Some of the coverage in the Sidmouth Herald on 14 May 2004 in response to the press release on 7 May.

Whilst it is reasonable for business leaders to question the claim of 5 million, it is true that for years very few have supported the festival to an extent commensurate with the overall benefit it brings the town. Some of the smallest businesses are apparently amongst the most generous sponsors with many large ones declining to get involved at all, despite pleas over the years from Bill Lankester, himself a well known local businessman and president of the Friends of Sidmouth International Festival. (Story by Di Bowerman email

200,000 fund needed to save festival

A town meeting will be called by Sidmouth Town Council so that residents can discuss the future of Sidmouth International Festival.

It comes after the announcement that its future is in jeopardy unless 200,000 is found to underwrite losses in times of bad weather. The news has sent reverberations through the town this week after its organisers issued a press release setting out the financial risk involved in staging such a huge event and the need for a "security fund".

Whatever happens, next year's festival will not be anything like this one because, said Councillor Bernard Clark, no international acts had been booked. He announced the news at Wednesday's town council meeting saying: 'It is probably the last one in the present form because there have been no bookings made for 2005 for foreign groups and international events. "Bookings have to be made over a year in advance. Something will happen but not on the size and scale of 2004."

Town council chairman, Councillor Tony Reed, said: "This is becoming a national issue. People are waking up to the impact and importance of the festival. He wondered whether a meeting should be held along the lines of its joint business group to discuss the way forward, adding he did not want a long debate in the council chamber.

Councillor Graham Liverton proposed having the town meeting so that members of the public could have their say. 'I think it would be an extremely good idea if we had a public town meeting on this issue, it is time everyone had their say on this in order to go forward. "It is sad to see it may not continue in the way it is doing but it comes down to finance, that is one of the main problems. "I feel in order for this town to go forward we should have a town meeting." A sea of hands voted in favour and a date and venue will be announced.

Residents, such as Lisa Route, who moved to Sidmouth five years ago, partly because of its festival, were shocked to hear the news that it was in jeopardy. She thought the 70-80,000 folk and dance lovers who supported the event could help raise the money between them. She said: "If they donated 3-4 each the festival could continue. Sidmouth without a festival would be such a shame. "I'm a devotee and have children who are as well. I know a lot of local people don't like the festival and some would be happy if it never came back, but we are in real danger of losing something so precious to the town. "If it goes somewhere else we will live to regret it. One of the attractions of Sidmouth is not just it's such a beautiful place, but the folk festival. "More should be shouting about it from the rooftops rather than waving it goodbye. Where else can you get to see the Russian Cossacks dance in your home town? The whole world comes to us and people not supporting it are incredibly short-sighted."

A knock-on effect of losing the festival would be the threat to Caribbean Night and even Sidmouth's two carnivals. Chairman of both events,. Stuart Hughes said: "It is horrendous news. That would have a serious effect on the Caribbean Night and if that doesn't happen there is a chance the two carnivals might not." Mr Hughes said the Caribbean Night was held on the Saturday after the last night of the folk week so that equipment, costing 35,000 to hire, could be used.

He said Steve Heap of Mrs Casey's Music which runs the festival, had telephoned him to say tickets for this year's 50th anniversary festival were going well. In fact all the season tickets have sold out, including discounted ones for residents, well before the end of May and those living in EX postcode areas are being offered three free afternoon tickets for every three evening performances at the Arena booked.

Mr Hughes said he understood how the organisers needed a reserve against bad weather and added: "A lot of businesses don't put their hands in their pockets. Some don't give a penny. "It would be unfortunate if it goes because of the implications it will have for tourism as a whole and for the economy of the town. We just have to hope someone comes forward and bails it out."

Reaction to fears for festival's future:
'Don't blame businesses'

There has been angry reaction to suggestions that Sidmouth businesses could have been more supportive of Sidmouth International Festival when traders seem to profit from it.

Chamber of Commerce chairman Chris Taylor, told the Herald "The folk festival is good for the town,but local businesses are getting the blame which I think is unfair. "We haven't got big businesses in the town, most are small two man bands. Not all businesses benefit from the festival."

