Feedback from 2005 and the prospects for Sidmouth Folk Week - comparisons with Bridgnorth, Bunkfest, Chippenham, Eastbourne and Wadebridge Folk Festivals.
Feedback forms: views of Sidmouth Folk Week in 2005.
Feedback forms were collected by the organisers of Sidmouth Folk Week in 2005. Whilst the full results will be published elsewhere, the key points are already known to mirror those made by the much smaller number of respondents to SeeRed.
These two key findings are:
a desire to see full week season tickets restored for 2006 and onwards and
a desire to have 'festival' food outlets as an alternative to Sidmouth shops.
Several people also commented that Folk Week felt 'cut in two' by the social dancing having been held in village halls and not in the town centre. A couple of people said they commuted between the social dance venues and the campsite, shopped at supermarkets and in Sidford and never went into Sidmouth all week!
More generally, most attention has thus far been devoted both to praising the 2005 organisers for their efforts and bemoaning the inflexibility of individual event tickets. Whilst these were liked by a minority of festival attendees (often those who came to Sidmouth primarily for a holiday but who attended a few concerts while they were here) most seasoned folkies would have preferred a daily or weekly season ticket. Not only did the weekly tickets especially offer excellent value in 2004 (and previously) there was no need to plan days in advance, no need to queue at the TIC or box office, no need to organise different tickets for different days (or lose them!) and, best of all, you could 'dip in and out' of events.
The other major gripe about 2005, again primarily from seasoned festival attendees, was the slow service and lack of choice of food in Sidmouth shops. Although I am not one of them, many people attend folk festivals anticipating the ready availability of 'out of the ordinary' mobile outlets serving (for example) Mexican food. These stalls are a popular feature of many festivals in the UK and their absence from Sidmouth was a specific consequence of the attitude of the Town Council over many years - and also that the marquee at the Ham was so big it did not leave much room for anything else. In addition, the Knowle Arena area was unused in 2005. However, having 'festival food' available in 2006 needs to be seriously considered.
Attitudes of local Sidmouth people.
The attitude of many 'born and bred' locals to the festival is well summed up in a letter published in the local paper in August 2005 - and reproduced below. In essence, these individuals are delighted that Steve Heap is no longer running a hugely popular International Festival, and for two main reasons. They feel more comfortable with a much smaller festival because it is perceived to be far more within the control of the town, and they would rather have a larger fraction of a much smaller cake than see anyone from outside the town profit in any substantial way.
Specifically, they are delighted that the Arena food outlets were not at Sidmouth 2005, because this ensured that the benefit from virtually all food sales in the town went directly to the town's shops. Leaving aside that the profits made in many town shops disappear straight out of the town anyway, a larger slice of a much smaller cake is not necessarily a good omen for the future.
Folkie groups - was Sidmouth the only inclusive festival?
It has to be admitted that many attendees were entirely happy with the slimmed down 2005 Folk Week. These were primarily the 'session folkies', those for whom a week in Sidmouth could be devoted to sitting in pubs, drinking and playing or singing. Many smaller festivals cater almost exclusively for this 'tribe of wandering minstrels' but in the Steve Heap years Sidmouth was a huge attraction to many other groups, including foreign tourists.
Indeed, it might be argued that Sidmouth was the only UK folk festival that large numbers of every type of folkie would make strenuous efforts to attend. Against that, some 'session folkies' avoided it because of the perceived commercialisation, and because of the cost. A particular problem for them was that camping on the Bulverton site was only for full season ticket holders, and you didn't need a season ticket to play and sing in the pubs.
Whether by design or as a consequence of 'natural selection' every festival caters more or less for each of many distinct 'folkie' groups, as well as for the 'day-out' or 'week-away' families. Groups overlap, of course, but some of the most recognisable include:
devoted ceilidh dancers, matured social dancers, concert goers, 'day-out' couples and family groups, 'week-away' couples and family groups, middle aged hippies and session folkies, cider drinking 'hangers-on' (travellers), foreign tourists in search of colour and excitement and the 'groupies' - people who often travel long distances just to see a specific group or individual performer.
