Sidmouth Folk Week: Uncertainty haunts the town council's 'Open Meeting' of 11 February 2005.

Ever since June 2004 there has been speculation about the artistes booked to appear in 2005. Claim and counterclaim led to suspicion that some of the organisers (especially Cllr Hughes) had been claiming that more had been agreed than was really the case. Several acts, including the Wurzels, were quietly dropped from subsequent publicity material. More are now being added.

Uncertainties about H&S and licensing issues have also been discussed on the internet. From the author's own experience, Steve Heap and his volunteer stewards adhered fairly strictly to H&S requirements - even to the extent of stewards apologising for being 'picky' about rules. One example was the Ham marquee, where for many years patrons sweltered in the heat because the Fire Officer had ruled that no openings were to be allowed on the eastern wall - lest in an emergency people stampeded out and over the wall into the river below. This was relaxed in 2004. Numbers attending LNE events were allowed to go 'over limit' on occasions according to some stewards - certainly there were many complaints that the LNE dance floor was so crowded at times as to be dangerous. Also, there has been concern for years about safety on the campsite.

As well as an increasing emphasis on H&S, the real problem for the organisers of 2005 may turn out to be selling enough advance tickets to by-now sceptical folkies - insufficient 'up-front' money may yet prove to be the downfall of several promised venues. The 5000 to be given by the Town Council is formally to support the children's events and may fund a marquee in Blackmore Gardens - which might (it is to be hoped) become the venue for at least some of the dancing. The events in the proposed Ham marquee are apparently 'secure' because funds are available.

Very little has yet been said about stewarding in 2005 - indeed there may still be few confirmed and experienced stewards - and proof of adequate stewarding arrangements may be a condition attached to licensing. One of the problems in the past (and at other festivals) was inadequate training given to stewards who were expected to supervise potentially dangerous exercises such as parking of cars and caravans in difficult site conditions.

The meeting of 11 February (see below) yielded some much needed clarity. Notes from the meeting are here.

Letter from the Town Clerk of Sidmouth Town Council to interested local residents, dated 3 February 2005.

OPEN MEETING - FUTURE OF FOLK FESTIVAL

You will recall that last year there was concern regarding the future of the Sidmouth Folk Festival and the Town Council took the unprecedented action of calling a Town Meeting at the Manor Pavilion.

You left your contact details at that meeting in order that the Town Council would be able to keep you informed of future plans.

Up until this time there has been very little to report, but now the two steering groups which were formed following the 2004 Festival are in a position to make a presentation on the events and activities planned for 2005 and the aspirations for the future.

We hope that you will be able to join us at the next open meeting at the Manor Pavilion which has been planned to commence at 7pm on Friday 11th February, 2005.

Yours sincerely,

TRINA JARRETT
TOWN CLERK

One reason for doubting the authenticity of what follows is that it is universal local practice to refer to East Devon District Council either by its full name or as 'EDDC' - rarely if ever as 'East Devon Council'.

From the mudcat website 6 Feb 2005 (authenticity in doubt).

From: GUEST,Council Officer Date: 06 Feb 05

I hesitate to intrude on this discussion but have been asked to comment on the points regarding a tented structure on the Ham.

No formal licence application for the Ham has been received so far by East Devon Council.

However officers are aware of proposals for concerts at the Ham and I believe there have been some informal discussions between interested parties and with representatives of the Town Council.

There were problems with licensing at the Ham last year and I believe the Council's insurance requirements were not met although concerts were still allowed to proceed in 2004.

Concerts will only be allowed in 2005 when all licensing conditions are met.

Anyone wishing to stage concerts at the Ham will need to obtain 15 million of Public Liability Insurance, employ a properly qualified Health & Safety Officer, provide the licensing authority with satisfactory Risk Management, Noise Management and overall Event Management plans, and satisfy all our other licensing conditions to ensure a safe and acceptable event.

Until those conditions are met and a licence is granted it is premature to talk about concerts at the Ham and advertise artists who are performing there.

I trust this clarifies the situation. For obvious reasons I cannot reveal my identity here but I would ask concert organisers to contact East Devon Council without delay to discuss the licensing situation and the need to submit a full and detailed licence application, site plan and other documentation.

and later the same day, after being challenged by a councillor from mid Bedfordshire,

From the mudcat website 6 Feb 2005 (authenticity again in doubt).

From: GUEST,Council Officer Date:  06 Feb 05

I am sorry if I have stirred-up some ill-feeling. I was asked to post here by a near-neighbour who told me of her concern about the suggestion that concerts at the Ham had already been approved.

I will not be posting here again but before leaving I will respond to comments from others by saying:

(a) In answer to cllr. I am certainly genuine. I hope you are too even though you cannot spell the word 'licensing' properly. If you are a cllr. in East Devon you will know of your need to declare a prejudicial interest and not vote in any council debate on licensing issues surrounding the Sidmouth concerts

(b) Last year's event went ahead despite a dispute over insurance cover. Organisers were informed just prior to the event that inadequate insurance cover was in place but they refused to pay for extra cover as required by East Devon Council. Effectively they defied the Council and officers such as myself have a responsibility not to let that happen again

(c) I am in no way connected with the writer Prize Pedant although I would echo his or her views. Health and Safety must be paramount at any event. If rules were broken in the past that is no excuse for them being broken again now. Local authority officers have a duty to protect the public and ensure their safety at outdoor events. Event organisers have the same duty. I would hope anyone attending such events welcomes moves to ensure their safety

I am not interested in the debate on whether the Sidmouth festival should take place this year and if so in what form. I am not here to undermine the organisers of any event. My job is solely to ensure events are properly licensed with the required insurance in place and all health & safety issues properly addressed.

I hope anyone attending events in Sidmouth this year will recognise the importance of my role in ensuring your safety.


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