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.
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
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
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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