OPINION: We’re planning ways to run our live events again - Sharon Canavar, chief executive of Harrogate International Festivals

Isn’t it amazing to see our town busy and buzzing, with the sunshine making a timely return for outdoor dining and hospitality?

Thursday, 29th April 2021, 5:03 pm
Lee Child and John Grisham at the HIF Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival

It seems the early stages on the roadmap are sticking, and April 12 has seen many pubs and restaurants create new spaces for entertaining their customers.

Retail has also been incredibly busy and the volume of shopping bags being carried across town is reminiscent of seeing Julia Roberts’s spectacular shopping trip in Pretty Woman.

We shouldn’t forget though that there are lots of places that haven’t been able to open yet. If you have limited outdoor space it is going to be tricky to make opening viable and we’re all keeping our eye on the next date of May 17 so that all of our hospitality can open safely and start to trade again.

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As a Festival we have fixed our gaze firmly on June 21.

That magical, mythical date where nightclubs can open and all restrictions are out of the window. Most importantly, for us the reality that HIF can start to deliver live events again.

It is fair to say huge swathes of the public are firmly in the camp that sees June 21 as set in stone, whereas guidance behind the scenes is that distancing, masks and other elements of restrictions are highly likely to remain in some form, but with no clarity on what this looks like.

Here at HIF, the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival takes place each July, 750 tickets are sold on the hour every hour.

Across a busy weekend international, bestselling crime authors, CSIs and real-life detectives speak to packed audiences at the Old Swan Hotel. We have timelines and spreadsheets based on every variation on what any July restrictions might look like and spent some serious time with a trundle stick (remember them from primary school?!) measuring out patches of land to ensure the expected 2m2 required for each person attending.

Track and trace is also likely to remain, we need a plan to consider if seated service will stay in place, and if someone could tell me why tents with a variety of sides count as ok for hospitality but not for events I would be forever grateful. I wasn’t far off from opening a pub with a side order of crime fiction this time last week.

Ultimately though, we need to get this right. Festivals are seasonal with limited opportunities to deliver, and whilst we have been agile and re-imagined our offering over the last 12 months we are also keen not to lose two years of some of our most successful festivals.

We want to be sustainable and the funds raised this summer will help us survive another year.

We’re not alone either, festivals are making the sad decision to cancel all over the country. We lost Boomtown and Deershed last week, and countless others are weighing up the decision whether to start the investment on going ahead without any Government backed insurance scheme, (it exists for TV and film but not for festivals), for pandemic related cancellation.

In the meantime, here in Harrogate we continue in the hope that the Government will release more clarity on guidance for post June 21 which will allow festivals and events to deliver safely, return to trading and continue to ensure Harrogate remains such a vibrant, cultural hub for our community.