Text from a newsletter distributed around Sidmouth during folk week 2004. Authors are: John Dowell (former Festival Director), Derek Schofield (author of the Festival History), Simon Spoerer (Great Western Morris) and Eddie Upton (Director of Folk South West). "The opinions stated are personal and do NOT necessarily represent the views of Sidmouth International Festival Ltd, or Mrs Casey Music."


This could be the last time...

On 7 May 2004, Sidmouth International Festival issued a press release saying that the 50th Festival 'will be the last one organised by the current management', and that 'the only way that the current management is prepared to consider a future is to secure sufficient underwriting'. Companies and individuals willing to assist in the underwriting were asked to contact the Festival.

Why was this decision made?

Sidmouth international Festival Ltd is a non-profit distributing company with two shareholders, Steve Heap and Richard Carver. The company contracts Mrs Casey Music to run the Festival. The Festival, as we know it, costs about 750,000 to put on - half a million pounds comes in advance (assuming ticket sales are maintained and other revenue sources continue). That leaves almost 250,000 to be raised during the week, and this must come mainly from Arena ticket sales. If it rains for only part of the week, then the income is not made but the costs stilt have to be paid. Who pays the loss? Not East Devon District Council (EDDC), nor local businesses, but the two shareholders or Sidmouth International Festival Ltd. Quite rightly, Steve and Richard are now saying that the personal risk is too great. Even in recent years, the Festival has not always covered its costs. and when that has happened, Mrs Casey Music has subsidised the Festival from its other activities.

Why has this decision been made now?

The Festival management has been grappling with this issue for several years. EDDC has known all about it for about three years. In Autumn 2003, they commissioned an independent review of the Festival. The report is confidential. Unofficial sources suggest that the review recommended that the financial basis of the Festival needed to be guaranteed, that EDDC should take a leading role working in partnership with Mrs Casey Music, and that EDDC should agree to underwrite the Festival. EDDC gives the Festival 60,000 a year plus various services. They won't guarantee this support beyond 2005. They have refused to underwrite the Festival. In the follow-up to the report, EDDC decided, in February, to set up a working party containing councillors and representatives of Mrs Casey Music, Folk South West, Wren, The Friends of Sidmouth Festival etc. So far, that working party has not been established.

So, has anyone offered financial support?

Suggestions were made that the 200,000 sum needed for underwriting could be raised by 200 people offering 1000 each. A number of individuals have offered 1000 each, and some people have offered larger sums. Most, if not all, of the offers came from folk enthusiasts up and down the country. The Chairman of the Sidmouth Chamber of Commerce Chris Taylor, as quoted in last week's Sidmouth Herald, thinks that businesses are being asked for 1000 each year, which is not true, and says they can't afford it. Can they afford not to contribute in some way to the Festival? Some discussions have taken place with other organisations, but nothing has materialised.

Public meeting (click for the full report)

Sidmouth Town Council organised a public meeting in June. Almost a hundred people attended the meeting, mainly townspeople, but also some folk enthusiasts from further afield, as well as several councillors (Town and EDDC), but few local businesses - if any - were represented. The audience overwhelmingly wanted the Festival to continue and felt that Mrs Casey Music was doing an excellent job. It was clear that EDDC wanted the Festival to continue as a down-sized event, concentrating mainly on the current 'fringe' event. The audience clearly did NOT want that alternative: they felt that the Festival should continue in a similar format and scale. EDDC appeared keen to harness the experience of several members of the audience, and Cllr Moulding (EDDC portfolio holder for leisure) stated that a working party meeting would be held in July, and that enthusiastic and festival-experienced audience members (15 people volunteered) would be invited to attend. So far the meeting has not taken place, and none of the people have been contacted.

So what is the current position?

Both Sidmouth International Festival Ltd and Mrs Casey Music have stated that they will not be involved in running a Festival in 2005. Sidmouth Town Council says that it wants to be 'thoroughly involved' in any decisions taken over the future of the Festival. Tony Reed (Chairman of the Town Council) was reported in the Western Morning News last week as saying that he was confident the Festival would be kept, but would be down-sized. 'It will probably have to grow again from more modest beginnings. There are people with experience in these matters who have offered help in keeping the Festival alive in Sidmouth. The working party will be exploring the way forward.'

 Which working party is this?
 Who are the members?
 The people who volunteered their experience in June do not appear to have been contacted. Is EDDC obtaining advice from someone else? If so who?
 Why do local councillors with no experience of folk music assume that they know what the folk movement will support in the future? ClIr Anne Liverton, Chairman of EDDC, announced at Saturday's 'A Sidmouth Welcome' and again at the unveiling of the Sidmouth Fiddler, that there would be a Festival in 2005. We welcome this positive message, but...
 Who will be running the 2005 Festival?
 Are they capable of running Britain's foremost and most prestigious folk festival to the very high quality that we have come to expect from Mrs Casey Music?
 Is EDDC really prepared to forgo the experience and expertise of Mrs Casey Music?
 Are EDDC and other public authorities willing to change their attitude towards the Festival: increasingly they seem to be interpreting rules and regulations inflexibly.

