Friday, 30 July 2021

Festival moves down the river

THE Henley Festival is moving after 31 years, the Henley Standard can reveal.

THE Henley Festival is moving after 31 years, the Henley Standard can reveal.

It is relocating from the Henley Royal Regatta site to the Henley Business School at Greenlands on the opposite bank of the Thames and two miles out of Henley.

This was the venue for the diamond jubilee garden party last year, which was attended by the Queen and Prince Philip.

The festival has signed a 15-year lease with the business school, which is part of the University of Reading. The 31st and last festival on the regatta site will take place in July, when the performers will include the Beach Boys and Madness.

The annual music and arts event was coming to the end of its 10-year lease with the regatta and the two sides had not agreed a new deal.

Festival organisers say they felt that it was the right time to find new premises which they could make their own rather than having to customise the tents and marquees used for the regatta in the previous week.

They stress that the event will still be “instantly recognisable” at its new home and will retain key features such as the “floating” stage, grandstand seating area and fireworks finale.

The festival is a not-for-profit organisation, so the money it makes goes into a charitable trust. Chief executive Gill Mitchell said it had become difficult to make a return at the regatta site.

She said: “We didn’t feel that the current rent, which was agreed 10 years ago, was commercially viable for us.

“The regatta has not asked for more money. We went to them with an offer and it wasn’t acceptable to them, end of story.

“We are a trust and we have to make money for that — it is our raison d’être.

“We have struggled to make money on the regatta site and this partnership with the business school will open up a new financial world for us.”

Mrs Mitchell said that although the regatta site provided a “beautiful backdrop” it was difficult and expensive to transform it in a matter of days for the festival.

She said: “On the Sunday night, as soon as the regatta finishes, we have a horrendous two-and-a-half days to turn it around into the beautiful event that we put on.

“We have to think about the health and wellbeing of our contractors and staff — the turnaround time is a killer.”

Suzanne Yeates, the festival’s event and artist manager, added: “There are white tents that support a beautifully traditional sporting event and we have to do something with them and that’s when all the costs start creeping up.”

Artistic director Stewart Collins said the move would mean the festival could invest more money into charitable projects.

He said: “There are so many projects we can’t fund simply because the festival has barely been breaking even. We want to be able to do a great deal more.”

Mrs Mitchell said the festival still had a “very good” working relationship with the regatta and thanked the stewards for their support.

She added: “We are certainly not leaving under any black cloud. We wish them all the very best for the future.”

Next year’s festival at the business school, off Marlow Road, will be held in the week after the regatta as usual and will continue to be a black-tie event, although the capacity may be increased.

Mrs Mitchell said: “People will know that it is the Henley Festival — we are not changing our ethos. It will be the same dates and the same time. It is absolutely going to remain black-tie and we will continue the fine dining. We will still have the artists and the fireworks spectacular.”

In February, the Henley Standard reported how the festival has been given a new image in a bid to attract wider audiences and premium sponsors. The rebranding, which included a new logo and website, puts more emphasis on attracting big-name contemporary acts rather than on the classics.

This has been reflected by changes to the line-up in recent years, moving from three nights of classical music to luring leading performers such as Sting and Tom Jones.

Mrs Mitchell said: “We don’t want to be the festival that offers everything to every man.

“It is accessible but we don’t want to run a Reading Festival or a Glastonbury. The festival world is vast and we are a beautiful, intimate party.

“We want to make sure that everyone who comes has a wonderful time — we don’t want people to have a bad view of the stage.

“The business school is really beautiful with trees and landscape features and we can put on what we want as we won’t have the white marquees, so we have done this partly for artistic reasons too.”

Mr Collins said: “Having access to this virgin site, we can play with it in a way that we would choose to.

“There are lots of different areas we will be able to use in a rather more intimate way. We have more opportunity to create a magical environment here. It is every bit as beautiful and we will be able to develop the festival in new ways.”

The festival will be providing water taxis and shuttle buses for guests to and from Henley town centre for those not wanting to drive to the business school.

Mrs Yeates said: “There will be mooring opportunities and we will be encouraging boats to create the same vista as at the regatta.”

Mrs Mitchell said the move would help to ease the congestion on Remenham Hill on festival evenings.

Sir David Bell, vice- chancellor of the University of Reading, said: “The Henley Festival is an incredibly important and prestigious event. It has a huge following and reputation so this is a great partnership.

“It builds on the tremendous success we had last summer with the Queen’s diamond jubilee garden party. Everyone said that it was outstanding and brilliantly organised.

“We have this wonderful location and setting and this is also a signal that the festival is staying in Henley.”

John Board, dean of the business school, said: “Moving the festival here makes us a permanent part of the local landscape.

“One of the other things we can offer is time to put up the festival. We hope that it can expand the range of attractions on offer because we have so much more space.”

Mike Sweeney, chairman of Henley Royal Regatta, said: “The festival management has decided to make the move to a new home after 30 years of sharing the iconic regatta venue.

“Over these three decades the festival has grown from a relatively small event with performances taking place on the regatta’s old floating grandstand to the major event of today.

“The stewards of the regatta wish the festival every success for their new venue in 2014

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