FEATURE: The festival effect, what happens when the crowds come to town

The Big Chill 2010, photo by Sam Colman

Since the 1960’s the music festival phenomenon has been taking over UK summers. From Glastonbury to The Secret Garden, promoters battle it out across an increasingly competitive market, convincing thousands of punters to pay the price of a holiday for a few days in a field. But what of the people next door? The small towns and communities that large events impinge upon? The Birmingham Review pitched up at a few of the region’s major contenders to find out.

“Global Gathering is the only event worth going to around here,’’ says Tilly, manageress of The Red Lion in Stratford, “most of our staff want to go so our main problem is juggling rotas.”

It’s Sunday afternoon in Stratford, a tourist hotspot with permanently busy weekends, and the last of the ‘culture crowd’ are out walking by the river. A few miles away 55,000 extra visitors negotiate their way out of Global Gathering, the UK’s largest dance music festival, run annually on the Long Marston Airfield since 2000. But does it affect the town’s more traditional tourist trade? “You get a few idiots in,” says Sheena from Sainsbury Local, “more kids messing about and more shop lifters. But we get much more regular trade too, it’s good for business.”

Over in Herefordshire, Ledbury plays host to regular events at Eastnor Castle. The largest of which is The Big Chill festival, attracting 35,000 people to the historic site each August. “Ledbury needs The Big Chill,” states one hotelier, “about 40% of our August trade comes from that one event. The town would suffer without it.” A view reflected by Annette Crowe, co-owner of Ledbury jewellers Past & Present and chair of the town’s newly formed Business Association. “We’d encourage more interaction with the festival organisers,” says Crowe, “we’d like to establish a shuttle bus service to bring people from the site into town. We’d also like to get more local people employed at the festival, as stewards or suppliers.”

Back in Birmingham and Moseley prepares itself for an inner city festival that’s achieving international recognition. Organisers of the Moseley Folk Festival are launching a membership initiative for the privately maintained site that hosts the event. New patrons can save between 50% off Moseley Park’s current £40 annual fee by registering at the festival.

Promoter Gerv Havill says, “Our events have helped raise the profile of the park, but it’s upkeep costs money. We agreed with the park trustees to offer membership discounts at our events.”

But is this just a move to counteract local contention? Organisers reportedly ruffled a few feathers when officially licensing the site in 2005.

I’m always amazed by how quickly the grounds recover after big events and I’ve not heard anyone criticise the Trust,” says Fiona Adams, chair of the Moseley Society, “ we love opening the ice house during big festivals.”

Chair of the Moseley Forum, Esther Boyd, adds, “I think the events are great. They draw people to the area and no doubt help raise much needed funds for the park’s upkeep.”

Information on each event can be found at their respective websites; www.globalgathering.com, www.bigchill.net, www.moseleyfolk.co.uk