Surrey’s Premier Lifestyle Magazine

Buoyant float

Shirlee Posner introduces essence readers to the Dorking Food Float – a unique retail outlet for local food producers located in Dorking’s high street. The historic market town of Dorking is known for its antique shops, independent cafés, live music and the great food of many of its public houses, bars and restaurants. The town has a quirky vibe and a remarkable and totally unique local food model, offering a high street retail opportunity to over twenty-five local producers.

Every Friday and Saturday, the Food Float is set up outside Barclays Bank on Dorking High Street with a wonderful selection of local produce: freshly-baked cakes and pastries, craft and artisan bread, local honey, eggs, chicken, charcuterie and cheese, all of which are grown, produced and created within a 20-mile radius of Dorking. Impressive.
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From left: Volunteer Maddie with Phil May and Tim McEntire
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Executive directors Tim McEntire and Phil May (part of a group of six founding members) run the stall with volunteer Maddie. Chatting to them it’s clear the Float has become an important service to the local community. It’s run by two part-time paid members of staff and supported by a team of volunteers. Often when community initiatives like this launch, they can fizzle out after a while, but this ‘not for profit’ community interest company is as strong as the day it started, and that was just over ten years ago.

Before helping set up the Food Float, Tim already had a stellar career as a successful chef and restaurateur. In 2014 he assisted Local Food Britain place Surrey on the food map when Surrey food was showcased at the House of Commons during David Cameron’s era. His knowledge of the local food movement has been essential to the Food Float, assisted by the local community’s resistance to Sainsbury’s proposing a store in the town. A clear desire to support the local food movement was enough for this enterprise to launch.

The first stall was opened on 6 March 2010 and in 2016 the Dorking Food Float won the Surrey Life Food and Drinks Award for Service to the Community, which Tim says was a huge lift and fantastic recognition for the work they carry out.
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However, without a static home, how do they manage the stock and deliveries for the stall? Setting up a temporary shop takes a huge amount of careful organisation. Some of the Float’s suppliers deliver directly to it, for example, bread from Chalk Hills Bakery (craft and sour dough breads from Reigate) and more traditional loaves from nearby Westcott Bakery. While Nutbourne Tomatoes, a local grower of incredible tasty tomatoes in Sussex, meet Tim at an agreed location to load the produce into his car. The Float is only open at weekends and so there is time around this to ensure there is enough stock. Tim will always find a way to transport stock to the Float by any means possible.

Other suppliers include Debbie Nicholas whose jams, curds, marmalades and chutneys are available at several local farm shops around Dorking. For the Food Float, Debbie also makes freshly-baked cakes too. The Float had bottles of her pink elderflower cordial – with the flowers picked from a bush at Etherley Farm to transform into this quintessential English mixer. Pink elderflowers are rare compared to white and the result is the prettiest pink cordial.

Etherley Farm produces free-range eggs, chicken, ducks, geese and turkeys. More recently it has added beef and lamb to its range with its own herds and a butchery on site. When a Michelin star chef (Steve Drake at Sorrel) features produce from this farm on his menu you know it’s hitting the mark.
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Current fresh produce on the Float includes strawberries from Secretts in Milford, asparagus from Sondes Place Farm near Westcott, tomatoes from Nutbourne Nursery and watercress from Kingfisher Farm in Abinger Hammer, to name a few. A full list of producers can be found on the Float’s website (details below). This is seasonal eating, so expect the produce to rotate accordingly and enjoy when it’s locally grown and at its best. In addition to the products available at the Float, on a weekly basis joints of meat can be ordered online.

The Food Float takes regular orders for vegetable boxes and will carry out local doorstep deliveries. Customers can add jars of honey and other non-perishables too. Phil told me his work means he meets local people and many have become regular visitors and friends. He also says people shop with them as they can be more flexible than other food retailers. An elderly lady, for example, who buys eggs from the Float likes to buy three at a time and the team is more than happy to oblige.

This is a brilliant community business providing so much for its customers. If you are in Dorking, pay a visit to the Food Float and give it your support.
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Shirlee Posner is a food writer and blogger at and provides social media management, web copywriting and food photography.