Sidmouth Folk Week 2007: Letters in the Sidmouth Herald from 17 August 2007.

The first of these letters is particularly important as it addressed the obviously parlous state of the festival's finances. The other letters address the problem of the Esplanade being too dominated by traders selling 'tat to tourists'. The major problem here is that EDDC has no powers to move people on if they trade for a short time and have the requisite licence - but maybe setting up shop for 10 hours a day in the same place every day for a week could be stopped?

Whilst the trader problem along the Esplanade dilutes the 'folk arts' atmosphere and threatens to become a real nuisance, it hardly impacts directly on festival finances. The latter is the more serious long term issue. Unlike at other major festivals where the limit on all ticket sales is reached on a regular basis (e.g. Towersey) Sidmouth needs to increase ticket sales and maybe limit the degree of season ticket 'begging and borrowing' that is inevitable unless wrist bands are introduced. This might not produce much extra net revenue.

Festivals that are already 'packed out' and with their infrastructure and space fully utilised cannot improve cost-efficiency by increasing ticket sales, they can only seek to reduce overheads. Sidmouth has to address the problem from both directions but the scope for cutting infrastructure costs is limited unless major venues were to be sacrificed or some infrastructure was to be provided by landowners at reduced cost. Therefore the emphasis must be on maximising use of each and every expensive piece of infrastructure. In 2007, the under-utilised venues were primarily the campsite, the Bulverton marquee and the dance marquees. More of the same may not be adequate. More and of better quality and with a higher genuine Folk Arts content may be the way to go - but it may be a long and winding road.

Folk week future is far from secure – support needed

MADAM - I was interested to be reminded in your Memory Lane feature last week that, 25 years ago, when I was the director of the festival, its future was threatened unless more financial backing could be found from the town. It was not forthcoming and the English Folk Dance and Song Society had to withdraw from running the festival.

Mrs Casey Music, who took over from me as organisers, was forced to be more commercial and sold concessions to lots of traders and food stalls at the Arena. Local shops and food outlets then complained that this was taking business away from them.

With the new look festival based in the town, it's great that festival-goers are again spending money in Sidmouth. As Mark Seward said on TV at the beginning of the week "It's an important economic event for us".

A few local businesses have been very generous, some exceedingly so, since the festival's rebirth three years ago and organisers are very grateful for their support. Hopefully they can continue to work together to ensure the future of the festival. But the attitude of many is, unfortunately, epitomised by the owners of one of the town's cafes who said, when asked if they would like an advert in the programme, "We don't need to advertise, we're always busy during Folk Week."

While the sound of the tills is still ringing in their ears after another successful folkweek, they might like to know that the festival's accounts for last year were received from the auditors during the week and show an operating loss of over 30,000. The organisers are hoping to have done better this year, but it's a big debt to pay off so the future of the festival is obviously far from being secure.

It isn't too late to donate a little of last week's profits, no matter how small, to the organisation that made it possible.

Hopefully FolkWeek will continue for many years, but this is by no means guaranteed. Cheques should be made payable to Sidmouth FolkWeek Ltd (registered charity no 1111958 - you can even claim it against your tax) c/o Sidmouth Tourist Information Centre.

JOHN DOWELL

It's a folk week - not car boot sale

MADAM - I have been coming to Sidmouth since 1958 for the Folk Week but I've noticed a slight decline recently.

I have read press reports for this year by the organisers stating it was a big success, maybe for the booked events. But what about all those folk, young and old, who travel to Sidmouth from everywhere to show their musical talents on the seafront at no cost, many for charity?

This year the seafront was dominated by many stall vendors which, I, like so many, thought was wrong.

All the 'folksy' people were only able to play on either the east or west ends of the seafront. My wife and I noticed that many musicians, who we see most years, were nowhere to be seen this August.

I think EDDC should ban all these traders in future folk weeks. After all, they can be seen on any market square at anytime. Let us prove that "Britain's Got Talent" with the young and old. This is a Folk Music Week, not a boot sale.

After all, Sidmouth has been renowned world-wide for its festival since the beginning. Every week it attracts coach day-trippers.

I enjoy my folk week holiday and especially seeing the serious manner in which these youngsters perform on violins and other instruments. Is their talent to fall by the wayside?

Please think again EDDC. Perhaps we can all look forward to FolkWeek 2008 and be proud of everyone.

Many thanks to all organisers.

H J LUCAS
26 Lawson House
Nightingale Place
London

Is it a week of 'anything goes'?

MADAM - The letter (Musicians were moved along) in last week's Herald quite rightly raises the question of inconsistencies during folk week - stopping some musicians using amplifiers and yet allowing others.

I find it fascinating that EDDC can put up signs on the esplanade lamp-posts the day before the festival, declaring a prohibited area for trading -and then allow all the tat stall-holders to set up shop the very next morning. A council officer, who I believe may also have dog warden responsibilities, then allows them to trade as long as they have a police peddlers licence! I always thought a peddler offered their wares and then moved on - not remain to set up a stall! Whilst their licences were being checked - dogs were indeed running loose on the beach! This approach could be seen to infer - do what you like - anything goes this week!

Another letter (We 'folkies' are not thieves or deadbeats) is understandable and a request to welcome the genuine Festival visitor.

We should - but why, oh why, were the cans of booze not taken from the traveller types who set up daily residence in the shelters; turning them into drinking and smoking dens, accompanied by the obligatory dog on a rope? (Or more often than not - dog not on a rope but running all over the beach.) Local lads would have been moved on. The inference could be - Do what you like - anything goes this week!

STEVE CHALKLEY
Ebdons Mews Cottage Sidmouth

Stalls obstructed the Esplanade

MADAM - In response to your request in the Herald dated August 10, 2007, for views on the number of traders on Sidmouth seafront during festival week, may I add my voice to those who consider that this year there were far too many.

Not only did they severely limit the space available for the more traditional activities such as dancing but merely walking along the Esplanade appeared a somewhat tortuous operation.

Although I understand that commercial activities are not permitted on Sidmouth Esplanade, I would not object to the festival/child related activities such as face painting or hair braiding, but this year the sheer number of traders selling all sorts of goods, mainly of lower quality than we would expect to find in Sidmouth shops, was beyond all reason and certainly no help to those who are trying to maintain the standard of Sidmouth as the prime holiday town in East Devon.

If these trading activities are authorised by East Devon District Council despite their own policies regarding commercial activities on the Esplanade, can EDDC not, at least, set apart a small area of town for this activity and restrict the number of peddler’s certificates issued to a number capable of being accommodated within the space available? After all, I doubt whether the proliferation of peddlers brings with it much in the way of economic benefit to the town and it may indeed have an adverse effect on the trading activities of our own shopkeepers.

ALAN HUNT
7 Meadowview Close
Sidmouth


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