My name's Cat Kelly (that's me on the right, with my little girl!) and I've had the privilege of being Festival Director of Folk Weekend since 2012. It's been an incredible journey, and I feel really lucky to have had such support and love from the local folk community during this time.
However, I'm going to be honest here, we're a point where I need to ask for your help.
As you may know, since we started in 2012, Folk Weekend has been run exclusively by volunteers - including me. I've put an awful lot of myself in to the festival over the last few years... I've done every job going, from being photographed for the newspapers and socialising at Festival Organising Conferences (it's a hard life...) to hand-addressing stewards packs, worrying over budget spreadsheets, and scheduling three months worth of social media messages in one afternoon. I've managed flooding plumbing in the basement of the Old Fire Station, and reorganised our entire set up on the fly because of a fire evacuation. I've got a dozen people working for me year-round to help out, but they're all doing it in their spare time, so if they are busy, or decide they don't want to do it any more, then I pick up the pieces. I will be the one up until 2am proofreading the third draft of the festival programme, writing a funding application, fiddling with the wording of the latest press release. (And then getting up to do the school run..!)
As you can imagine, it's been pretty tough. There have been great times too, and when I think about everything we've achieved I am so, so proud of it all - but it is tough, and as the festival gets bigger (and better!) each year it gets more and more difficult to manage.
I've been doing some work with a mentor recently, starting to map out a business plan for the next few years, and the single most important thing we need to get sorted is our finances. At the moment we fundraise for each festival, and while we've done very well at that so far, it's quite a lot of work, and it's quite stressful to start out planning for a festival without absolutely knowing if we're going to be able to pay for it. My aim is for us to build up a regular, reliable income which we know will be there for us each year, to help us in terms of financial stability, and ultimately in getting to a point where the festival is sustainable. At the moment we are operating on a shoestring budget, and relying on volunteers like myself to take on a huge amount of work. Over the next few years I really need to triple, or even quadruple, the amount we're spending on each festival in order to be operating it in a sustainable way.
When I'm talking about making the festival sustainable, I do of course mean financially, but also in the sense that the festival can exist without me..! If we're honest, right now, if you take me out of the equation there is no festival. Flattering as that is, it's really not a desirable situation - it does put a lot of pressure on me personally, and it's really not healthy for the future of the festival. My ultimate goal is actually to be able to step away from running Folk Weekend, and to be able to pass it on to someone else, knowing that it's robust enough to keep going without me.
The support we receive from the local community is absolutely crucial for enabling Folk Weekend to continue to exist and grow. If you've bought a ticket - thank you! If you've signed up as a Friend - thank you! But shamelessly, I'm going to ask you for more. We really need you. *I* really need you!
Because I'm a helpful sort of person(!) I have put together a few suggestions of ways in which you might like to get involved; I know time and money are the two big issues so there are options for both and I hope you'll find one or more that works for you...
1) You could sign up as a festival Friend
. This is the biggie..!! The regular income from our Friends is absolutely key in creating a solid base to take the festival forwards. We have three different packages, which are all detailed here: http://folkweekendoxford.co.uk/friends.html
There are different perks to each package, and the cheapest one is £20 per year - less than £2 per month. Honestly, please don't underestimate the massive difference even this amount will make to the festival.
2) You could organise a fundraising event for us. It could be big and elaborate like a concert or ceilidh (or like our excellent quiz which Angie Hirst organised for us last year), or it could be a cake sale, a sponsored session, or even just shaking a bucket round your neighbours!
4) Like, share, retweet, and comment
on stuff on facebook and twitter. These sites thrive on interaction, and so the more comments and likes we get on a post, the more that facebook will show that post to other people. It's such a simple thing to do, but makes such a big difference - not only will it help spread the word to more people, but having a large interactive audience also gives us a strong profile to take to funders and sponsors. www.facebook.com/folkweekendoxford www.twitter.com/folkweekend www.instagram.com/folkweekend_oxford
5) Share this page with your friends. Whether you have done all of the above or none of the above, please take a minute to think of even one friend who you think might be supportive of the cause, and share this with them.
Here's what we're inviting you to be a part of...
A community festival
, in the truest sense of the word. Every year we have run the festival at least 50% of our artists have been local to Oxfordshire. We have hosted local community groups, ranging from choirs to brass bands, as well as holding showcase concerts featuring children from local schools. We have given away free stalls to local charities and good causes at our Village Fete. We also run education and community projects, such as our Inclusive Folk project, where we are working with children and families with Special Needs and disabilities. We set up the website www.folkinoxford.co.uk
to help bring together all the different strands of folk activity in Oxfordshire, and enable the folk community to share and support each others events.
An inclusive festival. Since the very start of Folk Weekend in 2012 we have always made sure that at least half of our events are free entry. We run a whole programme of free family events. For the last four years we have held a pre-festival ceilidhs for children from local Special Needs Schools. In 2015 we held our first relaxed performance, and we are committed to pushing forwards with accessibility, and breaking down barriers to participation. For 2015 we developed our unique Makaton-Folk project, and produced a whole set of folk songs which were Makaton-signed for an audience with communication difficulties, and we're building on that this year with Inclusive Folk. We've got even bigger plans for the future!
A supportive festival. We will do what we can to help local artists, and always give Oxfordshire artists priority for performance slots at the festival. We give our local artists high profile main stage slots, enabling them to get their music out in front of more people. We are in the (slow!) process of developing an Associate Artist scheme, where we can offer support and mentoring to local artists, and are also hoping to set up a development fund, so we can help local artists who need some financial support in getting a project off the ground.
If you're still reading - thanks for sticking with it! Any support you can give will be massively appreciated, so please have a look through the menu on the right for some options, or follow the links above.
Finally, I do want to acknowledge and thank you all for the help and support many of you have given me (and the festival) already over the last few years, and longer in some cases! Many of you have done an awful lot for the festival, so please know that you are appreciated.
Lots of love,