as well as an outdoor advertising campaign successfully raises awareness of the festival and in turn drives footfall to the event.
The festival officially begins with a high-end gala dinner, The Chocolate Ball, which takes place in a marquee which is erected in the bawn of Killyleagh Castle. The entertainment, run of show & appointment of all third-party suppliers was managed and carried out by Callow Events, with a one-to-one sales approach implemented to sell tables to this high-end gala. The event welcomed over 400 guests all of whom sampled the very best of local food with a special 5-course tasting menu derived by local chef Simon Dougan using Finnebrogue Artisan (the event’s Headline Sponsor) produce, with a special chocolate flair!
With one of our overall aims & objectives being to raise money for local charity, Cancer Fund for Children, we also implemented our fundraising services on the evening encompassing a live & silent auction as well as fundraising activities throughout the evening. Our team worked with the local committee to again attract sponsors to donate auction items and in turn generate more profit from bids on the evening. All these initiatives were managed by our team on the night with all financial admin also covered.
As well as showcasing the very best Killyleagh has to offer, the event was also designed to profile the very best of artisan produce and producers including chocolatiers (of course!) both locally and province wide. On Friday evening, the marquee is stripped through the night and on Saturday morning begins to fill with a variety of artisan food exhibitors. In the months leading up to the festival we work alongside the local committee in appointing traders & demo chefs and undertaking all necessary health & safety requirements to include evacuation plans, risk assessments & traffic management plans amongst others.
From 12:00-18:00 on both Saturday & Sunday, guests roam the exhibiting stalls, watching a variety of cookery demonstrations from local chefs/restaurants as well as enjoying a programme of free fun entertainment for children including chocolate making workshops, circus workshops & slap-stick shows. The broad programme of family fun and various eating opportunities for discerning foodies or casual eaters alike attracts guests from across Northern Ireland and the wider UK and Ireland to enjoy this quaint historic village on the shores of Strangford Lough.
With support from headline sponsor Finnebrogue Artisan & funding from Tourism NI and Newry, Mourne & Down Council, the event has grown in visitor numbers in 2014 of 3,000 to over 8,000 in 2018 as well as generating a steady profit of £30,000 (in both 2016 & 2018) for local charity, Cancer Fund for Children.
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