Sidmouth Folk Week: Problems at the Bulverton campsite - is it time this was properly managed?

There will always be a conflict between people who want peace and quiet and those who wish to inflict their endless music and chatter on everyone else. Folk festival organisers need to decide which group is their target market - or cater for both and keep them well apart. For several years there have been cases of individuals and families saying 'never again' having experienced some aspect of indiscipline or rowdiness at Bulverton. In seeking to encourage many more youngsters to the site (an avowed aim of enhancing the Bulverton venue) the organisers may need reminding who contributes most money to the festival - and it is unlikely to be either a minority of youngsters or a tiny minority of old-time 'session' devotees who wish to play and sing 24 hours a day. Similar comments were made last year.

If Bulverton is to be allowed to become a free for all, festival finances and reputation are likely to suffer. People will cheerfully tolerate some mud (it is part of the fun) but many arrive tired after a long journey and straight from a full time job. Many need sleep to prepare for the next day's dancing or to drive hundreds of miles back home. Having a predominantly quiet campsite and with proper enforcement of rules might encourage more to use the official site - after all, there is plenty of space, it is convenient for all the venues and the festival needs the money. There are also plenty of opportunities for high spirits, music and dance during the ensuing 17 hours - say 9 am to 2 am. Surely during just 7 hours out of 24 people who have paid for expensive camping (expensive by the standards of other festivals) could expect some peace and quiet? They could also expect showers that work properly.

A further factor is the possible loss to the area of the Salcombe Regis caravan and camping site. It is proposed to build 36 wooden holiday 'lodges' - much against the wishes of many people in the village. Demand for places at Bulverton could increase - or more people might stay away from the festival altogether.

Here is one gripe from 2007 - it mirrors several others, including about music and loud talking to 4am. Some of the responses are as worrying as the initial complaint.

Was it good for me? Lemonade-wise, yes, but the camp site I thought was leaving a lot to be desired. We were in the 'quiet' field and found it noisy. Where were the stewards? Aren't they supposed to be patrolling the field by torch light to make sure all is ok? When I complained I was told how to destress when I hear noise in the night! "Take a deep breath in, and then a long hiss out" How I didn't go for her throat I don't know! It's not up to me to keep law and order, it's up to the stewards.

I also felt there weren't enough Fire extinguishers... ok so we had barrels of water but how does one carry the water to the fire? No buckets provided to do it.

The showers were a laugh. For two nights we had no electricity in one block. Then only two out of four of those showers worked. And when they did they gushed either scalding hot or cold.

The campsite was badly marked out and quite a few people had to repitch their tents because they were apparently in the 'fire lanes'.

I have many more complaints... like Why do I as a trader have to pay 46 per adult to camp when I'm trading and have to pay 300 to do that?

I also wasn't happy about some lads selling lemonade on the sea front. I think competition is a healthy thing and their sales didn't affect me at all, but did they have a Peddlers Licence? Health and Safety certificate? Were they checked by the Environmental Health? Did they have insurance? Hand washing facilities (hot and cold)? If someone decided they were infected by food poisoning from these lads, they would probably just have said they had the lemonade from Sidmouth Festival and I would've got the blame! What's more they didn't pay 300 to be there.

There are no other festivals that I trade at that charge traders extra for camping. Last year I hated the campsite and gave it the benefit of the doubt for this year, but believe me, never again. I shall pay more and get a decent night's sleep and good showers.

Here is one reply:

Sally, I was told by a campsite steward that they were told by the campsite manager that she didn't want them patrolling the campsite at night and that they weren't to ask people to quieten down even if there were complaints. The person who told me was very surprised as she and her husband have been campsite stewards for many years.

And another response from 'Andy' - who I believe has been in charge of Bulverton in the past:

Campsite and noise is a delicate area!  I know!!!!!!  Believe it or not you get less complaints by letting the sessions run!  Patrolling only achieves limited quiteness (sic) and lots of stress all round as the noise starts up again 5 mins later.  I sympathise Sal!  I don't know the answer.  Andy

And now some comments from me - you may not agree but it's my website and you are free to ignore it (or to comment usefully).

Certainly the showers were not up to much - I allowed use of my house for friends who were camping at Bulverton to have a decent shower. Their principal gripes were the muddy shower area, poor shower performance - (one worked well, the others did not) and noise even in the 'quiet' camping area. The whole Bulverton organisation may need a revamp and with some emphasis on discipline to the benefit of all. People were allowed to pitch just about where they wished - which says a lot about how much spare space there is at Bulverton these days - and the H&S is not up to much either. It is an inherently dangerous sloping field for caravans and the fire bucket problem mirrored to some extent that at Shrewsbury in 2006. There was lots of stored water but it was located so far from potential sources of trouble as to be almost useless.

firepoint2.jpg (46523 bytes) A typical Fire Point at the 2006 Shrewsbury Folk Festival. These dustbins were situated at the ends of long roadways, maybe 50 metres away from some caravans and tents.

Buckets were provided at some points (probably all of them at the commencement of the festival!). Yet in a fire, water might have to be carried a long way. It would be safer to have a bucket outside each outfit, then there would be water available in close proximity to any fire, and more stored water on site as a whole. There seem to be no uniform rules to be obeyed - each local council has its own ideas, generated probably by a dim-witted teenager newly qualified in Environmental Health and eager to make an impression by laying down the law and changing previous practices.

It is about time things were done properly and surplus officials removed from the public payroll!

At least at Shrewsbury they had a few buckets around. The best solution is seen at Chippenham where (on the caravan site at least) there is a fire bucket by almost every outfit. You are expected to bring your own, and people do. So in the event of a fire there will always be some water very close by. This is a principal requirement because tent and caravan fires spread very quickly. Contrast to Shrewsbury 2006 - fire points at the ends of long rows with a 50 or 60 metre dash to the seat of a fire. Why don't the AFO formulate sensible rules (using common sense) and that every festival can then follow? Let me guess - it would inhibit creativity, precisely the excuse used by people who do not advocate learning how to dance ceilidh properly. It goes throughout the educational system these days and is a surrogate for laziness. It would also give less pretend-work for local officials to do - if there were simple and common sense rules applied nationally there would be no need for local officials to spend endless hours in earnest discussions deciding how (in their ignorant opinion) things should be done at a particular venue. But I suppose it keeps them off the streets.

The response from 'Andy' - previously a Bulverton manager? - seems pathetic. If stewards do not possess or are not prepared to exert even the authority to impose some quiet after specified hours, why bother to have them at all? Add in the fact that dozens of stewards didn't turn up for their duties in 2007 (but I guess they used their 175 season tickets?) and you start to see how far stewarding has been degraded from the Steve Heap years. Then, there was an iron rule - if you didn't do your duties, if you didn't turn up without good reason, you didn't work for the festival again. Nowadays, rather than having a surplus of applications, Sidmouth apparently doesn't have enough, so they have to take what people they can get. Discipline seems lax, and (as ever) people are quick to take advantage. Ten years ago there were no problems on the campsite - it was deathly quiet after 2 am and with only a small number of people gently strumming around the food area. And it was properly patrolled. I know  - I was there.

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