THE FUTURE of festival events in the town is looking uncertain as Stratford BID announced it had pulled the plug on the River Festival and the Festival of Motoring today (Wednesday).
The organisation representing more than 430 Stratford businesses said it had decided not to go-ahead with the two major events in the 2023 BID programme against a backdrop of the cost-of-living-crisis, calendar congestion and resource pressures, as well as comprehensive feedback from the BID membership and advice from industry professionals.
The fate of the hugely popular Stratford Food Festival, scheduled for this autumn, is also looking uncertain as BID announced events would be one of the major areas of its work it would be reviewing when it drew up its Business Plan for 2024 to 2029 in the coming months.
A spokesperson for BID said: “This decision has not been made lightly and follows months of discussions with our member businesses and experts in the field. The cost of running any event in the current economic climate is extremely challenging with massive price increases across the board making many simply not viable financially.
“Large scale free-to-attend events like these are particularly at risk because ticket prices cannot be raised to try to cover spiralling costs and as other income streams, such as sponsorship and grants, become increasingly difficult to source.”
The BID spokesperson continued that last year these large-scale events were able to run by partnering with the town’s market operator and putting them on a more commercialised footing however, through post event surveys, a series of meetings with BID sector groups late last year and then a consultation exercise earlier this year, some very clear messages emerged.
A large number of BID members did not like the extension of events to three days, particularly the associated road closures, or the expansion of the market element – both key to making them financially viable.
The spokesperson continued: “Very conscious of difficult trading times and the unprecedented cost increases they face in their day-to-day businesses, many members are now questioning the value of major events in business terms, particularly over Bank Holiday weekends and in the summer season, with so many other events already taking place in the town.
“The Festival of Motoring traditionally has taken place over the early May Bank Holiday, only days after the Shakespeare’s Birthday Celebrations. An extra Bank Holiday for the Coronation this year and an already packed town calendar for May was a concern for many.
“The business model of the River Festival in July was particularly questioned. It obviously did not take place during the pandemic and last year the town resources were pooled to run a Jubilee event in the summer instead. Although this is a very popular community event, many members believe the BID should not be running any event that actually draws footfall away from the town centre.”
BID said it would be focusing on smaller projects and events during the coming year instead.
The spokesperson explained: “Many members now feel that limited budgets should be spread across smaller projects and events, particularly in the winter months when trading is tougher in a town like Stratford. This is what we will be focusing on during the coming year.
“It is apparent to all that we are in a very different business climate to that of five years ago when the current BID plan, which runs until April next year, was created. New times demand new thinking.”