Sidmouth FolkWeek 2011 - stewarding problems - more of the same!

Stewarding at Sidmouth FolkWeek 2011 was for the first time under the control of Sue Torres of Wicked Events - the company who provide stewarding for Towersey festival and where efficiency is usually much in evidence. But not at Sidmouth! This new arrangement presumably cost the festival money - unlike when Ann Taylor was in charge.

Things seemed no better in 2011 and in some instances were worse. Three of many examples will suffice.

1. In the Ham marquee during the event that included Peggy Seeger, (event 331) a woman sitting at the base of the tiered seating complained to a Morris dancer that she couldn't see the stage because he was wearing his rather tall hat (and he was a tall man dressed in full Morris war paint). She complained to a steward who consulted two other stewards. They spoke to the man who still refused to move or even remove his hat. Are all Morris dancers like this?

Some time later a crimson-shirted security goon spoke to the man and persuaded him to move elsewhere, maybe to a seat at the side where no-one would need to look over him. He left the event instead. So a minor issue affecting just one person involved three stewards and one goon - nothing seems too much trouble for attendees at the Ham marquee - in contrast to the attitude towards dancers at Blackmore gardens. And if the woman who complained had moved to one of many other available seats there would have been no issue at all!

But what would the stewards have done if 300 concert-goers complained they were being broiled like chickens even on a moderately warm day? Do people really willingly pay 15 to 22 to sit in such a stuffy, overheated and germ ridden environment for over two hours? I had only nipped in for three minutes - and that was enough. It was more claustrophobic than sitting on public transport!

2. Inadequate stewarding of the Bulverton carpark has long been a feature of the Sidmouth FolkWeek - inept or plain silly instructions, absent stewards and people not having been trained in elementary health and safety - past pages on this website deal with these issues. In 2011 it was all change - despite what seemed to me to be fewer cars using the field. Sensibly, the cars were now parked across the slope - so there was less risk of them rolling down the hill. But the risks are greatest on the camping site itself and here there were still cars parked incorrectly. But what was most noticeable was that despite using the car park every evening (and once in daytime) I was only ever stopped to have my ticket checked on one occasion - at 10.30pm on the last night! I expressed some surprise to the steward - he said he couldn't understand it either.

As in 2010 and previous years there were several occasions when there was no stewards to be seen at all. On one night I tripped on a rut in the ground after parking my car - I could have twisted my ankle or worse, yet there was no-one within earshot. Routinely, there were no stewards in evidence at all after the LNE had finished and people going to their cars to head for home. Yet on one occasion there were two stewards by the EXIT gate waving cars up the hill to the entrance - totally unnecessary? The use of thin rusty metal stakes to delineate roadways remains silly - these simply could not be seen at night even in headlights (especially when the marker tape had blown away) and several people drove into the stakes. The solution is easy - slip on a length of 21mm white overflow pipe (as used in all domestic plumbing systems).

On several occasions a 'goon' wanted to inspect my rucksack before I entered the Bulverton - maybe it gives them something to do! I could have had 5000 ecstasy tablets and he wouldn't have found them with such a amateurish search. So what is the point? Asking people if they have any alcohol in their bags - asking what was in a bottle containing obviously water (or maybe neat vodka cunningly disguised?). I hate to think how much the festival is forced to pay for these people. On one evening I simply walked in - no ticket or bag check at all. Far from being an improvement on past years, the Bulverton stewarding in 2011 was both more lax and at times amateurish. It is worth noting that the previous Bulverton manager was not invited to do his usual job this year - the only reason being (so I was told) that he fell asleep in his tent on one occasion and an event overran by a few minutes. That hardly seems like a hanging offence, or maybe Wicked Events simply wanted one of their own people in charge. If so, he or she needs to get their act together for next year.

3. For more years than I care to remember I and other dancers have been complaining about the lack of cross ventilation in Blackmore Gardens - which is the only way you can effectively cool the marquee in extreme conditions. In 2011 the marquee was only rarely more than half full - and with only 30 or 40 dancers some of the time. Also, the weather was never very hot. Yet there were still problems.

I started early in the week by complaining to the stewards in charge - could they open the side flaps? No, they could not, they had insufficient staff to man any openings, they had no instructions to open the side panels and that was that. Next evening I complained again, only more volubly. I told the assembled 4 (or was it 5?) stewards I thought they were being idle and lazy, sitting around, doing nothing when one of them could easily be sitting by an open flap, guarding it jealously. This didn't work but obviously my complaints had been registered. I didn't mention the two stewards siting aimlessly by each of the fire exits that lead to the fenced off area of the marquee. Is there some rule that each fire exit must have its own designated steward, despite that these exits are so large that you could fit two elephants size by side through them? Add the fact that folk dancers are (quite obviously) so lacking in mobility that they would need help in getting out. It's probably down to EDDC rules - I really must get hold of a copy of the relevant documents sometime, despite that the Freedom of Information Officer at EDDC views her role as one of preventing any information ever being given to taxpayers! But I digress.

Next evening produced a magical result - and I have photos to prove it. Far from the flaps only opening from the bottom and being a security risk it seems it is perfectly possible to open them from the top and join the holes with nylon ties. I won't mention the steward who did this by name but he showed both initiative and intelligence - enough to get him the sack if he was identified? Contrast this to the attitude in the Ham marquee where nothing seems to be too much trouble for prized concert attendees.

I often get the impression that FolkWeek management would be glad if skilled dancers simply didn't come to Sidmouth any more - some of us must be viewed as a decided nuisance! We want flat floors, polish on the floors (but not too much), ventilation and music (but not too loud). Worst of all many or most of us are both introverted and sober - so we don't contribute to festival alcohol sales.

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