Letter of support for Sidmouth Festival and for Steve Heap - from the Sidmouth Herald of 10 Sept 2004.

Mr Heap doesn't deserve criticism.

My family and I have recently returned home after another lovely ten days at Sidmouth International Festival, which gets better every year. We have been attending the festival for over fifteen years, and it is an important landmark in our annual calendar.

Each year I find the finale of the final Arena show a very emotional experience and was enriched and culturally uplifted by the unparalleled diversity of what Sidmouth Festival puts on. Indeed, the differences and diversity have seemed to bring us together rather than segregate as and I have left optimistic that this was a genuine contribution to international understanding and goodwill.

This year, my emotions were different. The lump in the throat was because of sadness that what we have here at Sidmouth - we as festival-goers and you as townspeople - could well be lost. Few could fail to have been moved by the evident emotional strain which Steve Heap kept at bay as he gave his valedictory remarks. I'm sure it was as clear to Sidmouth residents who were there, that he - like us - loves this festival and loves this town. He certainly does not deserve the snide criticisms which come from a minority of your correspondents in the letters page year after year.

To the small number of your readers who don't seem to want the festival, I will say this: We come here because we like it, and are familiar with the town. Each year we spend more money in the town than at the festival venues; we've spent money on shoes, clothes, swimming, petrol, postcards, jewellery, bicycle and car parts and repairs, as well as food; (butchers, bakers, supermarkets, pubs, takeaways, cafes, ice-cream shops have all benefited). Okay, I don't come to buy a fridge or wallpaper but, without the festival, our money would not go into your local economy.

Beyond East Devon, the word Sidmouth stands for an unparalleled, diverse, very well organised, internationally acclaimed, culturally significant festival. Participate in it, rejoice in it, be proud that it is part of your town.

Thanks to Sidmouth Festival, my ten-year-old daughter wants to spend three hours every morning at workshops playing the violin, dancing Appalachian clog or Irish stepping. Not watching television but being active, culturally, physically and socially.

It was fantastic to see hundreds of young people, aged 14 to 25, getting their enjoyment at the Late Night Extra events 'barn dancing' to traditional English music played by acoustic bands. If the festival returns, take advantage of the concessionary rates for local residents, attend these events and see for yourselves if you haven't already.

125 Stanford Cottages
Dorset SP7 9AT

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