The importance of recognising distinct groups of attendees was outlined late in 2004, when the form of Sidmouth Folk Week 2005 was being decided, albeit perhaps rather more by chance than by design.
Festival infrastructure also varies enormously - some festival towns or venues have huge campsites that are conveniently located for the main dance or concert venues, others have no camping facilities at all. Local hotels and B&Bs then become the major beneficiaries, and the festivals may be held outside of the main tourist season in order to ensure that sufficient bed capacity is available. The Eastbourne dance festival is one example, being held in late April. Sidmouth B&Bs and some of the cheaper hotels also do well out of Folk Week - if only because the main campsite can be so appalling in poor weather.
Festivals in outline - how does Sidmouth compare?
With these thoughts in mind, Sidmouth can be compared with a few other UK folk festivals. Many also have financial problems (often centred upon increasingly bizarre Health and Safety rules and insurance premiums), most rely on a band of determined volunteers to organise and run them, and many have inherent advantages over Sidmouth. Indeed, it can almost be concluded that if you wanted to set up and develop a new folk event with the aim of nurturing it to become one of the largest in Europe, you would not choose Sidmouth as the location.
Planning a festival, or analysing how it works, is largely a matter of infrastructure, up-front costs, matching target audience groups to artistes and events and getting the co-operation of the local community - including the elected and unelected personages in Council Offices. Whilst infrastructure is no doubt the most potentially daunting in financial terms, attitudes within local councils can markedly affect viability.
The easiest festivals to organise are probably those where most of the infrastructure is readily available at low cost (or for free). The most difficult are where most of the infrastructure has to be provided at full economic cost and where some of the natives are either meddlesome or downright hostile. Sidmouth falls squarely into the latter category.
There is little published information available on the cost structure of festivals - how much various types of marquee cost, how much various bands or other performers charge for their services, how much is charged for hire of Church or village halls, what level of security provision is demanded by council licensing officers (and at what cost) and the extent to which individuals or companies support their 'local' festival. Some illustrations follow, taken primarily from Bridgnorth, Bunkfest, Chippenham, Wadebridge and Sidmouth.
Bridgnorth festival, Shropshire (relocated to Shrewsbury from 2006)
Bridgnorth is (or rather it was) largely a 'single site' event. Based in the grounds of a school, the large playing fields are utilised as the caravan and caravan/tent sites and the school buildings are used for dancing and workshops. Apart from a few colourful street displays and processions, there is relatively little direct impact upon the town itself. Ceilidhs are held in the school gym (sports hall). Major concert events take place in a large (1400 person) marquee and the adjoining land is used for a food tent and mobile food stalls.
The number of food outlets on site leads to a particular problem of litter - far more than I have seen elsewhere. This is probably a reflection of the fact that the only other food outlets are in town - a considerable walk away. The field is always left 'spotless' by the organisers and care has to be taken not to damage it with heavy vehicles. If the goodwill of the school or even that of the caretaker were to be lost, the whole festival could simply cease to be. After nine successful years, complaints from a few local residents were one factor in the decision to relocate.
One corner of the playing fields at Oldbury School, Bridgnorth. These offered ready made festival campsites once roadways had been marked out. However, the access was not ideal. In 2004, one person slept in a box trailer, much to the amusement of caravanners who had paid £10,000 or more for their 'home from home'. No evidence is available to support the notion that folkies are eccentric.
The area of land available is a limiting factor upon festival size - as are the sizes of the main dance venues. Overall, Bridgnorth works well. Teams of stewards are assigned to manage each aspect of the site (campsite, traffic, box office, etc) and it appeals to local and wandering folkies as well as to townspeople. In terms of infrastructure costs, it is probably an easy festival to manage - for example, there is only one large marquee. The cost of the much smaller food marquee is probably recouped in fees charged to the catering stalls. No additional shower units are necessary, those in the various school buildings being adequate. Campsite security is minimal - just stewards checking vehicles entering. A public footpath runs along one edge of the field, so even if it were desired to do so, it would be difficult to reproduce the Sidmouth ''keep 'em out" high perimeter fencing.
