ORGANISERS have labelled this year’s Watercress Festival a “huge success” despite losing the support of one of its long-term sponsors.

The festival on Sunday, May 21, saw its highest-ever attendance with 18-20,000 visitors.

Organisers said one of the main sponsors and supporters for the past 18 years, Vitacress Salads, “pulled out with just one week to go”.

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However, a spokesperson for the company assured the Chronicle that Vitacress had made it clear that its commitment would be reviewed this year and the final decision was made in January.

Previously, Vitacress Salads has donated £1,000 to £1,500 to the festival but this year decided to balance its funding to support other charities that get less support.

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Alresford Watercress Festival said in a statement that Vitacress had dropped out. "Sadly, it became clear with just one week to go, one of the main sponsors and supporters for the last 18 years had pulled out.  Vitacress Salads advised that they would not be contributing this year. In contrast, other far smaller growers located elsewhere in the country continued to support the Hampshire based festival with disproportionate donations to their size because they recognise the importance of the event to the overall success of the industry."

Its event and market manager, Claire May, said: "We’re delighted that this year’s festival went so well. There was something for everyone and as always, the Alresford community welcomed thousands of people from outside the area to enjoy the day.

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"Organisationally it was a tough year with a number of unexpected additional costs and challenges.

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“I’d like to thank everyone involved who helped to make the festival such a success, including our sponsors, and especially the ones who made up the difference.  We welcome any businesses or organisations that would like to get involved; it’s a really rewarding day and great fun to be part of.”

The event committee, made up of volunteers, does not make a profit from the free event and all proceeds go towards community groups that support the festival, charity Abby’s Heroes and help pay for the following year.

Alresford is known as the ‘capital of watercress’ and launched the event to celebrate the start of the UK watercress season.