Much has changed in the 36 years since Leam first put on a free festival – but its radical spirit is undiminished
Leamington’s Peace Festival is one of Britain’s few remaining free music and arts festivals. It is now 36 years old. When it first started, there were many free festivals, but they have all but disappeared. A few remain – the Godiva festival in Coventry, for example, is free to enter – but they are funded by the local council.
The Leamington Peace Festival, on the other hand, remains totally self-sufficient – all the money needed to run the festival is raised by selling pitches for stalls.
The Festival has evolved over the years. In its early days there were only a handful of stalls – now there are nearly 150. And the music was acoustic and confined to the Bandstand. Now we have two stages, both with PAs. There was a beer tent. But even with that attraction, the Festival only had a few hundred visitors. In 1983 the first commercial stall came to the Festival and has been followed by many more – the money they pay has enabled the Festival to put on a wide range of entertainment; activities for children and workshops on a wide range of subjects. And this has meant that the Festival now attracts about 5,000 people each year.
A cultural shift
Last year, however, we were confronted with a striking example of how our society has changed over the years since the Peace Festival started. For the first time in the Festival’s history, it was charged by Warwick District Council for the use of the Pump Room Gardens. We understand the financial reasons behind this measure and would like to stress that we still receive strong support from the Council. But it is indicative of a cultural shift that has occurred in Britain, in which everything has a price. And if it has no price it has no value. We disagree. We believe that the most valuable aspects of life are those that cannot be priced.
Mrs Thatcher famously said, ‘There is no such thing as society’. We disagree. We believe in society. We believe in community. We believe in co-operation and mutual aid. We believe in sharing – our skills and our knowledge. We believe that together we can make the world a better place.
Older, but no less radical
As people grow old, they are said to become less radical. We hope that this is not the case with the Peace Festival. We have had to adapt to changes in the way that public events are put on. And we have to sell trading spaces to pay for the infrastructure, insurance and to pay expenses to our entertainers.
But one key element remains: the Peace Festival is FREE. We believe that in a world driven more and more by money and greed this is a radical statement.
This article was written by the Leamington Peace Festival Committee. This year’s festival is on 14 to 15 June in the Pump Room Gardens. See the website at www.peacefestival.org.uk.
[Article first appeared in the Leamington Spark - to view the full edition please visit: http://leamingtonspark.wordpress.com/]