Sidmouth Folk Week 2010: social dance and serious ceilidh - how long before it dies completely at Sidmouth?

Alternative social dance venues

During the 2010 festival the organisers asked for comments on social dance venues - the feedback form is here in pdf format. However, this suggested only a couple of alternatives - Sidmouth College and a pair of halls along the Woolbrook Road: St Frances Church Hall and St Nicholas School Hall. All these are a mile and a half out of town and whilst they offer better space they would remove the social dancing from the town centre - arguably just what is not needed in the longer term.

In any case, use of out-of-town venues (but not including the large hall at Sidmouth College) was tried (out of necessity) during the early years of the revived festival and the overwhelming opinion was that dancers would prefer to be in the town - thus in 2007 Church House Lawn was reinstated, albeit not for long! Maybe the earlier problems with Sidmouth College have been resolved!

Walking to Sidmouth College could be largely via The Byes and a narrow footpath/cycleway - but parts of it are unsuitable for scores of dancers all at the same time. Directly from the festival campsite, the halls along Woolbrook Road would be accessible via Ice House Lane - but how many social dancers stay on the official campsite?

Yet the halls would offer space in which to dance, provided enough people turned up to make the events worthwhile! The organisers claim one benefit is good car parking - but how many people could benefit from this? Cars parked on the campsite often cannot be moved for the whole week owing to ground conditions. Anyone staying in a B&B or in a hotel (and with useable car parking spaces) or at the out of town campsites might use their car for commuting - taking the festival bus into town and leaving their car all day at one of the halls? Rescheduling the festival bus to operate on these routes might disadvantage other bus users and one bus might not be adequate to accommodate dancers travelling to or from a couple of these halls all at the same time(s)?

In all, the suggestion of these out of town halls seems an admission of defeat - at least the options of bigger in-town venues should have been mentioned by the organisers even if they were (at the present time) acknowledged to be unaffordable.

kennaway 1.jpg (280873 bytes) Other possible venues for social dance include Kennaway House - but the lawn is now sloped and some of the the staff seem unfriendly.

I was taking this photograph on 11 August when a man came out and told me that Kennaway House was "private, completely private" and that I should leave.

The public contributed to the restoration of Kennaway House, including via a Lottery grant.

Staff working in the building provided a welcome contrast during FolkWeek - they were very helpful.


kennaway 2.jpg (121434 bytes) However, the photos do show the extent to which the ground is now sloping. Constructing a large level dance floor would be quite an exercise.

Within a large marquee you could have two dance floors on different levels - maybe with the band in the middle - novel and difficult but not impossible!

You could construct an acceptably flat dance floor of about 12m by 12m (100m2 useable size?) before you reached the sloping grass area. This may be too small to warrant the cost of a marquee; these calculations show it might be adequate for only 60 to 80 dancers.

kennaway 3.jpg (122108 bytes) Welcome to Kennaway House.

If you are the local MP, a councillor or other stuffed shirt, or if you wish to pay a lot of money to have a party or even be married here, then you might be welcomed.

Otherwise, sod off!

connaught 1.jpg (95744 bytes) Another difficult option would be Connaught Gardens, where parts of the Folk Festival were held so many years ago. There is a bandstand - which might serve as a stage and despite that the grassed area is sloping it is quite gentle and could be accommodated with some care in construction of the dance floor.

However, vehicular access is impossible: any marquee would have to be transported and assembled by hand and without the use of a large crane!

connaught 2.jpg (121678 bytes) In an ideal world, you could fit quite a large marquee on here and there are few overhanging trees - which is a problem in both Kennaway House and Blackmore Gardens.

This venue is not in the town centre but it is only a short walk (and you can use the Clifton Walkway along the seafront to avoid the main road except in bad weather).

Accessibility is fine at the cricket field in town - but they make so much money from motorhomes and car parking that putting a dance marquee there would be hugely expensive - even if it was countenanced at all.

connaught 3.jpg (98604 bytes) At least the public have a right to be in Connaught Gardens - more than can be said for Kennaway House these days!

Of course, there is always the Knowle Arena.....or the Rugby field.... or the Cricket field......

In summary, lack of space in which to dance remains a major problem at all the 'in-town' dance venues at Sidmouth apart from Blackmore Gardens at lunchtime and at a few of the less well attended events in Church halls.

Even in 2010 with so few dancers attending the festival, the Church halls were sometimes crowded (overcrowded yet still well within the official capacity) and occasionally even managed to be 'house full'.

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