The Welsh events industry had to wait longer than England’s to reopen this year, and since 11 October it has been coping with Covid Pass entry protocols, but despite the challenges it is bouncing back strongly.

From Cardiff to Colwyn Bay, Wales offers an impressive range of locations for events of all shapes and sizes. Promoters regularly make use of magnificent castles, breathtakingly beautiful festival backdrops and pastoral parks as well as the many purpose-built venues.

With no shortage of stunning locations, it is not surprising tourism plays a significant role in Wales’ economic health – almost £6bn was spent on tourism trips last year.

The economic impact of events on the Welsh economy is also huge. Major events including the Green Man Festival, Hay Festival, and stadium and arena concerts play a significant role in encouraging inbound tourism. Cardiff’s Principality Stadium contributed £1.95bn to the local economy between 1999 and 2019, while the Hay Festival contributed £25.8m to the local area in 2018 alone.

The Welsh Government offers a raft of funding opportunities to the creative and event sectors and that investment was increased significantly during the pandemic. The Cultural Recovery Fund, administered by Arts Council of Wales, provided £93m of funding, and a Freelancer Fund was set up in partnership with local authorities.

Among Wales’s most experienced events professionals is Sarah Hemsley-Cole. The director of Cardiff-based SC Productions, primarily a production and site management company, she has worked on countless major events in Wales including all Stereophonics outdoor shows in the past decade, Ed Sheeran stadium shows and annual arts and music festival Urdd Eisteddfod.

During the pandemic, Hemsley-Cole led the We Make Events Cymru campaign and was pleased with the resulting engagement from the Government.

“We had a really good dialogue with Government,” she says. “While their focus was very much on the health crises, they understood the benefits of our industry to the economy and the fact it is a massive draw for tourists.

“The funding wasn’t solely delivered through Arts Council Wales, Creative Wales looked after the supply chain and other elements of the sector. There was a real understanding the supply chain needed a different methodology to the creative sector. There was only so much money to go round but they did try really hard to get it to the right people.”

“We have a much smaller infrastructure, and we all know each other so there is a sense of looking out for one another.”

While many operators have struggled with supply chain issues, Hemsley-Cole says the events industry in Wales has been comparatively untroubled: “The supply chain is alright in Wales, we’ve come through the worst of it. We have a much smaller infrastructure, and we all know each other so there is a sense of looking out for one another.”

She says SC Productions worked on a 20,000-capacity show by Catfish And The Bottlemen at Swansea’s Singleton Park in September without any major supply chain problems: “Most of that infrastructure didn’t travel very far and we didn’t have any issues with suppliers. We had toilets from several different companies, and we had boarding rather than SteelShield, but we made it work and solved the issue locally.”

Independent spirit

Without doubt one of Wales’ best known music festivals, the staunchly independent Green Man Festival is set to celebrate its 20th edition next year. The event is already sold out, with all tickets having been snapped up in a record three days after going on sale – some 11 months in advance.

Mixing music, science and arts in a stunning valley location framed by the Brecon Beacons mountain range, Green Man thrives on being a unique event in the UK’s festival landscape. Aside from an eclectic and interesting selection of live performance talent, among the sites to behold each year at Green Man is a huge wooden statue of its pagan namesake that is burned to the ground at the end of each festival.

Owned and operated by Fiona Stewart, who has been at the helm since 2005, Green Man has over the years forged a unique identity and a loyal following. With a 25,000 capacity, it is one of the biggest independent festivals in the UK, and a hugely significant event for Wales both culturally and economically.

Stewart says that due to the country’s relatively small population of just 3.2 million, and limited transport infrastructure in the centre and north of the country, it can prove challenging for major events in Wales to attract significant crowds year in, year out.

Among the significant music festivals to have launched in Wales and fallen by the wayside since Green Man made its debut are Wakestock and Festival No.6, but there remains no shortage of smaller, distinctive, independently run festivals.

The numerous diminutive and distinct independent Welsh festivals include Fire In The Mountain, a 2,000-capacity event set in the foothills of the Cambrian mountains. With a 5,000 capacity, Green Gathering is an eco-campaigning event held in the grounds of a dilapidated neoclassical mansion on the outskirts of Chepstow, while Love Trails (2,000) combines running and music in the Gower Peninsular.

Says Stewart, “In many ways Wales is similar to Scotland in terms of having some very rural areas but unlike Scotland we do not have big populated areas like Glasgow and Edinburgh. What you often get at Welsh festivals is a certain type of attendee – festival tourists interested in unusual events in great locations.

“There are also many very small festivals in Wales that primarily attract local audiences. These events should be celebrated and supported. They are usually a passion project for the people who are involved in them, and they do a lot for loneliness in rural areas by bringing communities together. The Green Man Trust works to support events like that”

Working closely with local events and businesses helped Stewart stage Green Man this year without being impacted by supply chain issues.

