OPINION: Festivals might look different this year - Sharon Canavar, Harrogate International Festivals

What’s that? An extension? Four weeks, you say? A terminus date.

Hmm, when working in events and festivals when no-one has been able to really produce any live work in the last 16 months, the extension was not a surprise given the rumblings coming out of both government and across the industry for some weeks.

The increasing Delta variant really put the kibosh on any release on the restrictions, and here at the Festivals we got back to working ridiculously hard on something which isn’t yet certain.

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We’re good at taking a risk-based approach here at HIF Towers, with little public funding and a reliance on ticket sales and sponsorship, we’re constantly assessing the best way forward to ensure that we invest in and produce great artistic work alongside the ability to ensure the charity can continue year to year.

Risks are everywhere in our industry, will people buy enough tickets, what if it clashes with the football? What if that sponsor pulls out, do we need to adjust our delivery and follow the money, or believe in the work and that it will get funded? Then there’s all the usual hazards, watch that step, don’t touch that, an invitation to attend the Safety Advisory Group, where a ‘multi-agency framework of partners’ get to interrogate your plans for events. Those meetings are officially more nerve wracking than any interview I’ve ever had! We’re now following the guidance as recommended by the DCMS... but there is so much to choose from. Hmm the Performing Arts Guidance doesn’t currently allow choirs to sing indoors unless they are pro, but you can go to the gym without a mask and do an indoor workout.

When you’re as unfit as I am post Lockdown III, it’s fair to say I breathe harder in the gym than the alto section of a choir!

Okay, so if I take all the sides off a tent can I class it as outdoor as per hospitality? Nope you’re arts so it is an indoor venue regardless. Ah, so how about we go with hospitality rules, yep that makes sense, but if you’re at a festival you can buy a beer from a vendor and if there is no seating adjacent to the vendor you can walk off and consume anywhere on site.

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Ooh that could work, does anyone really know what adjacent means and what that interpretation looks like? Nope.

This is mine and so many others lives at the moment. Working ridiculously hard on something that may not happen is the oddest of situations. That’s why there has been so many cancellations of festivals in the last few weeks. Over a third of UK festivals have already cancelled with more to follow unless the government confirms clear operational guidance on expectations or insurance which isn’t commercially available.

Festivals require months of planning and investment and across Europe governments have set up insurance schemes to act as the insurer of last resort to protect the festival industries. A recent AIF survey last week revealed some bleak results. Over 33% of respondents have no cash reserves that would last another lost year of income, which would mean changing the festival landscape across the UK forever. But, for HIF the cry is ‘onwards’.

We know the rules and guidance could change yet again and I need to thank my incredible Board and team for their hard work and positivity, alongside so many donors and sponsors who have helped keep HIF afloat over the last few months. Working in festivals is not for the faint-hearted. We’re hopeful that we can continue to produce great work again and are looking forward to the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival which takes place from July 22-25. It might look a little different this year, but for now, it will take place and we cannot wait to welcome audiences and artists to the Old Swan Hotel.

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