Bridgnorth is an interesting town, being separated into 'low town' and 'high town'. A funicular railway links the two - or of course you can walk! It also has some spectacular views - if you are fit enough to make it to the vantage points.
Bridgnorth festival is moving to a new and larger site in Shrewsbury in 2006. See the Bridgnorth folk link for more details. There were always problems with a few local residents who didn't like the noise over a bank holiday weekend, but the major reason for relocating is probably the need for a larger site. Best of luck to the organisers!
Bunkfest, Wallingford, near Oxford.
Bunkfest held in Wallingford in early September is a remarkable event - it is large but only a few years old. It has some excellent facilities and yet somehow does not feel like a proper folk festival. You would never guess this from the line-up of top name acts - in 2004 Chumbawamba topped the bill, so much so that many people who had bought tickets could not get in! For 2005, the line up included Oyster Band, Eliza Carthy, John Spiers and Jon Boden, and more teams of Morris dancers than could safely be contained in a single beer tent. In addition, most of the 'minor' events are free entry and it is run on a non-profit basis with donations being made to local good causes.
The trick is in the good fortune of site locations, site facilities and a supportive population. Some direct comparisons with Sidmouth are instructive. The Bunkfest campsite comprises part of the huge flat and well fenced play areas of Wallingford Sports Club. The only preparations needed to transform the sports pitches into a festival campsite are a few lane markers on the ground, a stewards' tent at the entrance and three or four token chemical toilets for those too folked-out or infirm to make the short walk to the Sports Pavilion where (inadequate) fixed toilet facilities and (adequate) communal showers are available 24 hours a day. Walking into town along a footpath is easy if totally uninspiring, and through the poor part of town.
Contrast all of this to Sidmouth where, as a legacy from the Steve Heap days, the entire campsite is first security ring-fenced (at a cost of thousands of pounds?). Then there is the inconvenient entrance that usually turns to mud, the sloping fields that are inherently unsafe and/or difficult depending on the competence of caravanners, the temporary toilets and showers that have made Sidmouth a byword for Primitive and the perceived need to provide site lighting. On a scale of 0 to 100, ranging from 'dead easy' to 'don't even think about it', the Bulverton campsite in Sidmouth probably scores about 80.
However, in good weather, the Sidmouth site scores highly for view, ambience and atmosphere. For many folkies, it is an inherent part of what makes (made?) the Sidmouth experience. The kindest thing to be said about the Bunkfest campsite in good weather is that it is entirely adequate, boring and convenient. In poor weather it is probably merely wet and boring.
The Sidmouth campsite can become an organisational nightmare in wet weather - and trekking to and from the town centre along a narrow busy road is unsafe for unsupervised children. At Sidmouth, there is always the option of an expensive bus ride - but at Bunkfest you have the option of a ride into town on a vintage Routemaster red bus which is available as one of the added attractions - donations are appreciated but are not mandatory. It seems somehow all so relaxed compared to Sidmouth's all pervading organisation and control.
Yet the star feature of Bunkfest is the Kinecroft, an area of level green space in the centre of town. It is large (several hundred metres long by about a hundred metres wide) and it has a folkie pub at either end and good vehicular access. During the festival it is transformed into an all purpose eat, drink, sing, dance, look and listen fairground attraction - and entrance is free. Some of the ground is devoted to a craft tent but other attractions include vintage fire engines, miniature steam locomotives and enough dance displays and sights and sounds to keep children happily amused for hours.
Needless to say, it is a huge attraction for families wanting just a day out. Whilst the folk events feature some 'big names', attendees seem primarily to be 'normal people' rather than the more colourful and devoted folkies who in past years made an annual pilgrimage to Sidmouth. If you took snapshots of people wandering around (and if by chance you managed to photo the scene without a Morris dancer or five in view), it could be almost anywhere at a large Church or village fete in well-to-do Middle England. Even folkies who dress in outlandish clothes at Sidmouth could be seen walking around in suitably sombre attire! With few exceptions there are no street musicians, no hair wraps, no bead sellers and no 'travellers' with their mandatory mongrels. The most colourful attraction by far was Gog Magog Molly, a dance troupe from Cambridge University. Their website is colourful enough, but the real thing is even better!
