Town's two festivals could be saved

By Juliette Maxam and Roddy AshworthTWO summer festivals thought doomed after volunteers said they could no longer run them may now go ahead after all.

By Juliette Maxam and Roddy Ashworth

TWO summer festivals thought doomed after volunteers said they could no longer run them may now go ahead after all.

Colchester Chamber of Commerce has decided to “bang the drum” for Colchester Free Festival while talks about rescuing the town's Street Festival were yesterday described as “optimistic.”

The Free Festival became a victim of its own success last year when the band of volunteers who ran it decided they could no longer organise it without more financial or administrative support.

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The Chamber of Commerce's tourism sub-committee has decided to take up the Free Festival's cause and try to come up with whatever's needed to resurrect the summertime event.

Euan Dodds, president of the Chamber said: “We have decided to get our tourism sub-committee to contact the council and really bang the drum very hard in favour of the Free Festival. We want to find out the facts and figures and see what we can do. We can't let it go.”

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Free Festival co-ordinator Abby Cooper, voted personality of the year on the Colchester Online website, said: “The festival welcomes the interest of the Chamber of Commerce and hopes it will have a positive effect on the future of the event.”

The Free Festival, a community arts extravaganza, held in Castle Park, includes music and dance performances of all varieties, workshops, children's activities, and community group stalls.

In the first year, 8,000 people attended the Free Festival, growing to 15,000 in the second year and 20,000 last year. Sponsorship also increased each year.

Colchester Borough Council gave the Free Festival £4-5,000 a year and support in kind, such as opening Colchester Castle for free, but was unable to pledge further help to move the event onto another plane.

Yesterday board members of Colchester Town Partnership discussed how they might help rescue the town's popular Street Festival, which was cancelled earlier this year.

Organisers blamed the council for refusing to fund the event, although the borough insisted it was the Town partnership who should find the cash.

Speaking yesterday, Colchester's Town manager Chris Rawlinson said: “The board was very very positive in wanting to help with the festival, and have suggested I meet with the group.

“I hope we can help. The board feel its really important we do. The issue is about where the funding comes from and what we are able to do.”

She added she would try and help the festival develop a business plan and a budget.

Yesterday Street Festival project manager Dorian Kelly said: “We have a regular internal meeting tonight so we will discuss it here.

“Then, next Thursday, we will meet with Chris Rawlinson and discuss if or where we go from there.”

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