Crisis meeting to save the festival: report in the Sidmouth Herald 6 August 2004

A MEETING between district council representatives and festival officials is taking place this morning (Friday) to discuss the future of Sidmouth International Festival.

Councillor Andrew Moulding, portfolio holder for leisure for East Devon District Council, and David Pagett, the council's head of leisure and lifestyle, are meeting Eddie Upton, director of Folk South West, and a representative from WREN Trust to try to ensure this year's festival is not the last.

EDDC says it has already pledged grant aid to next year's event to the tune of just over 60,000 and is now consulting with professional organisations that represent folk arts in the South West in the hope of putting together a rescue package for the festival.

A spokesman said: "This is the final day of the 50th Sidmouth Festival, whose current organisers say they cannot continue to run it without significant financial underwriting to guard against wet-weather losses.

"It is acknowledged that the festival may have to be significantly different in scale and scope from this year's event, but the council is keen to show support for the event."

Councillors have attended various launch functions and concerts to give support publicly to the event. "Whilst the council has no statutory duty to organise events such as this, it recognises the significance of the festival to both the commercial and cultural prosperity of the town and surrounding district - and especially its importance with regard to direct and indirect tourism.

"It is therefore more than happy to consider supporting the event with grant aid and facilities, whilst allowing others to find a way forward with the festival's future shape and structure."

Councillor Moulding, who will head up the consultation exercise, said: 'We appreciate the superb job done by current director Steve Heap and his team over the years, which has taken the event to new heights.

"The festival is an important part of the cultural calendar in East Devon and we are determined not to stand by and see it die. "However, as a responsible local authority, we have a duty to our council tax payers to spend their money wisely and so we want to ensure that our grant aid and other support is enabling the experts in their field to provide a worthwhile and commercially viable festival."

At her welcome speech at the start of the week, EDDC chairman, Councillor Ann Liverton said: "Sidmouth is the oldest and longest running festival in the country. It has become a hugely successful exchange of cultural activity where thousands of people come together with a common purpose.

"In 1955 the Festival attracted about 100 people and the fees were 4 for a double, 2 10 shillings for a single man and 2 for a girl. Three local councillors, Alan Gibber Ted Pinney and Frank Lock, saw the potential for such a continuing event and the long involvement of first Sidmouth Urban District Council and, latterly, East Devon District Council began.

"From local enthusiastic groups dancing in Connaught Gardens, on the Ham, in the Manor Pavilion and the Guide Hut, the festival has grown into an international celebration of folk art, incorporating music, song and theatre as well as dance and performing all over the town and in many venues."

In 1987 the English Folk, Dance and Song Society withdrew from organising the festival and a rescue package was put together, approved, and partly funded by the District Council.

She said: "Steve Heap's long and distinguished commitment to this festival began at this stage. Along with many others, he ensured that the festival has become what is today."

Of the future, she said there was tremendous "will and enthusiasm" to keep the festival alive and successful in Sidmouth.

"It would be a tragedy if such a joyful, positive and splendid event were to be lost."

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