“Because I mostly work with tiny little supply companies, through all the delivery nightmares experienced elsewhere we weren’t out of anything,” she says. “If you work with 15 farmers who have each got sheets of a fencing in their back garden you know you’re going to be alright, it’s not going to be a problem.”

Also set in a rural location is the Hay Festival, one of Britain’s most esteemed cultural events.

Launched in 1988, the first Hay Festival of Literature and Arts saw 2,200 people squeeze into the back room of the British Legion and a tent in the garden of Kilverts Pub. It has since grown to become a must-attend networking event for the international literary elite that is also hugely popular among booklovers of all kinds.

Located in Hay on Wye, the festival typically takes place over 10 days in May and June with an attendance of around 12,000 people per day. Famously described by Bill Clinton as a “Woodstock of the mind”, Hay Festival has featured a wide range of some of the world’s best-selling authors including Jung Chang, Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis, Stephen Hawking and Zadie Smith.

As well as enriching the minds of those who attend, the event has a huge financial impact. A QRS Research report conducted in 2018 found the festival’s local economic impact during the previous three years amounted to £70m, with it generating £25.8m for the area in 2018 alone.

Analysing visitor spend within a 30-minute drive from the festival site, the research illustrated the direct economic value the festival brings by encouraging tourism to Hay. It found that the event attracts visitors from more than 40 countries, and that some 41% of attendees stay in local accommodation for an average of four nights.

“On top of this, you also have the harder to measure value of a world-class cultural event profiling writers and creatives from Wales on a global stage,” says Hay’s international director Cristina Fuentes La Roche.

The spring festival was unable to take place physically this year due to the pandemic, but a digital edition proved popular and as a result the in-person Winter Weekend offshoot on 24-28 November will also be streamed.

In a normal year, around 400 staff and freelancers work each day on the spring festival, and Fuentes La Roche says the whole local community gets onboard: “The Festival wouldn’t be what it is without that wider support and encouragement.”

While Hay on Wye may not be the easiest location to get to, Fuentes La Roche says the bookselling hotspot is a core part of the festival’s appeal. However, the lack of available public transport raises challenges, not least when it comes to minimising the event’s environmental impact.

“We work with sustainability at our core, operating a Hay-on-Earth programme to mitigate against these negative environmental impacts on stage and off,” she says.

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Talent show

Another festival that has an international impact is Wrexham’s multi-venue showcase event FOCUS Wales. Created a decade ago to provide a platform for fledgling homegrown acts, and a networking opportunity for industry professionals, it attracts industry professionals from around the world.

Around two-thirds of the 250 artists to play the annual event, which last took place in October, are Welsh. Among the 15,000 people who attended the showcases are festival bookers from events as far and wide as Glastonbury and Fuji Rock. Aside from the gigs, FOCUS Wales includes an industry conference that attracts around 500 delegates.

While a north Wales market town may not seem an obvious location for an international conference and multi-venue showcase festival, FOCUS Wales co-founder Andy Jones says Wrexham is ideal.

“All of our experience tells us that these things work better when they’re not in a big city,” he says. “In cities you don’t necessarily get the community buy-in that you do in a smaller destination like a Wrexham where everybody gets behind it. The venues are also conveniently clustered together.

“As FOCUS Wales has grown, people have become increasingly aware of the economic impact it brings to the wider region. It now attracts more buyers, bookers of festivals, agents and record labels than ever and as a result we are seeing a lot more business being done and artists benefitting from playing the festival.”

Capital rising

 As well as being easily accessible, Cardiff boasts an impressive array of venues that range in size from intimate clubs to the 7,500-capacity Motorpoint Arena, the 10,000-capacity Cardiff Castle, the Principality Stadium with its concert capacity of 66,000, and outdoor spaces including Alexandra Head where Live Nation recently staged a series of 10,000-capacity shows.

The annual Sŵn Festival uses venues at the smaller end of that scale. Founded by Radio 1 DJ Huw Stephens and independent promoter John Rostron in 2007, it was taken over by the team at grassroots venue Clwb Ifor Bach (380) in 2018 and is now run by its CEO Guto Brychan.

In a usual year, the festival involves 12 venues throughout the city that collectively stage shows by around 200 established and emerging artists. This year’s festival, which ran from 15-17 October, was scaled-back version.

Brychan says the lack of a reopening roadmap from the Welsh Government made planning a full event very risky. As a result this year’s Sŵn was limited to four venues on Womanby Street, including Clwb Ifor Bach.

Aside from the many issues resulting from the pandemic, including the roll out of the Covid Pass, Brychan is upbeat about the health of the Welsh live music sector.

To read this article in full see the November edition of Access All Areas here, and/or subscribe for free here