Thursday, April 23, 2009

King's Sutton Literary Festival 2009

Our 6th Festival was an resounding success. Apart from our pleasure in large audiences and illustrious speakers, as organisers we were particularly glad that this year was exceptional as it was an exceptional year in a sad way. Sara Allday, the inspiration behind the festival, and the energetic, brilliant organiser, sadly died in September. Her husband, Stephen, asked Rona Rowe to take on the organisation with the committee and we all pitched in to ensure a success.

My role of box office and website management meant that early on I was aware of the large numbers we were to expect. Ticket sales prior to the event were nearly 800, double that of 2008 which were considered excellent that year. Our speakers were a great draw, headlined by PD James, closely followed in popularity by William Fiennes, a local boy who is a nationally recognised writer. The next sessions to sell out were Lord Douglas Hurd and, separately, Lord David Owen, followed by Patrick Gale. Also a sell-out was our new Saturday evening slot, when Ruthie Culver and her musicians provided a poetry/jazz event while the audience enjoyed a delicious meal provided by Lisa Armstrong and her colleagues.

Running this type of event from home has interesting and sometimes infuriating side effects. For instance, phone calls at 10pm asking about availability of sessions which had been sold out for weeks, and advertised as such. Or, on the day, my husband received a call enquiring about food in the cafe at lunchtime. Some people are charming and make every year an opportunity to renew a friendship. There are several people who book for the entire festival.  We have kept tickets at the same level since the festival's inception 6 years ago - this must be some sort of record these days. However, the reason we sell so many tickets appears to be that, as a brand, we have recognition as a credible, quality event which generates a great atmosphere in the village and encourages readers of all ages.

We are fortunate to have a particularly useful local personality in Winifred Robinson, the radio journalist, who produced a feature on literary festivals, based on King's Sutton, for her programme, You & Yours on BBC Radio 4. This was broadcast on Friday 27 March, and gave us priceless publicity. In fact, our marketing is restricted to national and local press releases, a relatively small mailing list, some web publicit and large roadside banners. We are grateful for sponsorship in different forms from organisations; for instance, last year the local newspaper, the Banbury Guardian paid for our programme printing, this year and last we were supported by Savills, the estate agents, and this year we had the Hook Norton Brewery gave a donation. Every year we have beautiful plants and flowers from Purely Plants,, and help from King's Sutton Scaffolding. Since its inception the festival has been supported by the Old Hall Bookshop in Brackley, who also provide book sales.  A popular feature of the weekend is the huge sale of secondhand book sales organised by Peter and Sue Allen, who quietly get on with the job, raising over £1,000 with sales of books mostly at 50p or £1.

One of our strengths is that the whole event takes places in one venue, so whatever the weather it is possible to stay warm and well fed, as well as intellectually stimulated, all under one roof. The food produced is always cheerfully provided by local caterers, The Lazy Chef. 

Although raising money is not our priority, we are glad that we can donate our surplus to local causes, which has been the church preservation fund. In future years we are intending to extend this to other local organisations.

It is a privilege to be involved with the Festival. Now that it is on such a sound footing, it seems likely that it will continue. Our major strength is the quality of speakers - the same who appear at the big festivals, such as Oxford, Edinburgh and Hay. For a relatively small village, this is a remarkable feat and we are proud of our success. There is no reason to suppose we cannot continue with help from volunteers from the village, and taking advantage of our contacts. 

So, another year is planned, the dates are fixed as 7 & 8 March 2010. We hope to see you there.

No comments: