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AIF boss reflects on the festival sector’s most challenging year

By | Published on Friday 18 September 2020


The CEO of the Association Of Independent Festivals, Paul Reed, yesterday reflected on the incredibly challenging year faced by his organisation’s members, with COVID-19 pretty much cancelling an entire year of activity for the festival sector. However, while plenty of challenges remain, he said he was still optimistic that – providing there is sufficient support to allow independent festivals to ‘bridge’ the COVID-caused gap – the sector can prosper again in the future.

Noting that the AIF had secured seventeen new members in the last year, Reed said: “It feels like a strange time to be growing in size but, more than ever, independent festivals understand the value of the collective and a spirit of mutual support – something that is at the core of AIF’s mission as a representative body. We exist to fight your corner and, particularly in times of crisis, we have felt real strength in numbers”.

Reviewing the impact of the COVID shutdown and what AIF has been doing to help its members through the pandemic, he went on: “The independent festival sector has proved to be incredibly resilient, and AIF itself may yet emerge from this stronger, with a more engaged membership and a louder collective voice heard clearly across government and the wider public”.

Reed also confirmed that, in addition to continuing to lobby government for support for the independent festival sector, AIF is also working on producing festival specific guidance to help promoters now planning their 2021 events with COVID concerns still very much on the agenda.

Elsewhere, Reed noted that – beyond COVID – Brexit also presents challenges for independent festivals taking place next year, plus the sector’s efforts to make line-ups more diverse and festivals more environmentally sustainable must continue.

“There will be numerous challenges that lie ahead”, he concluded. “We’re not out of the woods and back into the fields yet. But I’m convinced that, if we can ‘bridge’ for long enough, there is an incredible appetite for live music, entertainment and escapism. People are yearning for collective experiences and moments that resonate for a lifetime. Where better than a festival? As soon as we can, we’ll come roaring back”.

In formal business at the AGM, Nick Morgan – CEO of The Fair – was named as the new Vice Chair of the association, and three new board members were confirmed: Anna Wade (Boomtown Fair), Chris Russell-Fish (Black Deer) and Stuart Balkham (Elderflower Fields).