Saturday, 31 July 2021

Supporters applaud Henley Festival relocation U-turn

SUPPORTERS of the Henley Festival are celebrating that it is to stay in the town after all.

SUPPORTERS of the Henley Festival are celebrating that it is to stay in the town after all.

The annual music and arts extravaganza is remain at the Henley Royal Regatta site for the ?foreseeable future? after agreeing a new deal.

The U-turn comes after festival organisers were lambasted for arranging to move to the Henley Business School next year after their 10-year lease with the regatta expired.

They had argued that relocating would reduce running costs, which hit £2 million this year, and raise more money for the festival?s charitable trust.

The festival had agreed a 15-year deal to move to the Marlow Road business school, which is owned by the University of Reading, but had not signed a contract.

Critics attacked the move, saying it would not feel like the same event in its new setting and that festival-goers wouldn?t be able to walk to it any more.

Some festival supporters threatened to withdraw their backing.

The festival and the regatta were both shocked by the force of the backlash and the latter offered to negotiate a new deal to bring the event back.

Gill Mitchell, the festival?s chief executive, told the Henley Standard: ?I think it is fair to say that we were surprised by the depth of feeling within the community and without speaking on behalf of the regatta, I think they were too.

?We have 1,500 Friends and we had a handful who said they didn?t want to renew because of the move. Most people commented in emails or letters to the Henley Standard but it shows they love the festival.?

Ms Mitchell said that now the festival was staying in Henley, people should vote with their feet next year.

?We have totally taken on board the feelings within the town and how proud people are of the festival, but we want people to buy tickets,? she said. ?Contrary to popular belief, we don?t sell out.?

Henley Mayor Stefan Gawrysiak welcomed the festival?s decision to stay put, saying: ?It is absolutely marvellous news.

?From a town point of view, it means people can still walk to the festival and go into Henley and have a meal or a pint before going along to listen to the music.

?The setting of the royal regatta site is really beautiful and on a warm summer?s evening it can?t be beaten.?

Town centre manager Peter McConnell said: ?From a business point of view, the restaurants, pubs and so on will welcome the change of mind by both the festival and the regatta.

?Personally, it means I can walk there and back from home.?

Mark Dunlop, manager at the Angel on the Bridge pub, said: ?I think it is a good

decision all round and everyone?s happier that the festival is to stay where it is easily accessible.

?People going to the festival stop off here for a quick beer beforehand and we get quite a few boats coming as well.?

Suzy Hobbs, marketing manager at Hobbs of Henley, said: ?We will continue to use our boats for the festival as normal.

?We were concerned about how the move might have affected our evening launches but we were open to change. As festival-goers, we thought it might freshen it up and we had a plan of action but this keeps it simple.?

Andy Laurillard, who runs the Giggling Squid restaurant in Hart Street, said: ?We are pleased that nothing is changing. The festival is definitely good for business. It brings a lot of people to the town and we look forward to next year.?

Laurence Morris, who owns Laurence menswear in Duke Street and is a member of the Henley Partnership, said: ?Common sense has prevailed and it is totally the right thing to stay. The initial decision to move should never have been made.?

Doug Green, landlord of the Little Angel pub, said: ?I am positively over the moon. It is great for the town because it would have made things disjointed if the festival had moved to the business school.

?We have customers coming back each year. They come here for an early meal and then walk there and back. The regatta site is also within walking distance of the station.?

John Korcsok, manager of La Bodega in Hart Street, said: ?The festival has been there for many years.

?It is not good just for the restaurants but also for the locals who just need to walk over the bridge to get there. It is much easier than driving to the business school.?

Mark Duggan, licensee and head chef of the Three Tuns in Market Place, said: ?We want to keep the festival as close to us as possible. We benefit when people come and have a meal here first and if it moved I don?t think we would see any of that.?

Neil Ainsworth, landlord of the Argyll, also in Market Place, said a lot of the festival?s support staff and security team members regularly used the pub, adding: ?I feel we would have lost that if the festival had moved to the business school.?

Tim Hearn, of Reading Road, Henley, who was a critic of the move, said: ?This is good news. The Henley festival should remain in the centre of Henley.

?Have they done a slightly sharpened pencil deal or were they playing the long game in the first place to get a better deal??

The festival?s decision to move was largely prompted by rising costs and the problem of sustaining big-name acts, such as this year?s headliners, the Beach Boys, Madness, Jamie Cullum and Paloma Faith.

The July festival ? the 31st ? made a loss of £50,000.Mrs Mitchell said many critics had not considered this.

?Transport seemed to be the most important focus rather than the financial justifications and the beauty of the Greenlands site,? she said. ?We still believe that we could have put on a successful festival there.?

She admitted there would have been a ?few issues? with traffic management on Marlow Road but said these could have been overcome.

She said: ?The team still believe they could have delivered something more beautiful at Greenlands but the iconic setting at the regatta is unbelievable.

If you sit in the grandstand you can see the church, Phyllis Court and the boats ? it is beautiful.

?We have had a very happy relationship with the regatta and were very sad to be leaving.?

Mrs Mitchell stressed that the business school had been ?hugely supportive? and understood the reasons for the festival pulling out of their deal. She said: ?The whole festival team and the board are grateful to the business school ? they have been amazing.

?We are very sad that we are not going to be there and for those reasons we will try to work with them in the future with events outside the festival.?

Mike Sweeney, chairman of the royal regatta, said: ?We are very pleased to have the festival for the foreseeable future.

?There has been an agreement and both sides are happy and it is great to have them back with the continuity.

?The festival on our regatta site, with the iconic background of the church, town, Phyllis Court and boats on the river, that?s key for me and I am pleased that they?re home.?

Sir David Bell, vice- chancellor of the University of Reading, said: ?We wish the festival every success and look forward to working together in the future.?

But not everyone was happy. The Henley-based Open Spaces Society had welcomed the festival?s move having annually opposed the closure of the Thames Path in order for the ?floating stage? to be put up and taken down.

Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the pressure group, said: ?If keeping the footpath open didn?t come into discussion then that shows the disdain with which the festival and the regatta treat this internationally important footpath.

?We are appalled that the festival is going back to the regatta site and ask that they now consider keeping the footpath open.?

Fellow campaigner David Parry, of Greys Road, Henley, said: ?I think the festival is a terrific idea but I think it is offensive of them to close the towpath, which is a public amenity.?

* What do you think? Write to: Letters, Henley Standard, Caxton House, 1 Station Road, Henley, RG9 1AD or email letters@henleystandard.co.uk

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