Even at the ceilidhs, something seemed to be missing. They felt more like a routine dance at a village hall than part of a festival and were made worse by being held in a social hall that positively reeked of stale cigarettes. It was just about bearable once the ashtrays had been cleared away and the doors left open for 8 hours. The concerts in the Cross Keys marquee are probably more civilised.
Car parking is provided on areas of a large industrial estate that lies between the town centre and the campsite - companies simply allow the festival to use their on-site parking spaces over the weekend. A few act as festival sponsors. So you just park your car (for free) and either take a five minute level walk into town or wait for the festival bus. In infrastructure terms, Bunkfest is all so easy it seems somehow unfair. The main concert marquee is located at one end of the Kinecroft, in the grounds of a large pub - all entirely reasonable because the man who owns the pub bought the marquee a few years ago. And that is how Bunkfest all began!
The other main attraction of the town is the steam railway and its associated beer festival, again conveniently located en-route between the campsite and the town centre. It is well worth a visit - or look at their website for a glimpse of what dedicated volunteers can achieve. The 'news' page mentions that the first Bunkfest in 2002 made a profit of £3000 (including £800 for the railway) and 200 people attended. In 2005, probably well over 1000 people were camped on site with many more in town.
Chippenham dance festival (late May bank holiday)
Chippenham festival has the usual selection of Morris dancers in the main street and the town centre seems to become a part of the long (4 day) weekend. It has become known for the excellence of its ceilidh and social dancing - well up to that of the Sidmouth International Festival. There are two campsites, one for caravans and campervans, and the other (less conveniently situated at the 'far' end of town) for youngsters, the impoverished middle classes or simply the foolhardy who enjoy living under canvas.
The main caravan site is located on a public park, part of which is taken over for the weekend by the festival. There are no security measures apart from ensuring that only paid-up vehicles can enter, and pedestrian access is freely available. The site is delightful - overlooking a river, slightly sloping (but not so much as to be a problem) and adjacent to the main ceilidh and concert venues and town centre.
Alignment and separation of caravans on the main site is to Caravan Club standards - the only festival I know where this is done. A team of stewards led by architects and surveyors mark out the field to the nearest inch (25.4 mm if you prefer). Caravans have to be parked within a gnat's whisker of the markers. Several million pounds worth of vehicles are testimony to the general affluence of Chippenham attendees. There was hardly a scrap of litter to be seen.
The main caravan site is a world away from the 'free and easy' (and potentially dangerous) conditions to be found at some festivals. The reason why caravans should be parked well away from each other is quite simple - it limits the risk of fire spread. Also, Chippenham is the only festival I know where fire buckets alongside caravans were much in evidence. However, the other camping site is more relaxed, potentially muddy, and with temporary showers and toilets of dubious quality. It probably has more 'festival life and soul' than the main site.
Chippenham is a festival centred upon a pleasant and affluent town but it lacks a large dance marquee. The modern sports/leisure complex provides the ceilidh and concert venues and you can walk from a ceilidh and be under a reliable hot shower inside a minute. A nearby college provides further dance facilities and the Town Hall provides spaces for the smaller workshops - and all within easy walking distance. It is probably as close to an 'all weather' festival as you could get. The atmosphere is friendly, the organisation and stewarding is efficient but it has little on offer to rival Sidmouth's seafront for a family day out. Yet because of the excellence of the dancing, it has found a secure niche and looks set to be successful well into the future.
It seems also less adventurous than Sidmouth. There are fewer 'dressed up' folkies - fewer flowing skirts and hair braids. However, most of the 'yobs' are home-grown, chasing around the narrow streets in fast cars all evening while the police stay safely tucked up in their offices. So it has at least one thing in common with Sidmouth!
