Wednesday 22 June 2022

Why is it so difficult to organise a music festival in the London Borough of Barnet

 On Sunday, we had the grand finale of the Mill Hill Music Festival. This was the 14th Festival and as it is normally bi-annual, it has been running for 29 years. The committee has also organised other events over the years, such as a Jazz weekend and a mini festival with Paul Young at Mill Hill Rugby club. I've been involved in eleven of them and been a committee member on ten festivals. Lets just say I have a little bit of experience in the matter. The festival was originally set up by former Conservative Councillor Jane Ellison and long time resident, who sadly recently passed away Marion Dewing. Initially it was mostly classical and choral events at local churches and in parks. It has morphed into a different beast, with Opera from a professional company, a party night with a Funk supergroup with 30 to 30 hits between them, Jazz legends whilst still having a classical element at a local church. 

This year, we held the festival we planned for last year, but couldn't stage due to covid. It is fair to say that the pandemic caused serious challenges. When we started planning last June, we didn't even know if it would be feasable or sensible to hold the festival. Fortunately the pandemic subsided and Mill Hill came out to play. We scaled it back from the 2019 programme, with 2 less events, both which appealled to older audeinces primarily. These were relatively expensive to hold and we weren't sure the audience would turn out. 

Despite the success of this years festival, I have to say that over the years organising a music festival in Barnet has become increasingly difficult. At one point, the council were quite supportive and removed obstacles that their bureacracy placed in our way. The Mill Hill Music Festival is run by volunteers on a not for profit basis and any surplus funds are reinvested in future programmes. We've never sought council funds. This year we had a whole string of petty inconveniences. It took us dozens of phone calls etc to get agreement to put banners up on railings by the public highway. Some that have not been an issue before, we simply couldn't get permission to place. In previous years, we've put a "book tickets here" sign on the pavement outside Mill Hill Wines. This year we were told we'd need a licence that would cost hundreds of pounds. We have been doing this a long time and we know the ropes. I did the Temporary Event Notices for drinks and entertainment licences, which cost the festival nearly £100, the equivalent of five ticket sales.  The Mill Hill Postcode (NW7) is represented by a total of  eight councillors. Not one attended. In previous years, former Edgware Councillor Joan Scannell was a committee member and a few would turn up to support a non political community event. Now it seems they can't be bothered. 

This year, more than ever, the festival was needed. The music was almost secondary to the joy of people meeting up with friends, some of whom they'd not seen since the pandemic started. Dozens of people told us that it was nice to have the shackles removed and to be able to go out again. People were telling us they'd "got out of the habit of going out". I believe that the festival (and the others in Barnet) serve a useful social need. To my mind, the Council should be as supportive as possible and have a designated, trained officer who can assist with all of the aspects of organising festivals and can step in when there are problems. The Borough should be encouraging local people to set up small events, not putting roadblocks in the way. The council have seemed keener on developing parks as a revenue source than as an amenity used by local people and for local events. I've no objection to funfairs and commercial events occasionally being staged in local parks, but the council should be encouraging local people to stage their own events and not treating them as a cash cow. Although the money we spent on licenses is a drop in the ocean for the council, for the Festival we could have paid another artist to do a stint at one of the shows with the money. 

There is a new adminstration in Barnet. We'd like to see a new approach to community events to be a top priority for them.

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