Next year’s festival is likely to be a one-day event on Saturday, July 30th, rather than running over two days as in previous years, a Ribble Valley Borough Council committee has said. However, if it proves to be popular as previous ones, it could then be extended to two days in future years. Outside quotes from contractors are also being sought to manage the event, rather than relying on borough council staff.
Covid, terrorist attacks, traffic and the safety of large crowds in Clitheroe’s narrow streets are among the factors being considered for 2022, the borough’s Community Services Committee heard.
The option of tendering the organisation, management and running of the event on the day out to an independent company is being explored. Council staff have assisted in the past but the demands have grown.
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But the council has a strong reputation for delivering an excellent event, according to the feedback from stall holders and visitors at previous food festivals, plus The Tour of Britain cycle race and The Freedom of the Borough march, notes for the meeting stated.
Earlier this summer, the separate Bowland Food Festival was held at Holmes Mill in Clitheroe. But hopes of holding a small Clitheroe Food Festival this autumn did not materialise.
Council officer Mark Beveridge, the head of culture and services, gave an update on 2022 plans with a colour-coded diagram of proposed stalls and locations in Clitheroe town centre.
Proposals include a food court area under tent-style covering, but less hot food stalls and demonstrations on some streets to ease congestion.
He said: “The food festival is a free-to-attend event across the town centre. Using a ticket system to enter the area would be difficult because some people may simply want to visit the local butchers or pharmacy shop, rather than attend the food festival. Because it is free to attend and tickets are not involved, it can be difficult to know exactly how many people will attend.”
Committee Chairman Coun. Richard Newmark said: “I have some concerns about this being a smaller event than 2019. Is a second day available if we want it? Also, using the bull ring area is not proposed in this draft plan for 2022, but the bull ring was used for about 25 stalls previously and some of the hot food stalls there were very popular.” However some councillors felt a two-day full weekend event was unrealistic next year.
Conservative Coun. Rosemary Elms said: “A two day festival would worry me. I think we should stay with one day for 2022 and see how things go. But let’s look to get the bull ring included and we’ll have a good day."
Conservative Coun. Angeline Humphreys asked about the cost of street entertainers. She had expected they were buskers, but was told they were professional entertainers, similar to those at the Edinburgh Festival or Covent Garden in London.
Committee notes showed total gross expenditure for the 2019 food festival of just over £38,000 and total income of just under £28,000.
Conservative Coun. Stephen Atkinson, who is Leader of the Council, suggested it would be good to subcontract the food festival work because it would give the council a clear understanding of cost. In the past, borough council staff had worked on planning the festival but now there were less staff. Regarding a smaller event and the proposed date, he said: “A two-day event over the full weekend might help to spread demand and lessen crowding on the streets. Some people will criticise us for a lack of ambition, but the date is a good one. It will come after the Royal Lancashire Show. Attendance at the last Royal Lancashire Show went up because people were desperate to get out after the Covid lockdowns.”
Mr Beveridge said King Street and Castle Street were the main areas of concern over crowding. He added: “If you have a house party and send out invitations, you have a good idea of how many people will come. If you post it on social media, you can get lots of people turning up. With the food festival, we never know exactly how many people will come. It could be one or 100,000 because it’s free to enter.
“Having a two-day event helps to spread the load, but creates other issues too, such as security, car parks, street traffic and use of traffic cones through the day and night. The car parks at Railway View and the Market were taken out of public use during the previous food festival.”
But he added: “Our park-and-ride system is a slick operation. We had parking for 800 cars and had five double-decker buses running every ten minutes into Clitheroe. Overall, this is an important event for the borough and a great way to promote the area.”
Lib-Dem Coun. Stuart Fletcher supported the one-day plan. He said: “Two-day events allow more options if weather is bad on one day. But we can look at two-day festivals in the future. I think a smaller festival for 2022 is would be OK. Safety is paramount at the moment and some of the narrow streets get packed.”
Conservative Coun. Janet Alcock said: “People are prepared to accept changes because of Covid. If it’s a one-day event, but brilliant then we can build for the future.”
The committee approved the draft layout, but wanted the bull ring added. Councillors also agreed that costs should be sought for external professional support to manage the event.