Joining forces to make Sidmouth a festival town
- Credit: Archant
From walking and reading, to science and the sea – Sidmouth is fast establishing itself as a festival town.
The events have all sprung up in the last few years, each pushed forward by handful of volunteers and facing similar challenges, as does the regatta.
Organisers came together on Monday to discuss how they can share resources and expertise – and one day become as big a draw as FolkWeek.
Ideas ranged from aggregating insurance costs and cross-promotion to giving a youngster work experience as a social media expert.
Now in its 27th year, Oliver Salter said the regatta is organised by himself, his wife Adele and Keith Knight.
“It’s always challenging,” he said. “We’ve said we want to retire but no one wants to take it on. We wouldn’t want Sidmouth to lose it.
“With the help of Sidmouth Town Council we’ve been able to expand with the Red Arrows and the Battle of Britain display. The chamber of commerce is also running a candlelit dinner, so it will run from Friday to Sunday evening (August 25 to 27).”
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He said the regatta raises money for the RNLI rather than the Sidmouth Lifeboat to bring down insurance costs, but a local charity could benefit if a different arrangement was in place.
Dave Bramley said his committee collectively spends a year-and-a-half organising the science festival, which also covers technology, engineering and maths will run over 13 days this October.
He said ‘perfect place for this type of festival’ – last year it had the support of 190 volunteers, many of them influential and with contacts all over the country. Each year they get at least one Fellow of the Royal Society to speak.
He added: “We could scale it up or down. If we are struggling, we can cut back, or next year there’s a big grant we can apply for. Our costs are currently about £12,000 but the Welcome Trust would want us to spend £20-30,000. We are exploring that.”
Mr Bramley said the core costs are paying for venues and insurance, and aggregation of the latter would be ‘wonderful’.
He said the organisers hope to grab national media attention, plus interest from hard-to-reach teenagers with a drone race.
Councillor Louise Cole is one of the four organisers of Sea Fest, also in its fourth year.
“There are areas we could share resources, possibly with additional support from the council,” she said. “We don’t want to be competing for attention or funding – we can see what each event can do to promote other events.
“We don’t have someone just on social media. We just don’t have time to do it.”
She said it is a ‘crazy situation’ that the town council’s full £500 grant had to go on insurance and wondered if there was a more cost-effective alternative.
Representing the Sidmouth and East Devon Walking Festival, Ted Swan said: “We started in 2014 but it wasn’t until last year that it really took off. It’s taken three years to come of age. We’re looking to do something even better this September.”
He said one of the challenges organisers face is letting walkers know early enough in advance so they can get booked in – shops have been reluctant to put up posters over the Easter holiday.
Mr Swan said there was no shortage of volunteers as they can tap into the 500-strong East Devon Ramblers, who lead all the walks.
Di Bowerman said that after several committee members stepped down, there are just seven people putting together this year’s literary festival. Another challenge is posters being removed from noticed that constantly have to be replaced.
Addressing the grant-giving town council, Mrs Bowerman added: “Thank you again for backing the festival, which we believe makes a great contribution to Sidmouth’s cultural scene and helps to bring the community together, as well as attract visitors to the town.”
Neighbourhood Plan steering group chairman Deirdre Hounsom said the issues have been raised in production of the blueprint – and that enthusiasm needs to be maintained after it is finalised.
The town council could form a sub-committee to look at ways it can support the various festivals.