Wadebridge - home to the Cornwall Folk Festival
The publicity leaflet for this festival extols the virtues of "the beautiful town of Wadebridge". In my opinion, you would need a serious reason ever to go there! It is an ancient town, in effect a river port. The ancient stone bridge is apparently a tourist attraction. Maybe tourists in Cornwall enjoy looking at stagnant water, rusting riverside piling and mud flats that evoke thoughts of primordial slime.
On the outskirts there are supermarkets and car dealerships that could be anywhere. In the centre, the views and general feel are almost uniformly those of rural Cornwall. The economic depression is evident in the average age of the cars as well as the general fabric of many of the buildings - something that hanging baskets cannot mask.
Yet the Town Hall is a splendid old building, perhaps redolent of more prosperous times, and it provides one of the main dance and workshop venues for the festival. In a single nearby pedestrianised street, teams of Morris dancers entertain the bemused natives, many of whom give the impression of not knowing or caring what on Earth is going on. Indeed, outside of the main 'folkie' area of the town you might not realise that anything special was happening.
Several of the town centre pubs and hotels are host to 'session folkies' and small concerts. Now over thirty years old, the festival is still run on a shoestring and with perilous finances - it apparently almost folded a few years ago. A team of enthusiasts keeps it going, aided by support from the local community and businesses. It has developed a good reputation for music (both in pubs and concerts) and the dancing in 2005 was enthusiastic and well attended - albeit only once a day and a ceilidh in the evening! The Irish Set Dances in particular were almost up to the standards set by Sidmouth or Chippenham, despite some technical hitches. The calling was particularly good.
Yet the first and last impressions are those of the campsite - located on the huge Royal Cornwall Showground. The site is so large that no organisation is necessary - you simply arrive, decide if you wish to camp near to one of the fixed shower blocks or lay claim to half an acre for yourself, and settle in for the weekend. During periods of high wind, tents have been known to become airborne, so the few sheltered spots are highly prized.
A small part of the Royal Cornwall Showground during the Wadebridge festival. The site is criss-crossed with permanent all-weather roadways. Whilst some folkies clustered together in tribal or family groups, others chose to have half an acre of manicured grass to themselves. There was no supervision, no litter and no problems. There was not a great deal of colourful attire either!
Other than that is is merely bleak, soulless and with a wind farm in the far distance, just to remind you that this is scenic Cornwall at its most compromised. The campsite is perched on the high ground above the town centre but there is no need to use a car. A particular feature of the festival is the shuttle bus - an 8 seat ancient conveyance loaned free of charge to the festival by the St Day Minibus Company. A similar but larger 16 seat bus is used in the late evenings to help transport dishevelled dancers back to their beds. Again it is provided free of charge to the festival.
Teams of volunteer stewards drive the buses on an endless circular route up and down the long steep hill into town. For all its utilitarianism, the campsite works well. The electric showers run as hot or cold as you wish, the toilets are cleaned daily, and the lights and shaver points work. The festival does not need to provide any infrastructure - not even lines on the grass to tell you where to park. Yet even if there were twice as many people camping, it could still feel somehow empty and impersonal. There are no festival food outlets and an out-of-town Tesco is the closest outpost of civilisation, barely two minutes walk away.
Key to the survival of the festival are the huge and convenient campsite (although other areas of land are available locally) and the dance and workshop venues in the town hall. If Wadebridge had to provide marquees, it would probably no longer be viable. The weather in 2005 was kind. In the driving rain all too common in Cornwall the campsite would be miserable and the town centre streets probably deserted. In stark contrast to Bunkfest, this is not primarily a festival for families or children - indeed few children were to be seen.
Questions for Sidmouth
As Folk Week in Sidmouth struggles to survive, it would be helpful to know just how much the town gives in support. Of the festivals briefly described above, Sidmouth is probably the wealthiest town. In terms of infrastructure, it is certainly the most difficult. It has no town centre buildings of any size suitable for dancing and no large level fields close to the town that could be used as a campsite. The Manor Pavilion is the closest thing to a ready made concert venue - but it is rather small. Some of the major hotels may have a ballroom or two - a thought for the future maybe, but their patrons are primarily prim people who wish to be as far away from folkies as possible.
