Sidmouth Folk Week 2005 : Notes from the open meeting of 11 February 2005 organised by Sidmouth Town Council.

The meeting was hosted by Sidmouth Town Council in the person of Councillor Reed.

Principal speakers were Eddie Upton (from Folk South West based in Somerset), Tim Shardlow (solicitor, based in Sidmouth), and Gordon Newton (who lives in Kent but has a second home in nearby Colyton). The 'local' credentials of all the organisers were stressed, presumably in an attempt to counter local disquiet that Steve Heap was an 'outsider'. Other speakers were Mark Seward (local hotelier) and Jean Salt from the Sidmouth Steppers.

The meeting was filmed by Tony Day and a full record may become available.

The meeting started with Cllr Reed suggesting that 2005 could be the phoenix rising from the ashes. Eddie Upton suggested that "The King is dead, long live the King" could be modified to become "Sidmouth Festival is dead, long live Sidmouth Folk Week". Unfortunately, Eddie Upton had to give his presentation from notes because the hi-tech computerised slide show could not be made to work. His key points were:

2004 had demonstrated the world-wide reputation of the festival, which was in effect many different festivals but under one administrative umbrella.

The scale of children's events was almost unique to Sidmouth and must be continued.

The main reasons for the success of the festival were the town (the location and all it had to offer), the quality of organisation (a tribute to Steve Heap), and local authority support (perhaps a dig at EDDC!).

EDDC had 'pulled the plug' in late Sept 2004. Mr Upton was polite enough not to remind everyone that EDDC had in all probability decided to do this some time previously.

The need for folk week in 2005 to be 'owned' by the town and local people was stressed - but this is unlikely to make much difference to the many people in the town who detest anyone enjoying themselves.

Tim Shardlow (solicitor) then presented the bare bones of how the festival in 2006 was likely to be organised - it was the usual model of a company limited by guarantee, directors liability set at 1, set up as a charity with a demonstrable element of public benefit (educational value?) so as to comply with the requirements of the forthcoming new Charities Act. No individual member of the company would be permitted to make a profit out of his/her participation in the Company. Other festivals have run on this model for years - quite why setting up Sidmouth on the same model is taking so long I know not!!

It was suggested that the proposed bank account for 2006 and onwards might soon be operational and could be used to receive money for 2005 - giving a feeling of some security for people buying tickets.

Gordon Newton then outlined in some detail how he proposed to organise the Ham events. He said he counted himself as a 'partial resident' having a second home in Colyton (East Devon). He is a principal organiser of the Rochester Festival that attracts 300,000 people over 3 days. He runs this event very much as a three-way partnership between Medway Council and the town's traders. (Not much hope for Sidmouth then?!) The Faversham festival apparently also works on the same model. Steve Heap tried for years to gain support from traders in Sidmouth but never succeeded to the extent that he thought was desirable and/or equitable.

Gordon Newton envisaged a 50 m by 25 m marquee on the Ham to accommodate 800 + persons. Contracts were likely to be finalised by the end of February. Any profits will go towards Sidmouth 2006. There was some discussion of dance events in the Ham marquee also - maybe free in the afternoons.

Mark Seward outlined a series of folk-oriented events to be held at Dukes (previously the Marlborough) and as a showcase for local folk talent. There would be some amateur folk bands in the evenings.

The social dances were being organised under an 'odd arrangement' (see folk47.htm). Ceilidh dancing was confirmed as planned for Salcombe Regis, at the Anchor (as usual) and maybe at another venue in town (Blackmore?).

It was envisaged that workshops would be available in 2005 to anyone wishing to attend and with no need to but either a season ticket or a book of workshop tickets. Sandra Kerr was mentioned as the much-praised leader of the Sidmouth Choir - where again anyone could join in. A large number of visiting Morris and folk teams were being booked to provide entertainment along the Esplanade - with all or many receiving no payment.

More severe steps were to be taken to try and deal with the 'hangers on' who sold beads and hair wraps along the Esplanade. However, a too-heavy approach could detract from the festival atmosphere.

Events for children had the support of Sidmouth Town Council and would be organised by Folk South West. Students from Newcastle University would be running some of the workshops. FSW were registered with the CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) to vet people who wanted to work with children.

A venue was being sought for local craft people to display and sell their wares. Poetry reading was mentioned as an added attraction for 2005........

QUESTION AND ANSWER SESSION.

This was unfortunately marred by several people who (apparently) cannot tell the difference between constructive suggestions and negative criticism. The SeeRed website was criticised for being 'negative' - a ridiculous assertion except perhaps by people who want a lot of the past to be quietly forgotten. The exchange is recorded here.

A Sidmouth resident questioned who was in overall charge - Eddie Upton had mentioned that the success of 2004 was very much owing to all the different events being under one umbrella.

I questioned the way the 2005 week had been structured as a number of individual cost centres - this surely means that if a few fall by the wayside there could be problems obtaining refunds on tickets for events that failed to materialise. I asked what refund arrangements (if any) would be in place because this could give families who were proposing to spend several hundreds of pounds in advance some greater confidence  - and more 'up-front' money would surely be of great help to the organisers.

It was stated that tickets would not go on sale until May and that if an event didn't happen there would be refunds. But it was not quite clear where from!

Sidmouth College (previously the main venue for the social dances) was stated to be 'not suitable for public events' because of a ruling by the Fire Officer. A member of the audience asked why it was considered safe enough for children!

There might not be food outlets at the Ham (to give local town traders more business?) and Gordon Newton intended to put the bar at the Ham out to tender.

The reason why dancing was not planned for marquees on Blackmore and Church House Lawn was stated by Eddie Upton to be simply a matter of lack of 'up-front' money. (What have I been saying for the past six months?)

Membership of the new Supporters Club would enable a 10% discount to be obtained off most if not all tickets for 2005 with the exception of Ray Goodswen's social dancing - Tony Day confirmed that Ray had said 'NO'. This did not go down well.

Little more may become clear before May 2005 when tickets finally go on sale.


My final impression of the Q&A session was of a great deal of enthusiasm. The organisers showed great willingness to answer questions (both in the formal session and afterwards). If we could start again from August 2004 and if even a small amount of 'up-front' money were to have been made available at that time, the task of the organisers would have been much easier. A more cohesive festival (folk week) in 2005 might have been possible.

The goodwill of many people was very much in evidence, and the organisers were praised for their efforts to date. The fact that many 'small' people would be losing money by coming to perform for free was mentioned several times. The profits to be made by (for example) local landowners and businesses and the Rugby and Cricket Clubs were not mentioned. Also, there was no mention of any of these profits being given in whole or in part to the fund for 2006. If there was any intention for the 'well to do' people of Sidmouth who for years have profited from the festival to give something back this year, the opportunity to publicise the fact was lost.


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