Announcing the festival's future was in jeopardy, organisers stated: "Sidmouth International Festival contributes in the region of 5 million to the local economy, yet business in the district fails to realistically support the festival's Patron scheme.
"Also after 50 years of support, East Devon District Council have indicated their financial support will soon come to an end, exposing the management to even greater risk than before.

"Faced with this situation, the 50th Sidmouth Festival will be the last one organised by the current management" Mr Taylor refuted claims that the town is around 5 million better off by hosting the event.

"I dispute that. I don't think the town takes that sort of money. The stalls at Knowle do well but take the money out of the town. "I'm sure the food and drink places do quite well out of the festival week, but whether it supplements the quieter periods I don't know.

"Part of the problem is it has got quite large and also the general public could be a bit to blame. We live in a culture which demands compensation if there is a mishap. Insurance costs have gone sky high."

Steve Heap, whose company, Mrs Casey's Music, has been contracted by the SIF to run the festival since 1987, told the Herald in an exclusive interview that the washout year of 1997 had lost 65,000 and used up money saved from the previous 10 years to use as a buffer.

He said: "Since then we have been trying to pull back and save as much money as possible but it's proved impossible because running the event costs more than it makes because of staging costs.

"The festival is run by a limited company. That has to make its mind up whether it wants to find the difference. In good years there is money in the bank, in bad years the shareholders have to foot the bill." Now he and partner Richard Carver feel it is time for others to dig deep to help save the festival. "I am not asking people to give money to line pockets. It is for underwriting. "If it was to rain like it did in 1997 for seven days, the effects are we would lose up to 200,000 revenue and we can't afford to stomach that."

Another factor was the probability that the large grant from EDDC, of around 60,000 last year, was likely to come to an end soon: "exposing the management to even greater risk than before".

Mr Heap said: "They said they can't see this funding can go on much longer, possibly after 2005, when they have to reconsider their options. "I don't have an axe to grind with the district council. It has given incredible support for 50 years; both by officers and councillors."

He agreed with others that someone taking over the running of the festival might find the best way forward would be to pare it down. "It would make it unrecognisable but it might be the best way forward." Bill Lankester, president of the Friends of Sidmouth International Festival, supported Steve Heap's decision. "I have seen this coming for some time now. It is just so sad. He and Richard have kept it going after being asked to run the festival.

"There will not be anyone big enough to carry on in its present form, the risk is far too great." EDDC Councillor Andrew Moulding, portfolio holder for leisure, said; "The council is somewhat taken aback at the timing. tone and content of the press release.
"The council continues to be supportive of the festival, both in principle and in practice." He said this year EDDC was giving 60,780 in grant aid for the 50th festival, as well as other benefits such as cleansing and security services and use of council-owned land and premises.

"In recent years the grant aid has been index-linked and has risen from 50,000 in 1996 to 59,010 in 2003, with a further increase this year." He said the council had commissioned an independent review of how the festival might be structured and financed beyond 2004.

Organisers were aware that EDDC would enter into a limited agreement with Mrs Casey's Music to manage the 2005 festival, and set up a working party to investigate the situation for 2006. "Any suggestion that the council has indicated that its financial support will soon come to an end is highly inaccurate and is strongly refuted.
"EDDC believes that the strategy it has adopted for supporting the festival and assisting the organisers to find a way forward beyond 2005 is fair to all concerned."

Mr Heap gave a crumb of hope for the future, saying if the 200,000 appeared to be forthcoming by May 28 - by when registered interests have to be in - he would attend negotiations with the trust set up to administer the fund "and once a proper agreement is established, if we are invited to carry on we will. "But I certainly wouldn't assume we will walk in and do it; there are a lot of stakeholders involved."

Joy Seward, president of Sidmouth Hospitality Association, said the loss of the festival would affect tourism, although some holidaymakers avoided the town because of the event. "The bigger hotels wouldn't be affected because they are never full, but guesthouses and smaller places would miss out very much.

"It would be a great pity if the town didn't have it here...they are deadly serious."

next page

back to top of section

back to home page