Sidmouth FolkWeek has many ‘challenges’ in its future

John Braithwaite, Sidmouth FolkWeek festival director

John Braithwaite, Sidmouth FolkWeek festival director - Credit: Archant

Sidmouth Folkweek is facing more challenges than ever before with accommodation, rising costs and difficulties in attracting new audiences, says its organisers.

Director John Braithwaite, of Sidmouth FolkWeek, gave a presentation to Sidmouth Town Council on Monday.

FolkWeek is now at the end of its five-year agreement and plans are being made for the next five years.

Mr Braithwaite discussed the festival’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats and how to overcome those.

He estimated that FolkWeek generated £2.5million across the district, between £2.2million to £2.5million during the week to the town.

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He said: “It brings people in who love the town so much they stay before the festival, they stay after, they come back during the year - that is something we can’t measure.

“It has been going for 64 years and brings consistent benefits every year.”

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He added they advertised on a national level, enhancing the town’s reputation but the festival’s strength was also a weakness, saying it was in an ‘increasingly difficult environment’.

Mr Braithwaite said it was a hard sell to guarantee a reliable income because unpredictable factors like the weather. He added there was also a big problem with a lack of accommodation during FolkWeek.

Mr Braithwaite said: “If we get more people to come we have to put them somewhere.

“We have an issue with continuing to expand revenue as fast as costs increase.”

Mr Braithwaite said 2018 was the first year they’d participated in the plastic-free campaign, which cost an extra £2,000 and regulatory costs were very expensive for holding such a big event.

He added they no longer had as much support from East Devon District Council – before they had a zero bill, now they had a bill approaching £10,000 that could continue to rise.

He added: “We are not complaining because EDDC has to make charges, it is just they are getting nearly £10,000 from the festival and around £15,000 from the stalls on the seafront. Most of the people who have windfall profits from the festival contribute back. That isn’t the case with EDDC.

“We’re enthusiastic about overcoming our weaknesses and threats which are considerable, we think we are up to the challenge.”

Among the festival’s plans are ones to improve the marketing of the festival and looking at it becoming a ‘national’ event, moves to attract new folk fans, potentially looking at national sponsors and getting more financial support from local authorities and from grants – helping the festival become bigger and better.

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