Festival industry veteran Steve Heap, whose vast contribution to the sector saw him recognised with the Legend Award at the Event Production Awards in 2022, is to retire on 2 April and hand the running of the Association of Festival Organisers (AFO) over to the team at the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF).

Heap has been the general secretary of the AFO since its launch in 1987, and was the director of Towersey Festival for 45 years up until 2019. Since AFO was founded, the organisation has grown from a handful of members to representing 102 festival and event organisers, encompassing shows ranging in capacities from 500 to 25,000.

The AIF and AFO will now be overseen by AIF CEO John Rostron, and have a collective voice representing 202 UK festival promoters and events organisers.

The two trade bodies have previously worked together to fight for the combined interests of their members. Achievements include negotiating a new reduced percentage licence deal for live festival performance with PRS for Music; negotiating a reduction on VAT for tickets sales to 5% during Covid; lobbying government for financial support, and leading to the contribution of more than £1  billion from the Cultural Recovery Fund to a wide variety of arts organisations.

Heap said, “Since founding AFO in 1987, I have devoted a considerable amount of time, effort and love to the grassroots festival industry. Members and I have worked together to build a stronger, well-recognised and sustainable future. Retiring from this desk now, after 38 years, is a big tug and I will leave all the “thank yous” to my personal letters later. For now and the future, I am delighted to be giving the reins to John Rostron and the team at AIF, where I know AFO members will find support, knowledge, campaigning and unity in this world of festivals. AFO members are creative, conscientious, and resilient, and I believe will embrace this change of management with enthusiasm, leading on to a real recovery and strong, successful season in 2024.”

Rostron said: “Steve is a legend in the festival world and he’ll be greatly missed as he begins his retirement from AFO. I’m enormously pleased that his departing gesture is to entrust AFO to myself and the team at AIF. We’ll continue to support AFO members in the way they’ve become accustomed, but also bring new opportunities and strength by having so many independent festivals together in one place. I’m pleased that I’ll still get time with Steve as he offers his wisdom and support to me and the members as he steps back to enjoy more time in the fields, and less time at a desk.”