Christchurch Festival happens on the first weekend of July each year, and brings music and dance to the town of Christchurch. The festival is aimed at a full cross section of society, not just the young music lover, or the green ‘tree huggers’, it caters for the whole family. With music ranging from Rock, Folk, Classic Pop / sing along and even choir music.
Taking place on the grassy area next to the Christchurch Quay ‘the Quomps’ and around town (mainly Saxon Square, Church St. and around the bandstand). It raises money for the Mayors Charities. All done on a voluntary basis and people give their time for free, including the bands. Some of the volunteers take a week off work to help.
The organisation itself is ‘self funding’, keeping back a few thousand pounds in the bank to deal with expenses for the next year. We do not completely rely on sponsorship, as this takes a lot of time and effort to arrange. Also in times of recession this money may not be there.
The festival is always the week after Glastonbury and is usually on at the same time as Wimbledon final or the British Grand-Prix. This does not normally affect attendance. The biggest problem is football ie World / European cup. Also if some big event in London is arranged at the last minute it always seems to coincide with Christchurch Festival e.g. Live8, Dianna’s Memorial concert. The next thing is the weather, ‘touch wood’ we have never had a three day wash out.
The main effort during the year is organising the bands and the stall holders. Most other things are a rubber stamped from previous years. However each year, something comes up, red tape/ new bureaucracy or equipment failure that has to be sorted.
The present group of people have been working hard for the last 10 years or more, however their effort in wavering. The age range encompasses 18 - 60+ the oldies in the group can do the organisation but the heavy work of setup days is getting a little too much. More youthful (<50) volunteers are required who don’t mind getting their hands dirty and getting all sweaty! And in the future take over the organisation.
Christchurch festival has been going for many years in some shape or form. However in 1999 the old organising group disbanded and there was no festival that year. With many locals questioning what had happened, Paul Cole one of the original committee members rounded up and persuaded a new band of people/ volunteers to get involved, and it all started again in the 2000.
To start with it was the same small setup with a 60x 40 foot tent located near the bandstand on the quay. There were also music work shops in local pubs. At this point in time, there were no dance groups involved. Within the marquee there was a small stage no more than foot off the ground, and a few spot lights lashed to the tent pole (see picture). Also for the first time Jonnie Lovell the landlord of the Thomas Tripp pub, persuaded the local licensing board to allow the selling of alcohol (beer only) for the first time since the 80’s. (Since then many more events such as the Regatta have been allowed to sell alcohol). A change from the previous events, it was decided to fence off an area with a simple plastic fence to give a psychological barrier and ask people to pay a small donation to enter. It worked most of the time with increased takings over what the previous organisation got just by shaking cans. Fencing off the area also allowed kiddies to run free without the worry of them getting close to the rivers edge. However there were always older kids jumping the fence along with some old ladies.
Little changed for the next few years, the tent grew to 80x40 foot. However in 2002. it was decided to move away from the bandstand closer to the toilet block and have a larger Marquee 100x 40. With the larger tent we could include for the first time a backstage area /’Green Room’ for the bands. This offered them better security for their equipment and meant they could enjoy the hospitality out-front.
In 2003 we became hi-tech and the festival got a web-site. This was all very nice until the PRS people did a trawl and found our little festival and wanted there cut of the donations.
In 2004 the ‘Bog Hoppers’ a local dance troop asked if they could organise a fringe dance festival in Saxon Square along side the music. Many dance troops turned up, and they introduced a procession down the high street to the Quomps. This meant involving the police and closing the high street for about ten minutes.
In 2005 new staging was purchased off EBay to allow the audience a better view of the bands. And with this the tent was again extended to 120x40
Also in 2006 some local NIMBY brought to light the open space policy /regulations for Sundays. This meant that the Festival along with other events including the Regatta could no longer fence off the quay on Sundays. This was a great blow. In other places in the country this bye law has been nullified, however no one even the Regatta with its connection wanted to fight the case.
Because of this it was decided to replace the small plastic fence with Harris fencing. Initially it was only used around the back stage area, and where it was hard to police. However since 2007 the Harris fence has surrounded the whole sight on the Fridays and Saturdays. Even so we still only charge the price of a pint of beer and children get in free. But still people complain. A small section of people still think the festival is sponsored, or is part funded by the council and they want to get in free.
In 2010 the type of marquee was changed from a conventional pole tent, to a frame tent. This gave use slightly higher side walls but less central height (however with less droop). Even so it still takes 4-5 hours to put up marginally longer than the old stile tent
In 2011/12 it was decided to sell the staging, the amount of effort to store and move it around was too much. Instead we hire some from a local company who delivers and takes it away at the end of the day for the same price as storing and hiring a tail-lift van for the week end.