Festival is axed amid funding problems

One of the biggest cultural events in Essex has been scrapped because of a lack of funding from sponsors and a proposed venue being axed, its organisers revealed yesterday.

By Roddy Ashworth

One of the biggest cultural events in Essex has been scrapped because of a lack of funding from sponsors and a proposed venue being axed, its organisers revealed yesterday.

The Colchester Festival, which last year employed 400 people, used the services of 700 volunteers and entertained thousands of residents and visitors, will not take place this year.

In just five years the festival had grown into a major annual event for Colchester, and was this year expected to be larger, better and more successful than ever

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It was originally due to be held throughout the town centre from September 7 - 12, and feature music, theatre, dance, history events and lectures.

But yesterday one of the festival's organisers, Dorian Kelly, told the EADT that a number of key sponsors had pulled funding.

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He said the team had already scaled down the event to one day, with highlights of previous events cancelled, including the Samba Ramble down the High Street as well as the Great Cloth Fair, the Tent of World Dreams, three music stages, and the traditional fairground. Now the plug has been pulled altogether.

Mr Kelly said: “Up to now, we have been funded entirely by the generosity of business sponsors and certain individuals and with the commitment of those of us who strive to make it happen each year.

“When we started in 2000 in response to the lack of a millennium celebration, we were the only large event in the town.

“Perhaps inspired by the festival, there are now literally dozens of wonderful events, but as a result the pressure on available business and media sponsorship money is now so great that several of those who supported us in the past no longer feel they can continue to help.”

He added: “We got it down to a single one-day event to keep the team together and give the town at least something nice.

“But yesterday we had to unfortunately pull the plug on the whole thing because the Culver Square shopping centre felt it was not a good thing to happen in their area.

“They said they didn't want people cluttering up the square, they didn't want music and they only wanted events that didn't draw a crowd.”

But Mr Kelly said he hoped the festival would be back next year with other sources of funding, including the National Lottery and various small trusts.

Yesterday Derek Ashbee, shopping centre manager at Culver Square, said the area was not able to cope with the scale of events the festival organisers had planned.

“Last year we had quite a lot of music and dancing bands. They tend to bring their families with them. Unfortunately it stops people getting in the shops.

“Busking, walk-through entertainment and background music is fine, but anything that creates large crowds is not conducive to shopping.

“We are not trying to squash the festival, we just can't have the sort of entertainment that is going to block up the square.”

Yesterday Colchester Borough Council leader Robert Davidson said: “It is a tragic shame for Colchester that sterling efforts of the festival committee cannot be enjoyed this year.

“It seems incredible that smaller towns like Maldon and others still have carnivals and festivals in their town centres, but in Colchester it is so hard to deliver.

“I will ensure that the council is working closely with Mr Kelly and his team to try and bring some more in-town entertainment next year.”

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