Founder of Eat15, Stratford’s new food festival, on bringing East End markets back

Ferial Desai with her Sticky Fingers Cookies & Co stall at Eat15 Food Festival.

Ferial Desai with her Sticky Fingers Cookies & Co stall at Eat15 Food Festival. - Credit: Archant

Stratford on Saturday can be an overwhelming experience as thousands of people flock to the shopping hotspot.

Charlotte Agatanovic, founder of the Spinning Hen, roasting over charcoal at Eat15 Food Festival.

Charlotte Agatanovic, founder of the Spinning Hen, roasting over charcoal at Eat15 Food Festival. - Credit: Archant

But a new sign fluttered next to the Old Town Hall on Broadway last month heralding a different kind of foodie experience.

Last Saturday was the second outing for Eat15, a monthly food festival set up by Damian Davies, an IT service manager turned market entrepreneur.

Damian, a Stratford resident for the last ten years, wrote to Newham Council outlining his dream to set up a community-minded market.

He explained: “I love the food market scene in London and I just wanted to bring it here as well.”

After chasing a couple of emails up, says Damian, the Council came through and offered a venue - the courtyard of the Old Town Hall just off Broadway - and offered financial help through their Get the Party Started scheme.

“The space is lovely,” Damian adds. “It’s like an old Victorian courtyard at the back of a Grade II-listed building.

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“You don’t see this space at all from the other side of the road so that’s the difficult thing.

“But it’ll work out. It just takes a bit of time, that’s all.”

Following his first meeting with the Council, Damian had just four weeks to gather traders and potential customers despite never having organised a festival before.

He set about talking to traders up and down Green Street, Stratford, and Leytonstone but found drumming up enthusiasm for his idea more difficult than he thought.

Damian said: “It’s been so hard. There’s either been a lack of interest or a lack of trust maybe. People were very dubious about it, unsure what it was, what benefit it would bring to them.

“It’s been really, really hard to get local people involved. But the more people we have like that, the more successful it will be.”

Eventually he found a number of stalls to sell hot street food and the first festival, on Saturday July 6, attracted 350 curious passersby.

Phat Wingz, seasoned market traders in North London, signed up offering their stuffed chicken wings with a variety of salads; and so did the Spinning Hen started by Aussie-turned-Hackney-Wick-resident Charlotte Agatanovic who roasts free range British birds over charcoal spits just like they do down under.

What a Falafel, run by Aleem Bhatti and Rob Davies, also served a mean vegetarian wrap cooked on the premises using British fava beans.

Damian has since varied offerings to include Ferial Desai, an ESOL and literacy support teacher at Newham College, who created bakery Sticky Fingers Cookies & Co after the principal loved her baking so much he let her sell to students on the Stratford Campus.

Henry’s Coffee Bar, run by Romford resident Lee Alderidge, is also a welcome addition to the festival offering a wide range of gourmet hot drinks.

Despite the challenges he has faced setting up Eat15, Damian is hoping the idea will take off so he can run the festival every Saturday.

“This is the other side from where all the legacy stuff is happening,” he notes. “What I’m hoping this will do is bring back some of the history that the East End has with markets.

“I’m from Lancashire and it’s an old cotton town, full of flat iron markets, and there’s a big community spirit around those things.

“And I know the East End shares that which is probably why I’ve stayed here so long, it’s that community vibe.

“If everyone pulls together, I think it will work. But it’s hard work, you can’t just sit back and expect it to happen.”