Thursday, 11 August 2022

Literary festival intent on attracting big names

THE Henley Literary Festival could have a 1,500-seat marquee in Mill Meadows to accommodate “big names”.

The town council, which owns the land, has given permission and also granted the festival free use of the town hall, including the cost of the caretaker, subject to seeing the event’s accounts.

Until now the festival has had free use of the hall, Old Fire Station Gallery and King’s Arms Barn but has had to pay for the caretaker as well as hiring drapes, carpets and speakers for the hall.

The council has also granted permission for the festival to have a marquee in Market Place for the duration of this year’s event from October 2 to 8 with no rental charge.

Journalist Sue Ryan, who founded the festival 11 years ago, told councillors: “The literary festival brings an enormous amount to the town. We don’t ask you for money, we ask for the use of facilities.

“For me it’s a principle thing — we do a lot for the town. It’s just a question of you saying, ‘yes, we like you’.

“It’s much more to do with that than the money, to be honest.”

Councillor Ian Reissmann said the festival was “great” and filled Henley with people but it didn’t produce accounts.

He said: “Are you profitable? Are you stable? I would find it difficult to support any application for an organisation without seeing a financial statement.”

Mrs Ryan replied: “The problem is it’s not finite. We have an area of expense and an area of income and we work out what our income is and we keep within it.”

Last year, the festival paid all its visiting authors for the first time which Mrs Ryan said was the “morally right” thing to do.

But she said the festival couldn’t attract some authors as the largest venue capacity was 330 whereas a big marquee would mean it could accommodate them.

Mrs Ryan said: “I’m not saying we would definitely want to use Mill Meadows but we would like the option to do so.”

She added that having the marquee in Market Place for the whole week would allow the festival to have more children’s events.

Councillor Stefan Gawrysiak said he supported the festival, calling it “fantastic”.

“It’s the one festival that brings people into the town and it brings income to the town. People buy meals, they book hotel rooms and they have a coffee,” he said.

Councillor Kellie Hinton suggested that the council had a three- or five-year agreement with the festival rather than the organisers having to make applications every year.

Deputy Mayor Will Hamilton said: “We do have to be fair to all festivals.

“They are the heart and soul of the town at certain times of the year.”

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