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Steve Westby, organiser of the Robin Hood Beer and Cider Festival in Nottingham, has announced that next year’s event will take place at a new venue and will open in September instead of October. The change for 2018 is due to Nottingham Castle, its current venue in the city centre, is closing for refurbishment. The organiser has secured the Forest Recreation Ground (the site of the Goose Fair) to host the event next year from 12-15 September.

The Robin Hood Beer and Cider Festival is the biggest event of its kind in Nottingham, not to mention the oldest in the UK. Its 42nd outing this year drew to a close on 14 October, and attracted 20,000 visitors who descended to Nottingham Castle. The venue has hosted the four-day event for 10 years.

A showcase of English traditional cask-conditioned beer, this year the festival displayed 1,225 different ales from 287 breweries, and 284 ciders and perries from 129 producers; all up for sale.

Adapt for success

Westby has admitted that the Goose Fair site is not anything like as good, so the relocation is challenging. “The Castle is unique. It’s right in the city centre, with lovely gardens, and overlooks the city. At the Goose Fair, however, we will be using a small part of the grounds and even so we will have three times more room, but it’s nothing as attractive. It is not in the city centre so people would have to catch the tram to get there, so it’s going to be difficult to make it successful,” he commented.

Launched in 1975, the festival was originally held at the Victoria Leisure Centre – owned and run by the city council – and continued there for almost three decades. By 2007, the popularity of the event forced the organiser to find a bigger space. Wetsby explained: “The venue had became too small for the festival, and too expensive to run for the city council, so it decided to demolish the building. The city council then offered the use of the Castle, right in the centre, and that was when the festival really took off.”

Westby has been in the business for over 40 years. He is head of the Nottingham branch of CAMRA (Campaign for real ale) and best known as the driving force behind the Robin Hood Beer and Cider Festival. He told Access that to overcome the challenges of pulling the event at the new venue, the festival would have to adapt.

“We’ve got more space at the Goose Fair so we might have two stages for live performances. But this is not a music festival, and it will not become a music festival,” Westby said, adding that the event will remain true to its roots. “This festival is popular because it showcases the widest range of cask beer in the UK, and the widest choice of traditional cider as well. That’s what we will do next year.”

The Robin Hood Beer and Cider Festival was the first event organised by CAMRA. “In those days CAMRA was launched because all our breweries were being closed down and taken over by six national breweries,” Westby recalled.

Steve Westby and Marco Maietta

L-R: Festival rganiser Steve Westby recognises long-time festival supporter Marco Maietta

Westby has also revealed that the festival costs about £300,000 to stage every year, mostly to pay marquees, security, AV, toilets, etc. “The event is financially underwritten by CAMRA,” Westby explained. “We start selling tickets on the 1 June each year, so we get enough income from tickets to pay for the upfront costs.”

Profits, on the other hand, vary largely from year to year. Westby said it could be as little as £5,000 up to as much as £80,000. “It depends on things like the weather and how many customers we get in, how many beers are drunk, and so on. That profit is then given back to CAMRA for national campaigning,” he concluded.