Saltaire Festival is the biggest annual community event in the Bradford district and is under threat of discontinuing if it doesn’t get the volunteers it vitally needs.
The festival has taken place in the World Heritage Site each September since 2003 but its future is at risk due to a shortage of volunteers and funding.
The festival is a registered charity and, for thirteen years, has been completely reliant on the time and skills of a small group of volunteers, which has come under pressure in recent years and is currently at an unsustainable level.
The tough economic climate has put further strain on what is a mainly free event, with fewer commercial sponsors and funding from public sector and grant-making bodies falling each year. It is vital to keep as many Saltaire Festival events free in order to provide a festival for the whole of the Bradford district and not exclude lower income families.
“Saltaire Festival is the best-attended event of its kind in the district. We’re so pleased to have been able to put on such a successful festival for thousands of people,” said Ros Garside, chair of the board of trustees.
“Over the years the festival has grown but has still been successfully run by unpaid volunteers. The core team is barely a dozen strong and only a handful of trustees make up the board. The commitment of these individuals is astounding, but unfortunately we need more people to help us out.
“This year our feedback from visitors, performers and volunteers was overwhelmingly positive but as things stand it’s not viable to continue. It would be a shame if the festival had to fold and we imagine it would be a huge impact on the local community and a gap in the calendar.
“In 2016 we had 35,000 visitors attend Saltaire Festival and, for many, there’s an expectation that each September the festival just ‘happens’. What so many people don’t realise is that the festival is a year-round task to plan, organise and fundraise for; many people will have little idea of the amount of work this requires behind the scenes.
“In order to keep the festival accessible to all we try very hard to keep admission free to as much as possible of the programme – and keep down prices for ticketed events – but we’re also responsible for visitors being able to enjoy themselves safely. The second weekend in Robert’s Park is a large scale event that is attended by the majority of people and means we are responsible for emergency first aid cover, professional stewarding and waste disposal, which all significantly add to the cost.
“The 2016 festival cost about £60,000 to stage and we’re confident we’ll break even but the challenge of raising this kind of money gets more difficult each year.
“We have no guaranteed funding and it’s down to volunteers to apply for grants, seek sponsors, sell advertising in our programme and on our website, arrange crowdfunding appeals and even shake buckets for street collections – it all counts. We’re extremely grateful to Bradford Council, Baildon Town Council and the Sir George Martin Trust for grants but we have to raise the bulk of the money we need from other sources. Public sector and charity organisations are all affected by tightening budgets and difficult trading conditions make commercial sponsorship harder to come by.”
The board of trustees is holding an open meeting at The Hop in Saltaire at 7.30pm on Thursday, 5 January to discuss the future of the festival.
This goes beyond a general appeal for volunteers, as without a greater commitment from the local community the festival cannot take place in 2017 or continue into the future. While it has generally run for 10 days, other formats would be considered if there is enough support.
“The transient nature of Saltaire’s population – and the many community groups within the village – makes it more difficult to retain a large enough group of volunteers with the relevant skills,” explains Ros.
“We need to strengthen our board, who are the core of the festival. The board is drawn from volunteers and it’s important this reflects the local community as the festival belongs to Saltaire – it links up and works with village organisations and local businesses, as well as residents.
“A lot of volunteers get involved when they’re new to the village and we can use all kinds of professional skills but inevitably there is turnover, particularly when people move on.
Anyone unable to attend the open meeting can comment by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org before 5 January 2017.