Organisers of the 40,000-capacty world music festival WOMAD have confirmed that the event will not be able to take place this year due to a lack of event reopening guidance from Government and its “unwillingness” to provide insurance support for festivals.
Last week, WOMAD festival director Chris Smith told Access that the event would be cancelled today, 28 June, unless the Government issued guidelines as to how mass events will be required to run following the reopening on 19 July.
WOMAD founder and former Genesis frontman Peter Gabriel said in a statement, “It is with great regret that we are cancelling WOMAD ’21 today. Without the simple support of a government insurance scheme or the guarantee of test event status, we cannot continue and put WOMAD’s long term future at risk. We feel that our audience, artists, staff, and contractors, who have been amazingly supportive throughout all this, will understand the need for us to act to guarantee our survival.”
The 40,000-capacity world music festival was scheduled to take place on 22-25 July at Charlton Park in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, with a culturally diverse line-up of talent including Anoushka Shankar, Jordan Rakei, Nitin Sawhney and The Comet Is Coming.
Smith told Access, “I think there is a strategic objective in preventing our industry from working this summer, I don’t know the purpose of the strategy, but I believe it’s a conscious decision. Government’s decision not to share guidance information is strategic. They have accountability, an obligation to explain that decision.”
In a statement, festival organisers said, “Since the government decision to extend the Phase 3 restrictions by at least four weeks (to the 19th of July, 72 hours before WOMAD should open its gates) we have been seeking urgent clarification from the DCMS and Public Health England as to what this means for large scale events such as WOMAD. Whilst the prime minister and his colleagues say there will be no restrictions on society at that point, we have been unable to get any confirmation of what the plan is. Nor is there any clarity on how what is being learned from the Event Research Programme might affect the guidance for festivals and how they are required to operate.
A few days after that extension the DCMS sought applications from festivals taking place within that extension period to join the next stage of its Event Research Programme. As WOMAD takes place after that period, we did not qualify. Subsequently and on hearing rumours that events outside that period had been granted Event Research Programme – Test Event status we immediately applied and contacted the DCMS and have had no response despite repeated requests.
On the BBC news last Friday, we heard that Latitude and Tramlines Festivals have been granted Test Event status on the same weekend as WOMAD which clearly implies that only approved test events will be protected and guaranteed the right to go ahead as normal – even though this flies in the face of the prime minister’s statements.
It is the lack of government backed insurance along with these actions that have forced WOMAD to cancel. We have not been asking for financial support; all we have wanted is certainty in the form of insurance against cancellation – that we’d be happy to pay for. We need an understanding of the realities of how our industry works and the benefits that we bring. The industry should see equal access to support and a much less opaque way of deciding who gets help.
It does seem a little bizarre that a five-day camping event at Silverstone is a risk worth taking and independent festivals alas are not. With 140,000 people attending the Silverstone Grand Prix it certainly doesn’t seem to be supported by science – as even Lewis Hamilton has commented.”