Article and Letters in Sidmouth Herald 3 & 10 September 2010

The letter from Brian Hall reproduced below, although well written and supportive of FolkWeek, contains several wholly incorrect assertions. For a start, the Rugby Club and Cricket Club are plainly in it for the money (a fraction of which they return to FolkWeek) and Sidmouth's economy is primarily dependent upon pensions and investments and salaries. Tourism plays a minor role, albeit an important one for a small number of businesses in the town. With such a lack of understanding of basic facts, Mr Hall would make an ideal councillor! The letter from Joanna DeRemer, is typical of those from people who are so ignorant of the workings of local government they seem not even to realise that we have a Town Council and DCC as well as EDDC!

FolkWeek entertainment 'health and safety' risk probe

LICENSING officers at East Devon District Council are to investigate claims that entertainment in Market Square during Sidmouth FolkWeek has proliferated to the extent that it has become a serious health and safety risk.

Members of the council's executive board heard on Wednesday that market traders had also noted a significant drop in takings during the daily events, which are not part of the official FolkWeek programme.

"Entertainment is daily from noon onwards and attracts large audiences," market trader Judith Taylor told councillors. "It should he a constant thoroughfare and also provide parking spaces, but access to parked cars and businesses is blocked. It is dangerous and frustrating."

Ms Taylor said the markets were being used as an unofficial amphitheatre, with crowds blocking use of hand railings.

Notices warning people not to block the steps had been treated with "complacency or ignored", she told the meeting.

"Who is liable if someone falls?" she asked. Councillor Chris Gibbings said Ms Taylor had made him aware of the issue and that he would be taking it up, with licensing officers.

Councillor Sara Randall Johnson, leader of the council and chairman of the executive board, said: "I really appreciate you bringing this to our attention. There are issues that could be managed."

Less whinging, more sunshine!

SIR - Oh dear! Why do you choose to highlight Mr Johnson's whinge about FolkWeek bringing 'a real fear of crime' by 'gangs of undesirables ......... shouting and drinking on the streets, mindless disorder, late night music blasting out disturbing the peace of residents'? You could equally well have highlighted the letter from visitor Mr Cosgrove, enthusing about the week's music and 'the kindness and hospitality of Sidmouth people'.

Presumably these same Sidmouth people were the business owners Mr Johnson says are 'lost in the name of self-greed' during an event funded by Sidmouth tax payers against our will'? It's amazing how many residents support the FolkWeek, not only via the Town and District Councils, but, also, voluntarily, through many local organisations: the churches provide venues, also the Cricket Club, the Rugby Club, and others. The Trustees of the Keith Owen Fund contributed towards the young people's activity so successfully run in BIackmore Gardens. I imagine none of these would co-operate if they were not happy with the ethos of FolkWeek or, again, are they just motivated by greed? Hardly!

I have only lived here for eight years, during which I have watched the demise of the professionally-promoted International Dance and Folk Music Festival, to be seamlessly replaced by a new, still evolving voluntary organisation striving to be as inclusive of local residents and organisations as possible. As an interested observer (ratepayer and taxpayer),I am always concerned that local businesses should thrive so that our lovely town can continue to keep the variety of shops and activities that give us the range of goods and services that we enjoy and share. We can continue to delight in the gardens, open spaces and public facilities all year through, and know that, as residents, these are all a function of the town we have chosen to live in with its economy wholly dependent on the hospitality industry.

The nature of this place is created by its unique location, shoehorned into a narrow green valley and fronted by a charming esplanade.

These have spawned a thriving community, seeking to retain the best and to hold its place in a competitive world. As with any community there come tensions and imperfections, witness the Letters Page! But I, for one, am always glad when the sun finally comes out, the visitors arrive and we can be pleased that our businesses have a chance to thrive and evolve to our mutual benefit.

Brian Hall, 4 Brownlands Close, Sidmouth

Festival 'vital to the town'

SIR - Once again, I find myself coming to the defence of Sidmouth FolkWeek as yet another narrow-minded resident can't bear to see other people enjoying themselves.

I thought I'd put my point across earlier this year when I wrote to you saying how much we and other local residents do enjoy the festival.

I wasn't going to answer D Johnson's email until I got talking to an 82 year old gentleman who was deeply offended by it. He used to thoroughly enjoy FolkWeek with his wife and family, but is now unable to attend as he is housebound due to illness.

I know quite a lot of elderly residents who miss going and I also know a more fortunate 88 year old gentleman who is still able to join in singing with other performers.

As for the financial side, during the present economic crisis, I would think the festival is vital to prevent more shops, hotels and public houses from closure.

Annette Brown Sidmouth

Take a holiday somewhere else!

SIR - I was surprised to discover from D Johnson's letter (Aug 20) that, as a supporter of FolkWeek, I am apparently in a minority of Sidmouth residents.

I have to say that my research over the last few days suggests otherwise. I have asked friends, acquaintances and anyone else who would listen what, they think of FolkWeek and all of them, without exception, are in favour of it. Yes, it brings more people into the town - and thus an inevitable increase in litter - but it also brings badly-needed revenue to many businesses in the town. For some it is the difference between survival and bankruptcy, although D Johnson categorises this as "self-greed".

As for the "gangs of undesirables", "mindless disorder" and "real fear of local people to venture out", one can only speculate as to the horrors D Johnson has witnessed. I personally feel safer on the streets during FolkWeek than I do during the other 51 weeks of the year!

I was also surprised to read, in the same letter, that my council tax is used to fund FolkWeek, so much so, that I contacted EDDC to inquire as to the level of this funding.

I was informed that EDDC makes no direct financial contribution to the Festival, nor has it done for several years, although the council does incur indirect costs through increased street cleaning, litter collection, etc. However, these costs would be incurred for any event held in the town.

May I suggest that, as D Johnson evidently finds FolkWeek so objectionable, he or she should consider taking a holiday elsewhere during the first week of August?

Joanna DeRemer 3 Woolbrook Close, Sidmouth

Perspective on the Folk Festival

SIR - In response to D Johnson's letter regarding FolkWeek. It is for one week out of 52, when people of all ages enjoy playing, singing and listening to music, grown men Morris Dance on the sea front with broad smiles on their faces, the majority of shops enjoy a brisk trade and the police tell us that the crime rate was down this year.

As Sidmouth residents, my friends and I were down in the town most days and evenings and saw a very different Folk Festival to D Johnson's and we certainly were never in fear.

May I suggest this person stays indoors for the festival next year, with all the windows and doors locked and ear plugs in and then the rest of us can enjoy the great atmosphere that FolkWeek brings.

Sally Stephens via email

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