Sidmouth Folk Festival 2005 - is it really all about money?

Many people planning to attend the fringe festival in 2005 believe that it is being held not only to keep the "spirit of Sidmouth" alive but to provide financial support for 2006 and beyond. This ideal seems unlikely to be realised, despite that many guest callers (etc) have offered to work for little or nothing.

The following analysis of Sidmouth 2005 will be updated as data becomes available. An analysis of the International Festival was produced for EDDC during 2004 but has still not been published, despite assurances given at the public meeting in June 2004.

Basic financial information on running the International Festival is available. An outline of possible gross profits from the arena is also available but these figures are necessarily sketchy - net profits will depend heavily on how much of the supporting infrastructure, volunteer labour, health and safety personnel etc are provided 'free of charge'. Some visiting artistes/groups are rumoured to be willing to appear free of charge in 2005 to help keep Sidmouth 'alive'. This is in itself a compelling reason for both local people and fringe organisers to be transparent about their profits. Some dance callers and bands are willing to 'donate' their services - more here.

Initially, it was envisaged that the 2005 fringe festival might be little more than a few musicians along the seafront, pub sessions and ceilidhs, some singing with the Festival Choir, social dances, and maybe some impromptu dancing on the Ham or in the Knowle arena. It is now growing into a potential money spinner - but where will the profits go?

Arena concerts

The major potential for profit is in the arena - there could be a gross income of up to 500,000 but 250,000 is more likely as a realisable maximum. Special considerations apply to how the accounts for the arena should be presented and made available for scrutiny because the events are being organised by a senior councillor. It is not enough merely to state on his website that "any profits will be devoted to supporting 2006". All income and outgoings should be properly audited and published.

In late December 2004 the idea of holding concerts at the arena was abandoned. The reason given was that 'the financial risks were too great' but in reality too much money might have had to be found 'up-front' by organisers who did not possess industry credibility. It would have been difficult not to make a profit from a few well attended concerts, but no-one is sure how many people will come to Sidmouth in 2005 - let alone how many will stay all week.

Dance tickets

The Sidfolk dance and workshop sessions being organised by Ray Goodswen have an easily calculated maximum gross income - tickets are 90 each (for the week) and it has been stated that only 300 will be sold. Some day tickets are also available. A total of 30,000 may therefore be realisable - far less than could be taken by one sell-out arena concert. The tickets are being sold nine months in advance giving interest payments of around 1500. The events seem to be an 'independent' venture. Sidfolk is stated to be:

"established as a trading subsidiary of my (Ray Goodswen's) business for ease of establishing banking facilities and so that it could trade as a separate entity but also so that my business would fund the initial costs involved in getting the venture off the ground."

Also

"all I am doing is going back to where we started and holding a dance festival in Sidmouth in the first week in August"

As of January 2005 I was still trying to convince the the festival steering committee how much better it would be to move the dancing into the town centre and to use some of the money to pay for a marquee in Blackmore Gardens. The whole organisation from June 2004 to January 2005 has been bedevilled by the notion of every event having to be a self supporting venture. A pooling of resources could have produced a much better business model.

Email exchanges of March 2005 with Ray Goodswen are on folk47b

Car Parking

During full International Festival weeks, many cars remain on the main campsite field. The large field near to the arena used for casual parking is utilised both by folkies and by day visitors. The smaller in-town car parks operated by Sidmouth rugby and cricket clubs have reputedly made 15,000+ annually whilst giving nothing back to the festival. This was discussed at the town meeting. More recently I have been told that the Rugby club do give something back.

These private car parks are likely to be fully in use during 2005 and there remains a question of provision for evening arena concert visitors if the main field is not to be utilised. A daily charge there of (say) 4 per car might yield up to 4000 or 24,000 for the week. It is important to recognise that these incomes are not made 'by the town' for the benefit of taxpayers but by a few groups or landowners. This point has been discussed on an earlier page.

Camping

The main festival campsite fields are owned by a Mr Baker who lives in Bickwell Valley (on the 'favoured' western side of Sidmouth). Given that 2005 is to help the festival keep alive he might have offered the fields free of charge to the interim organisers. I do not know if this happened - but it would have been a nice gesture.

Camping for 2005 was originally planned to be on at least two smaller sites. Tickets are now available. Profits may go entirely to the owners of the fields, or some may be given as a gesture of goodwill towards the festival. Another way of doing this would simply be to make only a modest charge for camping. The main (Bulverton) site is being brought back into (limited) use. The owner of the Salcombe Regis site may be taking something of a financial gamble organising the LNE venue.

Late Night Extra (LNE)

No details available yet - tickets not on sale until May 2005. See the 'official' leaflet and website for intended bands, etc. As of February 2005 the organisers are not guaranteeing that each or any of the bands mentioned will be playing. The final programme is unlikely before May 2005. May be subject to change when numbers attending become clearer.

The Ham

Funding arrangements are apparently assured via Gordon Newton who is a key player in the Rochester festival that apparently attracts 300,000 people over three days! The 50 m by 25 m Ham marquee in Sidmouth is intended for concerts (seating 800+) and possibly some dancing and other events. Any profits will go towards helping Sidmouth 2006.

Overall therefore, the gross income from even a fringe festival could have been around 300,000 including successful arena events. This contrasts with the figure of 750,000 which is the known cost of running a full International Festival and which (in good years) was recovered in total income. The International Festival included many 'non profit making' sidelines which added immensely to the artistic quality and overall appeal of the week. Many will be absent from 2005 - although the proposed programme is growing.

However, it seems clear that sufficient funds should be realisable to pay for a decent level of infrastructure - including marquees in town for the dancing instead of relegating it to outlying residential areas where it will be inconvenient, add nothing to the town centre ambience and (maybe) will be unwelcome because of the local car parking and noise problems. The organiser(s) have been encouraged to think again!

What has been sadly lacking is central organisation - and maybe a willingness to share profits for the common good.

How much of all the profits will really be going to support 2006 and beyond?

Who (if anyone) will be accounting for all the various income streams?

Where will net profits be held pending any decision to stage a full International Festival in 2006?

The meeting of 11 February provided a few answers!


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