Sidmouth FolkWeek 2012 - the need for contingency planning and more local B&B accommodation.

It has already been noted that Sidmouth FolkWeek had a narrow escape in 2012. Had the unseasonable weather of June 2012 occurred a week or more later, the official campsite might have been largely unusable because it is so badly affected by weeks of rain. This should lead to a discussion of having a 'reserve' of alternative camp and motor home locations in and around Sidmouth. These could include a hundred or more private driveways and gardens, ideally with some hard standing and each able to accommodate even one or two families.

A quite separate requirement might be more B&B accommodation being made available especially for use by dancers who might be tempted to try the new Stowford Rise dance venue. There is certainly no shortage of potential dancers - over a hundred who live within 30 or 40 miles do not attend FolkWeek at all, yet might be tempted to do so by a package of local accommodation, evening dance tickets and the prospect of a few days by the seaside with lots of free town centre entertainment thrown in.

There would seem to be scope for the following:

A list of private houses able to accommodate 'well behaved' social dancers in B&B type accommodation for a few nights during FolkWeek.

A list of people willing to offer their gardens or driveways either routinely or in extremely bad weather to accommodate campers, caravans or motor homes.

Whilst the houses immediately around Stowford Rise are generally small and therefore unsuitable for comfortable B&B, many in Woolbrook and Primley areas are large and have spare capacity.

Prime requirements for caravans are easy access from a quiet road and a flat site. Motor homes are more forgiving, but many require a flat site also - simply because absorption cycle refrigerators of the type most often found in motor homes will work properly only if level. Many gardens in the Primley area of Sidmouth would be suitable because they are largely flat. A few residents near the town centre do now offer tent space in their gardens (and access to showers and breakfast in the house) and the same campers return year after year. Yet this is rare and maybe should be organised and encouraged. Of course, the EDDC car parks of Sidmouth could be used as a last resort but this would be breaking rather more rules than are routinely broken already.

There may be insurance problems, especially if householders were to offer electrical hook-up to motor homes and charge for space in their gardens. The camp in my garden website is rather vague on these issues - so maybe insurance underwriters need to be prompted to look at their small print and allow what seems to be an increasingly popular idea. Many people also now routinely rent out their driveways for commuter parking - again this is an occasional (or regular) commercial venture undertaken on private residential land and maybe not covered by domestic insurance policies.

More generally, the lack within Sidmouth of much 'resident involvement' may be a fault of the FolkWeek management. For years they have promoted a 'volunteer network' of people willing to help the festival but when I (and others) have variously offered to help no response has been received. The view 'from the inside' is that there is too much control from the top and not enough delegation.

Inadequate promotion of the new social dance venue at Stowford Rise in 2012 illustrates the extent that local people (and especially local dancers) could help FolkWeek if allowed to do so. We could (for example) have undertaken all the necessary publicity for the Stowford Rise venue, produced sensible maps, summarised bus timetables and added local knowledge into a small information pack or an extra page in the working programme that would have told festival dancers everything they needed to know. But (typically) no-one was invited to do so, the management believing (as they always do in 'vertically managed' organisations) that they knew best and had to control everything. In the case of FolkWeek they manifestly don't have the time and/or abilities to do what is needed. So it was left to locally based volunteer stewards to scurry around in the opening days of FolkWeek organising what should have been done months previously - including putting up a few signs directing drivers to the venue.

Consider also the recurring problems at the Blackmore Gardens marquee. Year after year the same problems occur - dance floors covered in staples (previously used to hold down carpet) and a lack of stewards to effectively operate the venue. If removing all staples from the floor is too much for the present management to organise, surely a couple of local people could easily do the work in a few hours - in return maybe for an event ticket or two. Just as there is disquiet (if not resentment) about the lack of local bands and callers invited to Sidmouth events, so the number of local people who really get involved throughout the year to help the present management team remains very small - and one needs to ask why.

FolkWeek now employs 'professional' steward managers under Sue Torrens (link) and an events manager John Radford (link) and on commercial terms - yet the same problems persist.

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