Three community-led festivals discuss how to balance growth with the needs of their core audience
Every festival begins as a fledgling idea — even the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, now the largest arts celebration in the world, began merely as a twinkle in someone's eye. But while some celebrations have exploded beyond its original remit, others have maintained true to their original course, eschewing world domination to instead focus on sustainable, community-oriented growth. But how do you let your festival evolve naturally, while staying attuned to the needs of your audience? To find out how it's done, we've reached out to three festivals renowned for their deep community roots to find out how they've managed to balance growth with maintaining strong ties to their local audience.
Homegrown Music Festival: Stay involved with the community beyond the festival
Held on the second weekend of June each year in the picturesque East Anglian countryside, Homegrown Music Festival has never wavered from its commitment to supporting its vibrant local music scene. 'Our ethos to promote our region's musicians musicians and artists has remained since day one and I think that's why we're still here and gradually getting stronger, as more people get to appreciate the talent on offer right here in their own counties,' says Julie, one of Homegrown's organisers. 'We've really grown organically, much of which entails our own experience and gradually purchasing our own infrastructure. Last year we even built our own stage!'
Julie, however, also credits the festival's success to its involvement with the community and their support of local musicians beyond its annual June weekender. 'Community is integral to Homegrown,' she says. 'We hold or participate in events throughout the year, and this year we're providing music on three stages at the Suffolk Show; we've assisted a charity festival that's raising money and awareness for a local seven-year-old with cerebral palsy; and our volunteers are continually supporting their communities under the Homegrown banner. We like to support the bands who play for us too by giving them gigs and recommending them to venues.'
Touting itself as a grassroots community gathering, Leicestershire's Barefoot Festival is a family-friendly camping festival that reinvests its annual profits back into its facilities. But the key is to keep the dialogue going year-round, says local social media and event organiser Louisa. 'We have an active and continuous conversation with our clients through social media — Instagram and Facebook mainly — and we hold competitions and ask questions about what our customers want through these avenues.'
Though the festival team often attends similar events across the UK to see what works, their focus, as ever, remains homebound. 'The greatest way we support the community is trying to ensure that most of our artists and performers are local,' says Louisa. 'We have Leicester-based Talulah Blue hosting our burlesque show this year, and many of our bands are local. We employ local artists and people to run the different spaces within the event. I'm born and bred in Leicester too, so I stay involved in the community.'
When it came to organising Barefoot's online sales, Louise had an extremely positive experience with Eventbrite. 'I find their "back office" platform really user friendly, and all the information they present about sales to be very useful,' she says. 'Whenever I had any issues, I've had great customer service with staff, who are always super friendly and helpful.'
Eilean Dorcha Festival: Offer a platform to your local talent
Located on the Isle of Benbecula, just off the West Coast of Scotland, the Eilean Dorcha Festival is entering into its fourth edition, and is once more poised to sell out, as it has done every previous year. Roddy, one of EDF's organisers, proudly notes that despite its relatively remote location, the festival has tripled in size in its three years; 'It's also been dubbed "the Friendly Festival" by the public,' he says, 'which speaks volumes.'
The festival's strong ties to its island community has been one of the main pillars of its success: 'We consult extensively with the local community and beyond in a number of ways to make sure we are delivering what the public wants to see,' says Roddy. 'Each year we have a survey that goes out to everyone who has bought a ticket to get their feedback on what went right, but also more importantly to see where we can make improvements, which has proved to be invaluable. Combining the survey with feedback from public meetings held on the island allows us to programme the event in a way that is suited to what the public has asked for.'
Another way in which it's served its public so well over the years is the opportunities it offers to its young artists. 'The festival is very much a community event. It's driven by the community and staffed almost entirely by volunteers who want to showcase what the islands have to offer,' says Roddy. 'The festival also has a special place for young people, with local performers given the chance to perform on the main stage, just like the internationally-acclaimed artists on the programme. Indeed the festival has had a couple of very notable successes: a young local band, Beinn Lee, opened the festival in 2016, and by 2018 they were the headline act, having had their debut album Osgarra surge to Number 1 in the World iTunes charts, something they attribute to the exposure received by the opportunity given to them by our festival. We offer something for everyone and will continue to grow as we try and reach our goal of becoming one of the very few self-sufficient festivals in the UK.'
Get your online ticketing needs handled with Eventbrite
When you're working hard at growing your festival sustainably and keeping the needs of the local community at the centre of all you do, why sweat the small stuff? Take the worry out of your online ticketing transactions with some help from ticketing platform Eventbrite.
Eventbrite are proud to support community-focused events with their online ticketing service, which takes the hassle out of setting up and managing your own box office. The service also provides useful sales analytics and reports after the fact, which can help guide the future development of your festival.
So, why wait to throw the ultimate shindig in your local area? Grab some friends, get organised and show the world all the home-grown wealth that your community has to offer.
A unique and intimate festival in the heart of the Leicestershire countryside. We pride ourselves on being a fun family-friendly festival, with something for every member of the family to enjoy!
Barefoot is held in the grounds of Prestwold Hall (close to Nottingham, Leicester and Loughborough).
From burlesque shows…