Sidmouth Folk Week 2016: tickets change once again - and marquee costs!

add photos later....

One of the most significant changes for 2016 for the Sidmouth ticket structure was the introduction of the so-called BiO (Bulverton in One) ticket for young people. It offered an inexpensive route to all events at the Bulverton and also free camping - a significant change from previous years.

This represented another attempt to ensure that the expensive Bulverton venue was more used in the daytime. In previous years it has been largely deserted during daytime, being mostly used for evening and late night 'thrash around' dancing for youngsters. The Bulverton is an expensive venue to construct - probably second only to the Ham Marquee. The BiO tickets are in effect subsidised by older attendees. Subsidy of the Bulverton continues a theme from 2010.

Camping prices were reduced by around 10% for 2016 also and there were new arrangements for people who wanted to camp yet not buy festival tickets - so called NT or No Ticket camping prices. This replaced the 'camping passport' arrangements of previous years. A helpful pdf accompanied the tickets webpage to explain it all!

The 2016 webpage is here for historical reference.

These arrangements, if continued, are likely to see the festival split even more into two halves:

In the past (as at many other festivals) the late night (LNE) events have been open to season ticket holders only - whereas at Sidmouth the policy is now to allow anyone to buy a ticket for 14. This system has been tried and abandoned at other festivals owing to the 'rowdy' element that it introduced to late night dances/ceilidhs - and dancing at Bulverton is already so chaotic that many people (including many good dancers) simply stay away.

The Blackmore Gardens marquee was as popular as ever - and if space were available might be made even larger. The overall size was (as in past years) 12 by 30 metres giving a usable dance area of around 11 by 22 metres now that the floor had been extended to cover all of the marquee. In 2015 an extra section was added when repairs were undertaken, such was the overcrowding on a smaller floor! With 240 m2 available, around 240 dancers could be accommodated - I was told that numbers for the morning workshops peaked at around 220.

The overall cost of the Blackmore Gardens marquee was given to me at 20/m2 but with flooring nearer to 40/m2, implying a cost of around 15,000 + VAT. The much larger Bulverton marquee which includes glazed areas and guttering was quoted at around 50,000 for the week. These marquees are expensive structures!

Dismantling of the Ham was completed inside a day but using a high-reach forklift truck, 14 men and a few spanners. The marquees are quicker to take down than to erect, so allowing 3 days work for 14 men at (say) 20 per hour gives a basic labour cost of 6720. This year they had good weather both for erection and dismantling.

Although the Sidmouth marquees are amongst the largest at any UK folk festival, many agricultural shows require an even greater investment. Small marquees are not expensive - but the large highly engineered structures used at Sidmouth are both expensive to buy and (therefore) to hire.

There is only one way to increase the size of the Blackmore Gardens marquee without cutting down some trees - site the marquee in the open area near to the conservatory. This would involve a redesign of the whole area but if combined with a more 'open' approach to the dancing (as used to be the case decades ago) a slightly larger marquee could be accommodated with far better ventilation and with the dancing being much more on display.

It is a central sadness of high quality folk dance in the UK that so few people realise how much fun it can be (and great value adjudged via fun per unit cost) because they never really get the opportunity to watch it. Imagine 200 or 250 good folk dancers under a huge marquee with largely open sides, a lovely sunny day and hundreds of people watching through wire mesh barricades. Maybe one day...... The problems include greater noise transmission (the current location is quite sheltered), more problems in wet weather, using the prime 'sitting out' area for a marquee, etc.

The organisers are (so I was told) thinking of some type of swimming pool lockers to get dancers to leave their bags somewhere other than around the edge of the dance floor - that probably wouldn't work - dancers need their towels, water bottles, changes of shoes, cameras, etc to be close by and need to keep an eye on their belongings at all times. So either some trees need to go or the marquee may stay much as it is.

In the space of a couple of years - coinciding with Gareth Kiddier's organising of the social dance at Sidmouth - it has moved from being poorly patronised to full to capacity - quite an achievement. Major factors here have been the good-value morning workshops in Blackmore Gardens (and in the Methodist Hall also) and the greater acceptance of Stowford Rise as a superb albeit rather inconveniently located dance venue. Acceptance of Stowford Rise was maybe inevitable - it just took time.

More dance 'anecdotes' are available here.

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