Monday, 02 August 2021

Literary festival told it can still have free use of council buildings

THE Henley Literary Festival is likely to continue ha ving free use of Henley Town Council’s

THE Henley Literary Festival is likely to continue ha ving free use of Henley Town Council’s buildings.

The council had considered starting to charge the organisers for use of its properties, including the town hall, King’s Arms Barn and the Old Fire Station Gallery.

Festival founder Sue Ryan told a meeting of the council’s town and community committee that the annual event was good for the town.

She pointed to press coverage, extra trade for shops and restaurants, the sale of a record 18,000 tickets this year and positive feedback from authors.

Mrs Ryan said: “Due to good fortune and good management we’re seen by publishers and the press as one of the top five literary festivals.

“The directors are not paid. Staff are paid well below the going rate and I would say the biggest benefactor of the festival was Henley.

“We want to be here and it’s where I feel we should be. We would love to keep the festival in the centre of the town and make it as accessible as possible.” She said the price of tickets for next year’s festival, which will be the 10th, would go up but that it was time for the visiting authors to be paid.

“If we go into the red the only person who would bail it out is me, so we try not to go into the red,” said Mrs Ryan.

Mayor Lorraine Hillier said she was not aware that the festival was a not-for-profit organisation.

Deputy Mayor Julian Brookes said that one of the goals of the new Henley Town Team was to have a world class arts programme and that events needed the support of the council.

Councillor Ian Reissmann said: “We’re concerned about helping organisations that do not need our help. I would like to be certain there isn’t £10,000 tucked away.”

Mrs Ryan responded: “If we have a surplus we have to pay tax on it. We do need a surplus, so if we have a bad year I don’t have to sell my house.”

The committee agreed unanimously to recommend the festival continues to be allowed free use of the council’s buildings.

Meanwhile, the way the council gives free use of its buildings to other festivals is set to change from next year.

It plans to introduce a policy that “favours new festivals while encouraging financial independence within three years by a sliding scale reduction in the free usage allowed”.

From April 1 festivals would be allowed an allowance of £1,000 against free use of rooms in the first year, reduced to £667 in the second year and £333 in the third.

After four years festivals would have to pay for their usage after 5pm in the week and all weekend.

After five years all festivals would be charged for all usage at local rates.

The new Henley Food and Drink Festival and the Henley Home and Garden Show, which began last year, will be treated as “first year” festivals in 2017.

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