Sidmouth Folk Week 2008 - Health and Safety - how officialdom put folkies at risk of injury?

There were some splendid examples of rules and regulations that in themselves may have created substantial H&S risks at the festival. These were relayed to me and I have not checked them - so anyone who thinks I am imparting false information may email!

First, the small matter of road signs on the main road leading out of Sidmouth and passing the campsite entrance.

In past years, this winding road with its poor onward visibility had several 'POLICE SLOW: Pedestrians Day and Night' notices and a few others I may have forgotten. These were unusual, obviously 'current' or they would not have been there, and drivers did indeed take notice. And in those days there were so many folkies day and night you could hardly not notice that special care was needed. So the wandering tribes were perhaps as safe as they could be.

Fast forward to the safety culture of today and these notices are apparently nowadays illegal because they are not produced by an approved body (such as the AA) and they cannot therefore be individually licensed. So drivers can no longer be warned by 'unusual' notices - just the type they might take most notice of because of their non-standard design!

The pictures below were taken in the week following the end of Folk Week 2008 and during Towersey Festival 2008. If the Donkey Sanctuary can have a mixture of official AA and DIY warning and directional signs aimed at drivers, why is Folk Week apparently not allowed to do likewise?

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An example of an 'approved' event road sign. This was one of many to direct traffic to the Donkey Sanctuary's summer fair.

The people most responsible for this stupidity are apparently the police and the local authorities - who nowadays operate within such a complex self serving cabal of 'partnership policing' that it is difficult to know who exactly to blame - maybe that is the intention! It is a small illustration of what is wrong with the police - they are no longer much concerned to serve the community, their prime aim is to serve their own interests by way of meeting targets, filling in tick boxes and collecting as many fixed penalty fines (and brownie points from Whitehall) as they can. They also undertake risk assessments of their own before any operation - including ignoring cries for help when someone is being murdered in her own home - a well publicised case not so long ago.

Some of this nonsense and affront to both common sense and humanity may be attributed to the fact that the local police (maybe not those local to Sidmouth itself) apparently view Folk Week as a drain on their resources. Their attitude (as reported to me) is very much "as soon as it finishes for good the better". Elsewhere in the UK, and around Sidmouth, home-made road signs to warn drivers are still very much in evidence: 'mud on road' being the most common. But for how much longer?

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One of many clear, well-produced but unofficial roads signs erected by the Donkey Sanctuary, Sidmouth for their summer fair, August 2008

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A striking unofficial road sign - you could hardly miss this!

Yet (apparently) such DIY signs are illegal.

Is this really the case?

The police nowadays are prone to viewing the general public as second class citizens whose rights to undertake any policing activity should be strictly controlled - and by the all-important police themselves. One example is apparently that no steward at any festival is permitted, even in case of accident, to flag down or to give any signal to any driver on the public highway. If in doing so he distracts the driver he could be liable for having caused an accident. Only an approved and licensed person such as a police officer (who of course will have undergone years of specialised training in giving warning signals) is nowadays allowed to flag down or make any other sign to or contact with a driver of a motor vehicle. In any normal society, this would all be so lunatic as to be laughable - but in England today - land of the free - who knows, it just might be true. At other festivals, stewards control traffic on public roads leading to the sites - is this actually illegal?

police slow.JPG (90427 bytes) Towersey 2008.

One of several large and imposing signs on the approach road to the Towersey festival site - several of these used to be used at Sidmouth?

At Sidmouth in 2008 I never saw even a sign directing drivers to the Bulverton car park - and some people (see press cutting below) came for Folk Week, couldn't find anywhere to park and drove away again!

welcome signs.JPG (96999 bytes) Welcome to Towersey!

The whole route from maybe two miles away was clearly marked with five or six small temporary 'home made' fluorescent directional signs at every roundabout - and very welcoming they were too after a long hot drive.

steward traffic.JPG (78552 bytes) A steward directing traffic into the main entrance (Sites 2 and 3) at Towersey.

Stewards also controlled traffic into the Site 1 entrance - the tents-only campsite and main showground.

It all worked very well and drivers could be left in no doubt - day or night - that extra care was needed on this road.

At night, a row of electric lights strung between temporary poles and powered by a roadside generator made the short walk between the two sites much safer. But how many rules and regulations did they break?

Second, the small matter of bark chippings, slippery campsite roads and fire risks.

For many years muddy areas at folk festivals have been made safer by liberal application of bark chippings. I asked why this was not being done at the appallingly slippery area at the exit to the main Bulverton car park. "It's a fire risk - we can't use bark nowadays."

I can't quite believe this - but the story goes that when bark dries out in summer sunshine (if ever) it could burn well if (presumably) first soaked in petrol. This happens all the time in the open countryside - people go around seeking out areas of bark mixed with dried mud and setting fire to them. Maybe they spontaneously combust? But that is the story. So for all those stewards and others with sprained ankles and dented cars - just be grateful to the risk assessment police who dictate that bark cannot nowadays be applied to outdoor ground (or presumably anywhere else, except in private gardens next to barbecue areas?) You know it makes sense - even if (like me) you can't quite bring yourself to believe it. Bark continues to be used at Shrewsbury festival and elsewhere.

Before we leave the world of smoke and mirrors, it is worth noting that even Tony Reed, the President of Folk Week (read: the representative of the town council and the town traders) was moved to mention H&S issues - and he was applauded for it. The press cutting from the Sidmouth Herald is below:

insert scanned cutting

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