Access All Areas September 2019 - Page 29

SEPTEMBER | REVIEW I t’s been a turbulent year for the festival industry and, in the case of Port Eliot Festival, it seems two years of bad weather can have long lasting implications. This year’s Port Eliot Festival was revealed to be the last edition – for the forseeable future at least after the organisers decided that their financial situation was not sufficient to put on the event to the standard they would like. News of the impending cancellation prompted much dismay on social media, with the event enlivening a loyal and passionate visitor base over the years. Port Eliot Literary Festival, as it is formally titled, is an annual celebration of all things literary and cultural, taking place at Port Eliot in Cornwall. It was founded by the late Jago Eliot. Guests who have attended the festival in past years include Hanif Kureishi, James Flint, Hari Kunzru and Louis de Bernières. The 2010 festival was widely considered the event’s artistic peak. Artists and performers that year included Grayson Perry, Stephen Jones, Jarvis Cocker and Harper Simon. New acts including the vocal group Fisherman’s Friends, the comic performer Wilfredo, and The Book Club Boutique Band also caught the imagination of the Port Eliot audience. Port Eliot’s last hurrah? Access attended the last (probably) Port Eliot Festival, and spoke to its organiser Poppy Handy Suppliers list • • • • Security: ESP UK Stewarding: Wicked Events Sound: Clue Audio Marquees: Companies including Penrose and Albion • Track hire: Davis • Bars: Field Vision Organiser Polly Handy however, says this year’s event was really up there. “This year’s festival was one of the best. After two wet years there was added stress and pressure. In addition, our founder Lord Saint Germans, passed away so there was an extra need to make it special.” “We only knew that this year would be the last year around a week before the event itself. When we announced this we had a brief spike in sales so we just scraped past what we sold in 2016. But it wasn’t quite a sell-out. “We had to make savings this year of about £100,000 so we looked to make cuts. Certain elements we felt were very important, like the compostable loos ,which also lessen the vehicle use needed on site. We also looked at cutting plastics and using less track way.” “Elsewhere, we scaled down on security and looked at ways to reduce our power bill and consolidated some of our areas.” In a high pressure industry, margins are make or break, but the temptation to book bigger acts was deemed too unwieldy. “We did look at ways to make more money from the festival and we considered the economics of bringing in big headliners, but we concluded that there wasn’t a feasible way to make it work and the festival has never been about the headliners. As soon as you get a big act the whole infrastructure of the festival is impacted too. You’d need an entire re-think” Another challenge was the positioning. “There’s always a big challenge marketing festivals. How do you attract new people to an event in an industry where everyone is billing themselves as unique? So we rely a lot on word-of-mouth. Meanwhile our PR department, run by Michael Barrett, do an absolutely amazing job gaining far more column inches than most festivals our size.” Handy says the festival’s independent spirit has been part of its magic: “Really one of the things I’ve been touched by is how many people tell you they’re grateful for the festival. I don’t think that’s something you’d get at Reading Festival for example. We are not a commercial product, that’s not our style. Port Eliot is an adventure. It’s an experience, and going along with that is our ethos not to restrict peoples’ movement and not check their writstbands too much, for example. We like people to be free to roam and explore. “When you look at the list of rules at, say, Boardmasters festival, it just seems excessive. This is a world away from that.” So in the absence of Port Eliot what will become of the site? “The site is certainly open to the opportunity of new festivals, but there is a fair amount of work to do to ensure the site is ready and up to regulations. You need tree surveys for example and a lot of investment from the estate itself. But it’s such a fantastic site. Sadly we could not make enough money to make a forward investment.” The door, it seems, it certainly still ajar: “I’m going to focus on finding suitable long-term investors who will keep the ethos should it ever return. It is a great brand and people have great memories of the event. We are stepping back and taking stock.” 29