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12th December 2019

Changes at the Top at Norwich City of Ale

Dawn Leeder and Phil Cutter, co-founders of City of Ale (Credit: Frances Brace)

After nine years at the helm, during which time Norwich’s City of Ale festival has gone from strength to strength, co-chair Dawn Leeder is stepping down to spend more time with her research interests.

City of Ale pioneered the concept of a beer festival taking place in multiple venues across a town or city. Set up in 2011, it was the country’s original Beer Week. It has been driving business into pubs in Norwich and showcasing beers from across the region ever since. Ale trails alone generated over 11,000 audited pub visits during the 2019 City of Ale festival.

Together with Phil Cutter from The Murderers pub, Dawn co-founded and co-chaired this ground-breaking event. For nine years she gave five months of her life into its organisation.

“With no professional attachment to the beer or pub industry, and the giving freely of her time, Dawn’s really was a labour of love,” says Phil. “It was an extraordinary gift to pubs, breweries, beer lovers – and Norwich.”

Adding his tribute to Dawn and her achievements, renowned beer writer Roger Protz says, “Dawn Leeder radically raised the profile of pubs in Norwich and breweries in the wider region – and ensured that the City rose to prominence on the beer map of Britain.

“Dawn and Phil’s idea of promoting beer beyond the confines of a static festival, reaching the wider community by engaging both pubs and breweries was novel at the time. There are now similar events in at least a dozen British towns and cities – all generating support for pubs, breweries and local economies. The impact of City of Ale has been profound.”

Asked about her decision to hand over the reins, Dawn said, “I really feel as if I’ve taken City of Ale as far as I can. This year was the most successful festival to date – with more visitors than ever flocking to Norwich pubs to sample ales from the region’s superb breweries.

“Over the past nine years City of Ale has achieved all the ambitions that Phil and I had for it, from its inception. Norwich is now recognised as the first and foremost Beer City in the UK, attracting increasing numbers of beer lovers from outside the region. Its model – a co-operative community of publicans and brewers – has been adopted and adapted by other cities. Surely there can be no greater accolade? And this year it has been award-winning to boot.

“So, it just seemed the right time to move on and allow the festival to develop under fresh leadership.”

To this end, David Holliday from Norfolk Brewhouse has become as a new City of Ale director, and he and Phil Cutter now co-chair the organisation. He will be involved in the overall running of the festival and will be taking over the key role of brewers’ co-ordinator.

“Next year will be the tenth City of Ale festival and we’re planning a big celebration,” explains Phil Cutter, “so we’re really pleased that David will be on board to help. The aim is to keep on innovating – and David will undoubtedly help the event to grow and develop over the coming years.”

Last year’s hugely successful Launch Party at the Waterfront, where brewers from Rouen came across the channel to be greeted by a flotilla of local boats bringing beer up the river Wensum, was masterminded and managed by David.

“The team at Norfolk Brewhouse has always embraced City of Ale,” says Dawn, “working hard to support it, and invariably bringing some highly original, fun and ambitious idea to fruition. David has been tried and tested – and has come up trumps. Nothing is too much trouble for him – and he is always happy to promote the good work of other brewers. He’s a vastly experienced brewer, a campaigner, and a real mover and shaker.”

David says, “Pubs and beer can bring communities together and be a power for good. By working together, brewers and licensees can make a real difference. Dawn and Phil have shown how this is possible.

“I am delighted to join the team and have the opportunity to spread the word about how important pubs are – and what a great destination Norwich is. It will be good to look at what more we can do to extend the benefits of City of Ale beyond the festival itself.

“Further back down the supply chain, I can also extol the importance of Norfolk and its surrounds to craft brewers internationally. It is, after all, probably the best barley growing and malting region in the world.”

Norfolk Brewhouse will be supporting City of Ale 2020 with a collaboration brew with a Belgian brewer. The link between two cities famous for their beer – Norwich and Leuven (16 miles East of Brussels) has been forged by Roger Protz. Other twinning activities are in the offing and will be announced over the coming months.

Dawn concludes, “I leave City of Ale in exceptionally good hands. Phil, David and Frances (from Red Flame) form an incredibly strong and capable nucleus that will allow the festival to develop and prosper. Under their guidance and leadership, the 10th festival celebrations next year will truly be something special. There is fantastic support from Norwich BID and Farnell Clarke plus a host of other local business supporters to help achieve this.”

She will be keeping busy with her local history research, which may even contain a few references to pubs and breweries… and she’d like to make it clear that she is not giving up beer! The PintPicker database, which stores data on almost 20,000 cask ales, was set up by Dawn and has been running since 2005. It will continue to be a free resource for all discerning drinkers, as well as beer festival organisers. 


Tributes to Dawn

David Holliday:

“She has done an amazing job, unstintingly promoting the city and the region through the prism of their fantastic pubs and beer.”


Phil Cutter:

“It won’t be the same without her. But it is an amazing legacy she leaves. We will honour that legacy by continuing, developing and championing Norwich, City of Ale.


Frances Brace:

“Dawn has been absolutely inspirational: it would be hard to overestimate the impact of her contribution.”


Roger Protz:

“Dawn’s idea a decade ago has taken wings. Thanks to her, beer enjoys greater status and appreciation far beyond Norwich – and all beer lovers are in her debt.”


Many a glass will be raised in gratitude to Dawn during the 10th City of Ale.

She has been inspirational.

Norwich City of Ale is a city-wide celebration of pubs, breweries and beer. The main sponsor is Norwich BID and the Gold sponsor is Farnell Clarke. The celebratory 10th festival will be held next year running from 21 – 31 May 2020.


For more information see:

Further press info: Frances Brace   07432 692309