With no reopening timeline in Wales and with Welsh pilot events given no guarantee that they will even be able to take place, Green Man festival owner Fiona Stewart tells Access she is doing all she can to stage the 25,000-capacity event on 19-22 August but a lack of Government support means it’s an uphill struggle.
Stewart says that having restrictions lifted in one country within the UK but not others is not a logical step. Having recently attended the Download Pilot, she was surprised to see how many Welsh people were among the 10,000 attendees of the Donnington Park festival.
“Welsh people love rock music and there were loads of them there. If you can attend a festival in England but not in Wales or Scotland than clearly that will just encourage people to move around more. When things open up to this level [having different policies] is not something that works,” says Stewart.
The highly experienced independent festival operator says she has raised a series of objections with the Welsh Government; not least that the ongoing prevention of festivals and restrictions on gatherings, despite the sharp fall in fatalities from Covid-19, potentially contravenes Article 11 of the Human Rights Act 1998, which states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others.”
“We are doing everything we can to stage it. We have been able to hold on this long because of the brilliant relationships we have with suppliers.”
She is also concerned that the prevention of young people gathering legally will lead to a surge in under-the-radar events that prevent the legal management of large crowds and could prove dangerous: “The fact is young people are going to find ways to party, and if they do so unlawfully there is a real issue with safety and drug management, which the festival industry is expert at – we can expect to see a significant rise in organised crime.”
Stewart turned down an invitation from the Welsh Government to make her Brecon Beacons festival a Government-backed pilot due to the lack of a guarantee it could go ahead. She says, “There was no assurance, the event could be shut down at any time and clearly we cannot take that financial risk.”
She also emphasises a perceived unfairness of sport being prioritised over festivals when it comes to inclusion in pilot event schemes: “It is simply unfair that sports events can go forward and festivals cannot – there is no logic in that, it is not based on science. Major international sporting events encourage impromptu gatherings outside venues and elsewhere. Festivals do not – it is all self-contained, there are no unregulated groups.”
Aside from the uncertainty of the Green Man festival being allowed to go ahead, Stewart says there are many logistical challenges to overcome even if it is given the green light. As well as seeing major issues with infrastructure resource shortages, such as showers and toilets, – caused by a perfect storm of Brexit, the building boom and Covid-19 – Stewart says staffing levels are also an issue.
“A lot of events companies rely on staff from Europe but that supply has stopped because of Brexit and the lockdowns,” she says.
The Green Man boss says the motivation to get the event up and running in August is not about making money: “It is a costly and complex exercise, our focus isn’t about profit, our primary aim is not to let people down, we want to give people a chance to work or perform.
“We’ve already paid money to artists and suppliers but a decision, one way or the other, as to whether we press ahead with the festival will have to be made around a month beforehand.
“We are doing everything we can to stage it. We have been able to hold on this long because of the brilliant relationships we have with supplier and artists, they have bent over backwards to try to accommodate us.”