Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Whisper it, this is a grown-up solution that works for everyone

WELL, that’s been something of a saga! Happily though, things are now resolved and the 32nd Henley Festival will be

WELL, that’s been something of a saga! Happily though, things are now resolved and the 32nd Henley Festival will be the 32nd to take place within the stewards’ enclosure of the Henley Royal Regatta site.

I don’t mind saying that the last few months have been quite challenging but hopefully I can take this opportunity to clear up a few facts. Inevitably, there was quite a lot of misinformation doing the rounds of dinner parties and hushed conversations on street corners.

The first thing to say is that a Henley Festival at the Henley Business School would have worked for all the fears and concerns expressed in these pages and elsewhere. But there is clearly an extraordinary umbilical link between the festival and the regatta and it is absolutely right that that we should have done everything possible to secure that relationship.

Happily, the relationship has been secured with both the festival and regatta having listened to the very strong representations made publicly and privately as well as having found a way of making the sums work. From our point of view, we have had two very simple aims every year — firstly, to put on the most extraordinary and remarkable festival and, secondly, to raise funds to support the work of our parent charity.

Anyone who saw the results of this summer’s urban art project The Wall, involving Stoke Mandeville Hospital and a number of local schools and mixed ability groups, will realise just how important this work is both in itself and to what we as an organisation do.

Happily, discussions with the regatta now put us in a stronger position to continue and develop this work while at the same time recognising that in being able to stage the festival on such an extraordinarily beautiful and historic site, we do indeed enjoy access to a very considerable asset. It is as simple as that. Both organisations have understood the strength of each other’s case and come to a “grown-up” solution.

So, as regards next year, what does it mean? Happily, the almost universal appreciation of the 2013 festival shows that we are currently getting a lot of things right. The amount of positive comment was remarkable. Truly remarkable.

However, the word “complacency” is not even in our lexicon. For every surprise and delight we manage to offer year on year, there are always dozens of alternatives and you can be guaranteed that these will be turning up for duty en masse in July 2014 whether on the floating stage, the satellite stages, the enclosure itself or in the bars and restaurants.

Happily, the exercise of re-inventing the festival at the Henley Business School, whom we love and would like to thank immeasurably for their support and magnanimous acceptance of the return to the regatta site, has also resulted in the injection of some new ideas and they will take their place next July.

So happily — and to quote my favourite book as a child, 1066 And All That — remaining at the stewards’ enclosure is “a good thing”.

Our supporters asked us in their droves to stay, both our organisations recognise the strength of the link, 31 years of Henley Festivals at the regatta site have attracted huge local, regional and national audiences and, hopefully, we will both continue to prosper and do what we both do best — right bang in the middle of Henley.

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