Sidmouth College, originally earmarked as the centre of social dancing in 2005, offers some prospect for the future, as does its sports hall. Unfortunately, the site is a mile out of town and wholly utilitarian.
The costs of running the festival during the Steve Heap years are reliably known, but there is no published data on how these sums are broken down. As a week long festival, Sidmouth has more time to recoup money invested in infrastructure than do many 'long weekend' events.The costs of setting up the Ham marquee (800 person capacity) in 2005 were reputed to be around £100,000. Each sell-out event produced around £10,000 in ticket sales.The LNE venue reputedly cost £25,000 to £30,000. The town council gave £5000 to hire the Blackmore Gardens marquee or, more correctly, the taxpayers of Sidmouth donated £5000 and had no say in the matter. Organisers of the Arena venue pulled out after finding that total set-up costs exceeded £50,000.
At the more trivial level, no-one even knows how much various groups and individuals in Sidmouth profit from the festival, or subsidise it. For example, what are the gross takings from car parking on the cricket field and rugby field in Sidmouth? How much is made by the rugby club out of the many camper vans that are allowed to be parked all week on their field? How much do these local groups give back to the festival? Is any land provided 'free of charge' to the festival and if not what rents are actually paid? Without a detailed knowledge of 'where the money goes' attendees really do not know if they are primarily supporting the festival or local landowners!
Now for three interesting questions,
The only way to answer these questions is either to model the festival using data that is available only to a handful of insiders, or to 'try it and see'. My personal opinion is that given the increases in Health and Safety and allied costs, an intermediate scale festival may not be viable. Obviously, it was viable years ago - that is how the International Festival grew into its final (2004) size, but infrastructure and insurance costs were lower then, and artistes did not demand to be put up in expensive hotels.
Costs per day at various festivals.
It is helpful to compare various festivals to gauge what should be the target price for a season ticket at the new style Sidmouth Folk Week. A starting point is the cost of the season tickets for one of the last of the International Festivals in 2003 - typically £150 to £170 depending on date of purchase. Residents of East Devon were able to buy one for as little as £120. For that you got so many world class events that you were spoilt for choice. Family ticket packages reduced the cost, and adult camping was £40 per week.
If you wanted to dance, you could start at 9.30 am, take a short break for lunch and start again at 2.30 pm. With a break for tea, it was then virtually non-stop through to 2 am, and after a full week of it you were seriously 'folked out'. For those of us who managed around 30 events in the week, most of them dance or ceilidh, the cost per event ranged between £4 and £7 - and for world class quality. These figures are calculated as £120/30 (East Devon resident non-camping) and £210/30 (full price and camping). For family ticket packages the costs were nearer £5 per event than £7.
Costs in 2005 at Sidmouth were typically twice those of 2003/4 - but everyone accepted it was a special year in which the organisers deserved support.
A season ticket to Bunkfest in 2005 cost £40 or £50 depending on when you purchased it. Camping was an extra £10 per adult. In effect the festival runs only over a Friday evening and a weekend so an average cost is around £25 per day. However, the event is clearly skewed to families because youth tickets are only £10 (rather than £40 or £50) and children under 12 are free. Youth and children camping is also free. Day tickets were available but at a premium. Concert-going folkies with families would find Bunkfest particularly good value, especially if they lived locally. Ceilidh or social dancers would find much less to attract them.
The Wadebridge festival costs were similar - £40 to £45 per person (for a full 3 day weekend) plus camping of £12 (or £5 per person per night with children under eight free). However the two events (Bunkfest and Wadebridge) could not be more dissimilar in layout, character and feel. The only common factors were ready-made campsites and ubiquitous Morris dancers. Taking an all-in cost of £54 or £18 per day and assuming there were only two events per day that you really wanted to attend, the cost was £9.00 each - but the question at this festival is what to do between events if you are not attracted by pub music sessions. It has nothing to rival Sidmouth's Esplanade on a sunny day.
