An influential letter from the Sidmouth Herald of 11 June 2004.

It highlights and echoes a widespread feeling in Sidmouth that Steve Heap has made too much of complaining about lack of support from local businesses. Granted that many rich people in Sidmouth are mean spirited (as are so many elsewhere) but they need to be viewed as an irrelevance. The Festival should surely be organised so as to be able to support itself. The other valid point is that the genuine net financial benefit to the town is probably far less than Mr Heap (or EDDC) supposes.


Festival: begging bowl mentality gone mad.

I write with great concern as part of the continuing debate about the future of the Sidmouth Folk Festival and the way that the fact it is destined to be abandoned by its organisers after 2004 is being reported in my profession's newspaper, The Stage.

I have the privilege of having had the stewardship of the Manor Pavilion Theatre for its Summer Play Festival for the past 18 years and during that time have been proud to think that our cherished Regency resort was home to both the last bastion of repertory theatre but also, and long before I arrived, the International Folk Festival.

Both Mr Heap and I are commercial operators in the world of entertainment and I am confident that he, like me, is proud of the role we play in the successful tourism policy of which East Devon District Council can be proud. Without any sense of rancour but for clarity let me make it clear that my company neither seeks nor receives any form of subsidy from the local authority and indeed is pleased to pay a commercial rental for the Manor Pavilion Theatre each year in the knowledge that we we able to maintain its viability by the success of our programme each year. Our only financial 'support' is from our sponsorship from your newspaper for our season ticket scheme and from the enthusiasm of local business and professional enterprise who advertise in our programme.

I bear no resentment to the fact that year after year we learn that because of weather conditions on the one part and other economic crises on the other EDDC is called upon to provide fairly substantial grant aid to bale out the folk festival when it results in a considerable deficit. I am aware that to mount such an international exercise is a major investment but one I believe that it should be self-financing from the income derived.

Every year for the past 18 years, without a murmur, my company vacates the Manor Pavilion at the height of our season, on the second night of a production, to make way for the all dominant folk festival which traditionally takes over the theatre as yet another venue. This causes a major upset in the momentum of the theatre season but each year I have happily conceded that we should work for the benefit of the whole community by uprooting our company and closing our doors to the theatre-going public for that one week.

All of this I can happily live with for the good of Sidmouth and its tourism in which we all try to play our part. But I fear that a major headline in my professional journal two weeks ago shattered any illusions I may have had about the attitudes of the directors of the folk festival to the people of Sidmouth - and in particular the business community. That major headline read:

CASH SHORTAGE SEALS FATE OF SIDMOUTH FOLK FESTIVAL EVENT.
DIRECTOR BLAMES BUSINESS APATHY.

I quote from Mr Heap's verbatim statements "Despite businesses and the arts community being warned five years ago that the event could not carry on without support, none has been forthcoming."

It gets worse! "It breaks my heart to be in this position" writes Mr Heap to the nation "we are being ripped off by local business, which are making a packet. The town is absolutely stuffed full of people during the week. When we said five years ago this was the situation, they didn't believe us - but now it is happening."

He claims the festival contributes over 5 million to the local economy and admits that he receives funding from EDDC but that unless local business comes forward with 200,000 by October 3l this year, this year will be the last.

I suspect, from discussions I have ha over the years with many business people in the town, that the majority of them do not find the festival to be the financial bonanza which Mr Heap suggests. Personally I do believe that the folk festival plays a major role in bringing thousands of a certain type of visitor to the town but I suspect that apart from eateries and certain bed and breakfast establishments, there are few shops or professional organisations which derive income from their presence.

There will be those who will accuse me of wishing to bid farewell to the folk festival on the premise that I would recover the missing week from my three month theatre season. THAT IS NOT WHERE I COME FROM! I genuinely support the ethos of playing host to such a major international event - but not I fear when it appears incapable of survival without massive financial input from a very cash-strapped business community.

Remember his published words "We are being ripped off by local businesses." To me that is the begging bowl mentality gone mad.

CHARLES VANCE
Producer
Summer Play Festival
Manor Pavilion Theatre
Sidmouth


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