A thoughtful letter published in the Sidmouth Herald on 4 June 2004. Alan Hunt asks for better data and more time to consider the future of the festival. Once again, it highlights that firm data is needed on the benefits that the festival brings to the town.

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Defer festival meeting until we have the facts

Having been a supporter of the Sidmouth Folk Festival since moving to the town almost twenty years ago, I can well understand the growing alienation of many residents as the nature of the festival has changed over the recent years.

From the many groups of amateur but highly competent musicians and dancers performing both on the official stages and at alfresco points throughout the town to the regimented professional performances in sealed tents and marquees strictly con- trolled by a professional organisation, we now have a festival probably rightly called Sidmouth International Festival, but a festival which has lost almost all contact with the 'folk' music and dancing on which it was founded.

Not only do many local residents apparently consider the current style and size of festival more appropriate to a site such as Westpoint but over the last few years many of the 'regular' amateur groups and individuals from other towns and places have decided that this is no longer their scene and we no longer have the pleasure of meeting them at festival time.

So the idea of having a town meeting to seek the views of the residents about the future of the festival must be welcomed and supported but, I suggest that prior to any such meeting, it is essential that at least the basic facts about the festival need to be established and published.

To achieve this I suggest that an independent economic assessment be commissioned by East Devon District Council, Sidmouth Town Council and the festival organising company employing experts from outside the county. Data from the 2004 Festival should be used to establish clearly just what the economic and other benefits are to Sidmouth in terms of excess retained income in relation to normal weeks in the holiday season, reduced income experienced by many types of commercial activity in festival week, whether festival visitors actually visit the town centre or if they are purely festival orientated, and how the accommodation usage compares with normal weeks.

The survey should include any grants and subsidies given by local councils, including the free use of land such as The Ham and year-round storage of equipment, and any other aspects which may help to give a true picture of the overall effect on Sidmouth and the local councils of the commercial festival it now is. This would help to assess whether it would ever be possible to return to something like the 'family' festival we used to have.

This would mean deferring the town meeting until after the 2004 festival but since that will go ahead anyway, it might as well be used to gather the information necessary to make a balanced judgement on the future of the Sidmouth festival based on solid facts rather than unreliable guesses and statistical approximations.

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