Farewell Free Festival

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Well this is a real shame: the Colchester Free Festival won’t be taking place in 2016.

Organisers Andy Winmill and Marc De’ath have reluctantly taken the decision to cancel the planned Castle Park festival over the August Bank Holiday weekend because of various issues involving the relationship with Colchester Borough Council.

This news follows the cancellation of the Colchester Film Festival, and the announcement at the start of this week that the Colchester Carnival will be scaled down this summer.

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Marc told The Chronic:

“Colchester Borough Council has remained committed to funding established institutions such as Firstsite, Colchester Art Centre and Mercury Theatre.

However, the recent cancellations of Colchester Film Festival and Colchester Carnival Fun Day shows that the Borough could be a lot better at nurturing the community ­led culture that’s already bubbling beneath the surface.”

An application by the Free Festival team was considered for the Colchester Big Choice funding scheme. £200,000 has been made available to local organisations after an under spend by CBC in the past financial year.

The Chronic understands that the Free Festival team felt that the Big Choice application wording didn’t quite fit the ethos of the festival and what it aims to achieve.

Dialogue between the organisers and the Town Hall wasn’t perhaps as free-flowing as the volunteer team might have hoped for.

Marc said:

“It’s not just about financial contributions. Money aside, I feel there was an opportunity for a lot more strategic round table conversations about how we can all work collectively to keep things going.

These kind of conversations haven’t been forthcoming — this coupled with increased financial pressures have led us to decide not to run the event in 2016.”

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The Free Festival has been a labour of love since local promoter Ben Howard stepped forward in 2010 to volunteer to put on a showcase for local talent.

Five glorious festivals have followed. Andy and Marc took over the running of the volunteer led event in 2013, with a horrendous Castle Park downpour seeing the team take a large financial hit.

A fallow year followed in 2014, with a triumphant two day return over the August Bank Holiday in 2015.

The future of the Free Festival remains unclear. It won’t take place in 2016. It seems that reassurances and support are needed if it is to make a comeback in 2017 and beyond.

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Andy added:

“Last year we took a leap of faith and attempted to grow the event to two days. The aim was to become more attractive to partners, funders and sponsors alike and help us secure our long­term sustainability.

We are proud of what we achieved given the resources available but we didn’t attract the level of support we were hoping for going forward.

In 2015, the two day event cost over £50,000 to organise. A small amount by many festivals standards, but still a significant sum for a volunteer group running a free entry event.”

With the Wivenhoe May Fair currently taking an extended sabbatical – ironically due to the success of the event – this now leaves our area looking a little weak when it comes to promoting local talent.

The ‘alternative’ would be for a mainstream, corporate backed festival such as down the road in Chelmsford with V. Bloody Justin Bieber is rumoured to be playing V this year.

Colchester has sufficient talent as a town to sustain a genuinely grass roots festival that can celebrate local bands that support the local music scene week in, week out. You won’t catch Justin Bieber propping up the bar at The Bull on a Saturday night.

Which all leaves the future of the Free Festival pretty much at the mercy of the ‘relationship’ between CBC and the volunteer organisers. You don’t get rich staging the Colchester Free Festival. In fact the exact opposite is true.

Thank you to Marc, Andy and Ben for five fantastic Free Festivals. The August Bank Holiday weekend now has a bit of a blank for Colchester. We hope that a little more support is coming out of the Town Hall for 2017.

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