The centre of excellence for regional food and drink in the south east opened this month at the Brinsbury Campus of Chichester College, to support local farmers, producers, distributors, retailers and hospitality businesses in East and West Sussex, Hampshire, Surrey and Kent.

Said Shelagh Legrave, Principal of Chichester College, “We have created this centre to help bring together and provide special support for the thriving food and drink industry in our region.

“We will provide networking and experience sharing opportunities, quality training and information for the sector, as well as supporting special projects to promote local produce.”

Over 50 leaders in the food and drink industry enjoyed a Sussex sparkling afternoon tea at the launch, with speakers including William Goodwin, a leading local dairy farmer and Vice Chair of the South of England Show.

Cllr Roger Paterson, Cabinet Member for the local economy and Governor of the college, planted a Sorbus torminalis – more commonly known as a chequers tree – as part of a ceremonial opening for the centre, because of its close association with food and drink in the region. It will form part of a rare-breed fruit orchard being developed by the college.

The logo for the centre of excellence has been inspired by the chequers tree, a native to this locality, with an ethnobotony steeped in food and drink.

Said Alison Read, Head of Brinsbury Campus in Pulborough, where the centre is based, “Local pubs and hostelries named Chequers will usually have a chequer tree on or in the locale and the fruits use to be used as a form of hops for brewing to flavour beer. They also have culinary uses and in years gone by were regularly used in desserts and pies.

“The symbolism of this humble tree is fitting with the creation of this centre of excellence which will be working with the food, drink and hospitality communities across the South East region.”

Afternoon tea was made by the students, including sandwiches filled with local free range egg and Sussex Gold mayonnaise, Sussex Farm dry cured gammon, Burwash Rose and Olde Sussex cheeses, home-made cakes and scones, all washed down with Sussex bubbly, apple juice and Hepworths beer.

Hilary Knight from the Sussex Food & Drink Network will be ‘local food expert in residence’ at the centre of excellence, providing advice and expertise to businesses and the centre will be holding the first of a series of planned networking events, bringing producers, retailers, restaurateurs and hoteliers together on 12th July from 5pm – 7pm. The topical subject of social networking in business ‘to tweet or not to tweet’, will be the first topic and will be free for the food and drink community.

More detail of upcoming plans / specific centre services please contact Alison Read, Head of Brinsbury Campus on 01243 786 321 ext 1172.