"Arena plans for festival week" - adapted in part from the Sidmouth Herald of 10 Sept 2004.

Please notify any errors on this page. EDDC were invited to comment. No reply has been received.


As already reported, the councillors behind the sidmouthfestival.org website have applied to East Devon District Council (EDDC) to stage several concerts at the Knowle arena during 'festival week' 2005. They are both councillors on EDDC.

The original contact point on their website for people wanting to be stewards was Nick Stephen - an official employed by EDDC as 'communications officer' (a post usually known as Press Officer). After a few days this was changed to an anonymous email address (stewards@sidmouthfestival.org).

At the very earliest stages of sidmouthfestival.org therefore, it seems the site and its 'political' backers had the support of officials at EDDC - yet is it not EDDC who have to issue any Public Entertainment Licences?

The use of the name 'sidmouthfestival' to front what are essentially non-folk concerts has already caused some friction and confusion within Sidmouth - and not only because of the potential problems of attracting two dissimilar groups of people to the town for the same period of time.

Councillor Stuart Hughes has now indicated he would like to invite (amongst others) The Strawbs, Show of Hands, Jethro Tull, Peter Sarstedt, Kieren Halpin, Bernard Wrigley and Chas and Dave.

He envisages camping arrangements being put in place (alongside folkie camping?), profits would go to 'local organisations taking part' (including those he is associated with, such as local carnivals?) and he envisages that there would be no conflict with 'folk events' during the same week.

Mr Hughes states that he has 30 years experience organising music events, and is keen to obtain council approval as soon as possible - from those groups of EDDC officials and fellow councillors with whom he has little or no connection?

It is interesting to analyse the potential profits from these events: concerts held in the arena as part of the Sidmouth International Festival raised about 250,000 in good years, and far less in wet weather. The uncertainty owing to weather was a major factor behind the decision by Mrs Casey's Music to pull out of supporting the Sidmouth Festival in poor years.

It is important to note that whilst arena events will almost always make a profit (especially if the ground is given rent free) and sometimes a very large profit, the actual guaranteed return was insufficient to subsidise all the other events at International Festivals. Therefore whilst 'arena -only' enterprises are low risk and may return a handsome profit, use of the arena during all of 'folk week' could only guarantee (say) 50,000 in ticket sales whereas 250,000 was needed to cover all costs of the Festival. The potential shortfall of 200,000 was the wet-weather contingency fund sought by Steve Heap.

The capacity of the arena is around 5000 persons which at 10 per ticket (say) equates to 50,000 gross per concert. Assuming ten good concerts during the week the potential is for up to 500,000 gross income. Stage costs might be 10,000 or more (a complete guess on my part at the time this webpage was first published). Apparently a full 'international festival quality' arena can cost as much as 40,000 in infrastructure. Each act might cost a few thousand pounds also. If stewarding, policing, health care cover etc cost 10,000 the rest would be profit - less any tax that might be paid.

That the arena could generate such profits would be no surprise to anyone who has studied the Sidmouth Festival finances - but profits from these arena events were ploughed back into subsidising the many folk activities in the town that added to the whole of the festival atmosphere but that would not be financially viable by themselves. Taking out just the 'arena' and treating it as a separate event or series of events is 'cherry picking'.

It is the opinion of many people in Sidmouth who support 'folk week' that any profits generated by events held in that week should be ploughed back to support future folk festivals. A series of 'pop' or 'pop and rock' concerts organised by the Caribbean Night committee (which effectively consists of Councillor Stuart Hughes and some friends and colleagues) might not be seen as an appropriate addition to genuine 'fringe folk' events for 2005.

The present position is that there are at least three websites giving information on folk events in Sidmouth for 2005/6:

1.  This website (SeeRed) offers impartial information and the full local history of how the Sidmouth Festival came to crisis point. It aims to offer also the latest information from Sidmouth on events planned for 2005/2006. The author has no financial involvement with EDDC, Sidmouth Carnivals or the Caribbean Night.

2.  The sidmouthfestival.org website is run by Councillor Hughes. It is discussed here. Councillor Hughes is a controlling figure in EDDC, Sidmouth Carnivals and Caribbean Night.

3.  As of early September 2004, East Devon District Council have added a section to their website (click on Sidmouth Festival - one of the quick links from the home page) or try this direct link: www.eastdevon.gov.uk/index/community/leisure/sidmouth_international_festival_news.htm

The EDDC site includes a couple of Press releases detailing their efforts to host a 2006 festival. There is now a contact form where people can leave their personal details (again apparently for the attention of Nick Stephen of EDDC) if they are interested in 2005 and 2006 events. However, it has been made clear that the contact form on the EDDC website is indeed a joint exercise between EDDC and the group of 'folk' organisations who are hoping to organise 2006. 

It remains unclear whether personal details divulged to the EDDC website are being handled together with those submitted to the sidmouthfestival.org website.

The EDDC website states

events are being planned for Folk Week 2005 which will be a week of fringe events, not a full Festival. Details will be posted on this (EDDC) website as they become available.

It is unclear if these include the arena events proposed by Councillor Hughes.

The festival fringe organisers led by Bill Lankester in Sidmouth are also inviting expressions of support for 2005 to their email address - details on this page. Bill is helping to organise ONLY 2005 fringe events, so if you are interested in 2005, leave your details with Bill Lankester AND on the EDDC website until responsibilities become clearer.


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