Comments and opinions from folkies on the crisis facing the Sidmouth Festival.
The festival and local people
One day, the good folk of Broadstairs and Whitby will turn around and say, 'we don't want this festival invading our lovely town every year, it's always raining and they park all over the place' - where will the festivals go then?
Eileen and I were in Sidmouth last week and got into conversation with a local shopkeeper who happens to be a folkie. He said the locals have got fed up with the way the festival has gone. He told us stories of last year dance teams not being allowed to dance on the seafront, and of 'bouncers' being on the doors of marquees used by the foreign teams to practice, to stop people looking in. The only assumption one can make is that the mentality behind this is 'if you want to look, you can pay'.
He stressed that the Sidmouth residents love the festival, but hate the way it's being run at the moment. They'd like to see it return to way it was 10 or more years ago. If these stories are true, then the sooner the present organisers move on the better.
As a former local, who's been going back to work voluntarily at the festival for the last 10 years, I've seen a lot of people's points of view. Most locals with a brain know how vital the festival is to the town - it's a complete myth that they hate it. Yes, Sidmouth has a big retired community, and a few of them hate everything, but there are also a lot of normal fun-loving people, and of course a number of people who are healthily indifferent.
And as for the locals - having lived in seaside/tourist towns and heritage villages, I've discovered something - the people who complain most about 'tourists' and events messing up their town, are usually the people who retired there after a lifetime of being those very tourists!
I got drunk with the manager of a well known hostelry one year who was adamant that 50% of his income / trade was taken over the festival week!
I've been to Sidmouth only once. The thing I noticed when I was there is that the locals hate it (the Festival) and the letters in the local press are venomous in the extreme with ranting like 'why does the town have to put up with this each year !!' the assumption by some is that most of the money is spent on site and that the town does not benefit.
The amount of money that the festival brings in to the area is substantial but the direction in which it flows is not i.e., publicans, hotels, supermarkets have a bonanza but the detail of what they put into the festival or local economy is not readily available. The lack of transparency is not just due to sensitive commercial issues, which I think is understandable, but also due to the lack of quantifiable evidence.
Because the town is so accessible to ticket holders, the festival catering stalls don't have a captive market, so people aren't buying much food from them (the pubs, bakeries and Somerfields/Trumps, get all that potential income) - even half the drink consumed in the late night extra is bought from Lidl's. And of course you can't expect all those crowds of people soaking up the festival atmosphere in the town to pay, even if the organised side of the festival indirectly generated a lot of that atmosphere.
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