A Down-Sized festival

Which bits are EDDC going to cut out? The Arena? The Ham? The Children's Festival? Shooting Roots? The Festival Dance House? Song? Dance? Workshops? The Campsite? The Middle Bar Singers have said that come what may, they will be here next year. Perhaps someone will organise a few Morris teams to come and dance along the Esplanade. Perhaps the musicians will play in the Radway. Perhaps someone will organise some ceilidhs in the Anchor Gardens. Perhaps some dances will be held in one of the school or church halls. Who will co-ordinate this? Publicise it? Insure it? Provide PA? A campsite? Give quality assurance?

Is this the sort of Festival you want?

Why should Sidmouth Festival Continue?

 It is the country's leading folk arts event. It has been responsible for, or helped develop, many of the major initiatives in the folk arts for 50 years. It is nurturing and encouraging an interest in folk music by young people more successfully than any other festival.

 It has encouraged a pride in our own traditions and an appreciation of the traditions of other cultures, as well as promoting international peace and friendship. The international aspect of the Festival makes it unique amongst English festivals.

 The impact on the local business economy is considerable. Contrary to the view of the Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce Chris Taylor of C&C Electrical in the last Sidmouth Herald, it is NOT just the pubs and restaurants that are benefiting from the Festival. He thinks Fields does not benefit - one Festival regular spent 200 on clothes in there, and we know for sure that many other festival-goers spend money in the shop. Pub and restaurant staff will spend their income on a variety of items in the coming months - including electrical goods, perhaps even in C&C Electrical. The week before the Festival was quiet in the town, and on the Sunday, the sandwich and food shops were shut. It's a different story this week.

 The financial impact on the local community is also considerable. The Cricket Club earns about 4,000 from their Festival-week car park. The Rugby Club car park makes about 12,000. The Sailing Club's bar and burger stand benefit from the Festival. None of them are Festival Patrons. The town's Autumn and Christmas Carnivals both rely on the substantial sums of money from the Caribbean Night held on the Arena site on the Saturday after the Festival finishes, using the Festival's infrastructure.

 It enriches the life of the local community. It is the largest arts event in East Devon. A fifth of season tickets and over 50% of advance Arena tickets are sold to Devon residents. Comment on the Festival in recent issues of the Sidmouth Herald have included our favourite week of the year', 'hugely enjoyed by the town's young people', 'losing the Festival would be terrible'. The town appears to want the Festival, but does Sidmouth deserve the Festival?

An Alternative Future

Our concern is to see the Festival survive and be successful, but we are not in a position to organise the Festival in 2005. We think the best way forward is for EDDC to take over the responsibility for the 2005 Festival, and agree to accept the risk, contracting Mrs Casey Music to organise it obviously within an agreed budget. We would envisage EDDC setting up their own administrative structure to take over the organisation from Mrs Casey Music over a couple of years, with an advisory body consisting of predominantly local people with appropriate knowledge, experience and interest. The future funding of the Festival would be in the hands of EDDC, and it would therefore be up to them to seek sponsorship in whatever way they found appropriate.

The benefits of this approach are:  The people of East Devon would regain "ownership" of the Festival.  It would also retain its integrity with the audience.  The local economic, social and cultural benefits of the Festival would be maintained.

How Can I Help? What Can I do?

If you are a resident of East Devon:  Contact your local councillor and stress the value or the Festival to the local economy. to the arts in East Devon and beyond, and the way in which it enriches the quality of people's lives. Write to your local MP, Hugo Swire or Angela Browning, at the House of Commons with a similar message.

If you run a local business:  Have another look at your takings during Folk Week, in comparison with other weeks, and consider what would happen if there was no Festival.

It you are a Festival-goer from out of town:  Write to EDDC (David Pagett, Head of Leisure, EDDC, The Knowle, Sidmouth. EX1O 8HL) telling them what you think of the Festival and their plans to have a 'down-sized' fringe festival next year.  Also write to Cllr Anne Liverton (Chairman) and Cllr Andrew Moulding (Portfolio holder for Leisure) at the same address.  Also tell them all how much you spend in the town during the Festival.   Make sure local shops know that you are a Festival visitor.  Write to your local MP Write to Rt Hon Tessa Jowell, Secretary of State, Culture Media and Sport, 2-4 Cockspur St, London SW1Y 5DH. (a Festival goer at 134 Gilbert Rd, Cambridge, CB4 3PB has started a petition and has a standard letter on which you can base your own letter).

To Everyone: keep the dates free in your diary: 29 July - 5 August 2005.

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