Bridgnorth offers particularly good value for an 'all round' festival but, unlike Bunkfest, does not have a plethora of free events all at one convenient site. It is certainly less 'child friendly'. 2004 prices were only £47 or £52 per adult (depending on time of purchase) with camping an additional £5 per adult for the full 4 days of the festival. The cost per day was therefore as low as £13 - and for this you got a full line up of quality concerts and ceilidhs. From 2006 this festival is relocating to Shrewsbury. The new site looks fantastic!
Costs at Chippenham depend markedly on whether you camp (or caravan) or stay in one of the few expensive hotels - where prices are typically £75 to £100(+) per night. Added to the daily ticket cost (around £16 if you buy the full weekend package), and again assuming two or three dances per day the unit cost would range from maybe £6 per dance (camping) to £40 or more (hotel). Nevertheless, many people do consider it to be worthwhile and make it one of their short annual holidays. You need to be seriously into folk dance to spend up to £500 for four days - plus travel costs!
The Eastbourne dance festival is again primarily for accomplished dancers - and apparently they get annoyed if you don't know what you are doing! Costs in 2005 were £50 for the weekend season ticket but the festival has no associated camping site and no special 'hotel + festival' package deals. So you are on your own in finding accommodation. Costs could therefore rival those at Chippenham.
Ticket costs for Sidmouth Folk Week 2006
So what should be the cost of Folk Week full season tickets for Sidmouth 2006? Clearly, less than those of the Steve Heap days because (inevitably) much less will be on offer. This sets an upper limit of maybe £150 or around £20 per day. It would be more reasonable to aim for £14 to £16 per day in line with other festivals - plus camping. So a weekly season might be pitched at around £100 to £120 - considerably below the prices charged in 2005 if this is to be a true 'all inclusive' ticket. If (as seems possible) the LNE venue is not operated in 2006, prices might have to be lower. Camping would add around £40 to an adult ticket so the target range becomes £140 to £160 but maybe with family discounts available?
For the sake of argument, take £140 as a target figure and £150,000 as the full cost of staging a mini-Sidmouth festival (including campsite but excluding Arena and maybe the LNE too). The organisers would need to sell maybe 1000 full season tickets and several hundred single event tickets to break even - and in the heyday of the Steve Heap festivals only around 2000 full season tickets were sold. £140 seems about right for a full season ticket but whether 1200 or more can be sold is the key question. Anything over £140 starts to look expensive compared with (say) a 4 day season ticket for Bridgnorth, especially for people not much attracted to the 'added value' of a week by the sea.
Selling tickets for £80 six months in advance or £110 to include camping (and maybe offering East Devon residents a special deal for £70 excluding camping) might be a viable marketing ploy - selling 1000 early on would limit the scope for catastrophic losses because around £100,000 would already be banked. If only 500 were sold by (say) May 2006 the whole event could be cancelled and 95% refunds given. Who would be a festival organiser in Sidmouth?
The difference in scale between the Steve Heap years and the likely festival size in 2006 is starkly illustrated by advance ticket sales - according to published data, £500,000 was taken in committed income before the start of an International Festival. Probably less than £350,000 of this would have been from full season tickets (average of £170 including camping x 2000 = £340,000) leaving the balance from day and single event tickets. In good years, an additional £250,000 would be taken during the week, balancing the £750,000 total cost of staging the event. Somewhere in all of this would be included the £60,000 grant from EDDC!
If this financial juggling were not enough, the principal problem for Sidmouth 2006 is to find a way to produce season tickets at all, assuming that the event runs along the same lines as 2005 with each venue organiser operating independently. If the final total income is less than total costs, each organiser might have to agree to take a loss proportional to his initial investment - leaving the organisers of the Ham marquee (for example) with maybe a large bill despite that in reality they might have broken even or made a profit.
If nothing else, the difficulties being experienced by the stalwarts organising Sidmouth 2005/6 illustrate just how remarkable was Steve Heap's achievement in managing the International Festival for so many years. Tragically, few local people appreciate what has been lost and many even consider the smaller 2005 type of event to be preferable. Faced with a large choice of festivals along various migratory routes, it may ultimately be the loosely connected tribes of wandering folkies who decide the fate of Sidmouth Folk Week, and maybe even that of the town itself.
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