Thursday, August 26, 2010

Grassroots: another festival bites the dust

As this story from Schnews makes clear, it is becoming increasingly difficult to get permission to put on any kind of festival in the UK other than a fenced-off, high security corporate leisure event. The latest casualty is the Grassroots festival planned in Cambridgeshire. Meanwhile those who try and put on unofficial festivals are subject to the full weight of the law. The “Rave 6”, charged under section 136 following the police attack on this year’s UK Teknival (see previous report), has now become the “Rave 10” after four more people were charged.

'Yet another independent festival has been cancelled after a concerted campaign by bureaucrats, nimbys and police. The Grassroots Feastival was a small volunteer-run event due to take place in Cambridgeshire in early September. Organisers had lined up three days of revelry, from poetry to Drum ‘n’ Bass and culminating in a communal banquet replete with juggling waiters.

The Festival faced determined opposition from the very start. According to one of the organisers, Mooney, when the application process began in January the council made it clear they would do all they could to stop the festival taking place. Martin Ford from the Police licensing board went one step further and told organisers, “I’d rather put pins in my eyes than have this festival in my county.” Mooney said, “They didn’t want it to happen so they played their games. They couldn’t use legislation so instead they used dirty tactics.” The now familiar modus operandi involved heaping ludicrous demand after ludicrous demand on organisers and stalling for time to the point that the festival risked financial ruin if they pressed ahead.

After the initial consultation, organisers met monthly with the local authorities and there were six revisions of the festival’s management plan in total. Each time they were presented with ever more unreasonable conditions, ranging from heras-fencing the A11 in case of invasion by wandering partygoers who had strayed three miles over fence and field, to installing security watchtowers (with or without machine gun nests) to ensure the unruly throng of 2000 didn’t erupt in spontaneous revolution.

Each time, organisers either met the conditions or managed to argue their case that what they were being asked was beyond the realms of sanity or reason. However the killer blow came with the final application for a licence. When handing in the application, local authorities clearly told organisers that they only needed to submit one paper copy and that the pack of other relevant licensing bodies, such as traffic management and the fire brigade, would be happy with an emailed copy. At the eleventh hour of the last day they had to submit the application, organisers were then told that the licence would be refused unless all the bodies had paper copies. With no time left to do this, organisers would have had to resubmit and wouldn’t have received a decision until just days before the festival. If the licence had been refused at that point it would have spelled financial disaster for all involved and so organisers were left with no choice but to cancel.
A despondent Mooney told SchNEWS, “In some countries people welcome celebrations.” After the attacks on Strawberry Fair (see SchNEWS 715), the Big Green Gathering (SchNEWS 685), UK Teknival (SchNEWS 727) and Thimbleberry (SchNEWS 707) amongst others, it is becoming increasingly clear the UK isn’t one of them'.

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