Sidmouth Folk Week 2010: stewarding

Apart from the problems at the Bulverton car park and the resignation/dismissal of the campsite manager, stewarding seemed to be marred by some stewards not turning up for duty and there being not enough of them to go round. Yet in the run-up to the 2010 festival there were more applications than vacancies. At both the social dance venues and at the merchandising stall family members (sisters, husbands) who were not official stewards (and likely not therefore covered by insurance) were roped in to help simply because stewards did not turn up for duty and none seemed to be able to be provided from a reserve pool.

There are several problems here and they carry on from previous years. There needs to be more discipline. Some stewards told me that others simply collected their free tickets and were never seen again. This would never have happened when Steve Heap was in charge - at least, the people who tried it would never again work for the festival.

At other festivals there is a 'reserve pool' of stewards formed from those who have no particular desire to work at a specific venue but are capable of doing almost anything at a moment's notice. I've done this job myself and the system works well. If any venue needs another steward one can be dispatched from the pool (where several are always waiting) and they can be useful within minutes. Reserve stewards need to attend for duty at some central point but their duty may comprise no more than reading a book or a newspaper for three or four hours, unless they are called upon to go somewhere and help out. At Sidmouth, having a pool of maybe 10 competent stewards always to hand might help solve some problems.

One issue, as in previous years, was in the Blackmore Gardens dance marquee. This venue worked well for dance (once the floor had been mended...) except for the lack of cross ventilation. These problems are discussed on the social dance pages but I'll mention them here as well, just in case anyone who has any influence over the festival is reading this.

The 2010 Stewards' Handbook contains the following message from John Braithwaite the Festival Director:

At Sidmouth Folk Week, we pride ourselves on looking after our guests. We want them to come back again and again, not just because they see great acts, but also because of the friendly and helpful way in which they are treated and the warm welcome they receive. Many of you are right in the front line when it comes to making that all important first impression, which will often set the tone for their week. Please keep smiling and (be) helpful all the time - our guests deserve it!

I suppose one could read this and ponder as one sweltered for the third or fourth year in the Blackmore Gardens marquee with stewards unwilling or unable to open the side flaps to allow adequate ventilation. This has been a problem for so many years in both the Blackmore Gardens marquee and (previously) in Church House Lawn marquee.

...........So I just thought I'd mention it again this year...........

Variously, and over the last few years, stewards have been unable to open the flaps (until I showed them how to do it) unwilling to do so because they couldn't be bothered, unwilling to do so because they had been told not to (idiotic interpretation of fire regulations by EDDC?) or willing to do so but not having sufficient stewards on hand to man (or to woman) each open flap. So YET AGAIN Mr Braithwaite, some of your valued guests do not wish to see their warm welcome take the form of a sauna competition - with the last dancer left standing being the winner.

If the problem is within EDDC then this should be discoverable via Freedom of Information by requesting a copy of the H&S manual for this site - and appropriate action taken. My own recent experience with EDDC and FoI is that they are dedicated to withholding as much as possible and pretending they can't find papers - especially when these would help reveal their past alleged incompetence.

When dancers ask for more ventilation (which could so easily be provided) then perhaps in future years stewards might manage what is a very simple operation? Some dancers now avoid the Blackmore Gardens marquee and some even avoid Sidmouth altogether because of the oppressive heat and humidity. Others avoid it because of the high sound level in evening dances. Sidmouth Folk Week needs to retain as many competent dancers as possible - and this means giving them the best possible experience within the limitations of what can be afforded.

Here is one comment from a Facebook entry. The organisers need to ponder that it is proving difficult to encourage good dancers any longer to attend Sidmouth: having venues that are uncomfortable just because of stewarding problems is ridiculous.

I think there will need to be some good marketing for next years Sidmouth. I could write loads of negative stuff, halls, callers etc. If it wasn't for Geoff Cubitt (acting as stand-in) it would have been a total disaster. I was looking at some pictures I took at Chippenham. In every one more than half the people you would normally expect to see at Sidmouth were missing.

I'm not into Playford stuff, I like moving and not all the posturing that goes on. (Have you noticed how few people smile while dancing Playford?) Just hope Barraclough stays in the States. I've never forgiven him for wasting half a workshop talking at the dancers about armpits! First Friday night was dreadful.

As an amusing aside, I asked on one day for the Ceilidh Tent side flaps to be closed at Towersey Festival in 2010 because of the cold wind that was howling through the venue. I did tell the venue manager that I seemed to spend most of my time asking for flaps to be opened. Despite that the flaps were fire exits (albeit lacking their regulation signs all weekend), they were duly closed, but could have been opened again in a few moments. As has been pointed out before, there have been numerous absurd interpretations of fire regulations for Folk Dance marquees.

At Towersey, common sense seems to prevail. There always seem to be plenty of stewards, they know what they are doing, and season ticket armbands are checked with remarkable rigour all weekend. There are apparently many attempts to smuggle friends onto the campsite for a night or two - the best story was of an armband made from a sweet wrapper that was about the right colour. It was duly confiscated, as were several better quality counterfeits.

Stewards seem always to have an amusing tale to tell - I particularly liked the one from Towersey about the mother who was unconcerned she had 'mislaid' one of her children. She asked if he was at 'lost property'.

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