WinterFest 2015, Leeds

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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas here in Yorkshire. Fairy lights are out in all their glory and we’ve already experienced the first frost. What better way to kick off this Yuletide season than a visit to WinterFest – an ethical Christmas market in Leeds, West Yorkshire?  I joined in with the fun and festivities last Sunday when fellow vegan, massive animal-lover and festival organiser, Victoria Bryceson, invited me down.

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Held in the historic Leeds Town Hall, the festival showcased 100 vegan stalls offering a wide variety of festive, Christmassy goodness, including cakes, chocolate, makeup, clothing and much, much more.

Last Sunday was a cold morning – I’m talking the kind of cold that touches your bones, and with a powerful icy wind that pierces your clothes right through to your skin. Waking up to such a greeting did not make me feel excited about trekking over to Leeds for an ethical Christmas market. All I wanted was to stay at home, cosy with my hot water bottle, a cat by my side and a good book in my hand. Needless to say, I’m more than glad that I didn’t.

lthWalking into Leeds Town Hall last Sunday was like walking into the open arms of a very large, doughy woman for a hug. That’s exactly the greeting I felt – warm and enveloped, embraced by the compassion of the people and the atmosphere all at once. The period grade II listed building conjured romantic ideas of times gone by, and the smell of delicious, wholesome, cruelty-free food filled my nostrils. It was over-powering and comforting at the same time.  As a vegan, going to an ethical festival such as this really fills me with a sense of hope. It reassures me that there are other like-minded people in the world, those who truly care about animals.  All of the vegan festivals in the country are absolutely crucial for just this – the sense of a strong vegan community and the powerful message that you are not alone.

My first purchase of the day happened approximately 5 minutes after I walked through the door. ‘Viva La Vegan’, founded, owned and designed by Jay Charlton, is an eco-friendly, organic, ethical fashion brand. I met and interviewed Jay for the first time at VegFest London in October 2015 and not only do I 150% support and love the ethos of this fashion brand, but the clothes are cool, unique and trendy to boot! I treated myself to this gorgeous ‘9 Lives Eternal Woman’s Tee’.  Printed using eco-friendly, vegan, water based dyes, from the touch, feel and fit of this t-shirt, it’s good quality.  The shape is a dream – I highly recommend checking out Jay’s online shop.

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It didn’t take long before I felt peckish, partly down to the temperature outside and partly because I just love me a vegan pie. I went on over to pick up something from ‘Mr Nice Pie’ himself. I met Mr Nice Pie at the Northern Vegan Festival in Manchester last month – and let me tell you, this Welsh fellow knows a thing or two about product placement.  We discussed how important it was to sell vegan food side-by-side next to meat, dairy and eggs, and how he does just this at the food markets he travels to all over the UK.  This sales tactic places vegan choices at consumers’ fingertips – convenience is key and in a world where being vegan is still considered a weird thing, we need to normalise this way of living and eating as much as possible. I had one of his ‘Sweeney Todd’ pies and it was unreal: mouth-wateringly good fluffy pie pastry filled with so much vegan yumminess within. I command you to check out his pies.

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To say that I have a sweet tooth is a huge understatement – I think I have a full set of sweet teeth.  Cakes, chocolates and sweeties always draw me in and while many non-vegans might believe that we vegans have it rough in this department, they couldn’t be more wrong! I stumbled across my favourite cake maker at WinterFest last weekend, ‘That Old Chestnut’. Elly is the brains behind this small vegan bakery in Leeds and she has quite the imagination – mixing unusual tastes and flavours together to reach new revolutionary baking milestones.  My favourite cake in the whole world is one of Elly’s one-of-a-kind creations: it’s her Blueberry and Earl Grey cake. Yes you heard me correctly! Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Well, that may be so, but the taste is unreal. As a lover of earl grey tea, this cake ticks all the right boxes: light, fragrant with a crumbly blueberry filled texture.  Thank you for bringing this incredible vegan cake into our lives Elly: the world is eternally grateful.

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What cake would be complete without good cup of tea? You know I’m English when I write things like that! Seriously though, brew anyone? I made a quick stop at ‘Tea Mandala’ for a little chat with Kalpa Gosrani, who I met properly at the Northern Vegan Festival in Manchester last month, where I did a short interview with her. We discussed veganism, conscious eating and, last but not least, tea! Last Sunday I kalpabought a packet of ‘Earl Queer’, following on from my last purchase of ‘Madame Grey’.  This tea did not disappoint: similar to a standard bergamot earl grey infusion, but with added botanicals to give it a whole new floral dimension.

There is also now an educational aspect to vegan festivals. Organisers put on informative talks from animal charities, professors, lecturers and other such organisations and individuals.  WinterFest was no exception and I chose to sit in on a talk given by Dr Brett Cochrane, Group Head of Science at the Dr Hadwen Trust, on the use of animals in medical research. Not only was this talk eye-opening, it left me with a great deal of food for thought and I am now in the process of writing a blog post on the use of animals in science. Watch this space! These talks are a place for vegans and non-vegans alike to educate themselves on a wide variety of animal rights issues. If you go to any vegan festival, do take advantage of them. They’re included in the price of your ticket – and who doesn’t love free things?

Thank you for having me again, Victoria – it was a pleasure as always! And thank you a million times over for this simply incredible VIP ticket goodie bag – take a look at all these vegan treats. I recommend anyone thinking of going to one of Victoria’s festivals – including the Great Yorkshire Vegan Festival (Leeds) and the Northern Vegan Festival (Manchester), as well as WinterFest of course – to opt for a VIP ticket.

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WinterFest was a wonderful little Christmas Festival to attend, small and intimate, but filled with so much vegan goodwill. The next vegan event to look out for will be the Great Yorkshire Vegan Festival in Leeds Town Hall in June 2016. I can’t wait!

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