A scaled down version of Deer Shed offering family friendly festival vibes and socially distanced camping.
Selling out in 2019 with 10,000 paying attendees, the 2020 Deer Shed Festival was a very different affair as husband and wife organisers Oliver Jones and Kate Webster went back to the drawing board in light of Covid. The resulting reduced capacity, socially distanced camping festival is back again this year – Step 3 compliant with flexibility to relax measures if the 19 July unlock date holds. We talk to Oliver.
Describe your event and how many people it attracts?
Deer Shed Festival is a family focused music, arts, science and sport weekend camping festival in North Yorkshire. It started in 2010 as a one day, 1,000 capacity event and has grown organically over the years, attracting over 10,000 paying attendees at the sell-out 2019 event. After that landmark year, we were granted a capacity of 15,000.
Deer Shed was created by myself and my wife Kate Webster all those years ago as we felt no other music festival offered an authentic – but safe, secure, and inclusive – experience that catered for every member of the family.
The full version of the festival sadly had to be postponed until 2022, but we are running Deer Shed: Base Camp Plus in its place, a socially distanced, reduced capacity festival which abides by Step 3 restrictions.
Explain a bit about your venue and its history
Baldersby Park is owned by our family, so that eases some of the stresses that can be placed on other events. We use around 100 acres of the parkland and woodland for Deer Shed. It also contains an old deer shed which the festival is named after, an 18th century stone obelisk, a lake at the centre, and the River Swale on its outskirts. It’s used largely as a home for the local sheep when we’re not disrupting them! Queen Mary’s School is based on the park and we maintain a good relationship with them as our neighbours.
We redesigned the site in 2018 to relocate the main stage to a field which is naturally bowl-shaped. This essentially meant the area became a natural amphitheatre. Wherever you stand, it’s impossible to get a bad view.
How does the relationship work with the venue you hold the event at?
The venue belongs to my Father-in-law, so far so good as long as the Sunday dinners round at ours keep on rolling.
How did you find applying for permission to run the event?
Going back over 10 years, the original premises licence was a bit of a battle with some local opposition from the neighbours of Baldersby Park. Sense prevailed however and we have always enjoyed a constructive relationship with our local authority which we hope will continue.
Base Camp Plus has been designed from the ground up to be Step 3 compliant and as such has not attracted too much attention relating to its Covid safety. We are of course in ongoing conversations with local public health officials to make sure that they are happy with our plans and also to negotiate any mitigations that can be relaxed as a result of changes to restrictions.
How have you planned the layout of the event?
Our event is much smaller than usual and so we have certainly reflected this in the structures. Our main stage is considerably smaller (boo) and we have not used any marquees that don’t lend themselves to easy ventilation.
How did you research and source your marquees, flooring, bars etc?
We have thankfully been able to use our existing contractors for all of these areas. They have survived and still answer the phone!
What entertainment do you offer and how did you choose and source it?
Deer Shed aims to provide something for every member of the family. It doesn’t matter if your kids are into art, sports, science, or anything else, there’s no doubt they will find loads of stuff to keep them entertained. We counted all the performance and workshop times up in 2019 and it equalled over 2,000 hours of content packed into three days.
We feel it’s essential that our content is never dumbed down for the kids, so most of the performance programme can also be enjoyed thoroughly by the adults. It’s like the Pixar film formula: everyone has a good time, no matter their age.
What provisions do you make for power, lights and sound?
We have used Pearce hire for the last five or so years for generators and wiring the place up. HPSS provide us with stage sound and lighting, we have used them since year one and we’ve grown up together. For site lighting (festoons etc.) we install our own kit ourselves.
How do you manage admissions and visitor safety?
How long have you got… Safety for families has always been one of the main selling points at Deer Shed, and we’ve enjoyed very low levels of crime over the years due to our admissions and security team. We have trusted managers who we’ve worked with for some time overseeing those areas on-site.
Please detail the measures you have taken specifically for Covid-19
The event we’re putting on this year is a reduced capacity, socially distanced affair. If the 19 July unlocking date holds, then we will of course be able to relax some of the social distancing measures, such as masks in covered areas. The event is designed to be flexible.
While a negative Covid test is not currently a prerequisite for attending, we will be strongly encouraging audience members to do a test before they arrive.
What ground protection do you use for cars and footfall?
For Deer Shed we use steel trackway for heavy traffic and deliveries. For Base Camp we don’t use anything – it’s not necessary as we have much lighter traffic.
How do you publicise the event?
We have a PR and marketing team who take care of the publicity. We’ve never wanted to grow the festival at a rate where it suddenly becomes unrecognisable to folk who have been with us from the start – and there are many of them – so our growth has been steady.
I suppose the big difference between promoting Deer Shed Festival and Deer Shed: Base Camp Plus is that we lost the ability to market through flyers at shows and advertising at local venues, so we’ve essentially moved fully online for a while.
What challenges have you faced?
In terms of logistics and production co-ordination, there isn’t much that phases us. At the beginning of 2021, we had multiple event plans to choose from for the various situations we thought could play out. We were prepared to jump through most hoops in order to put on a safe event for our audience, but the lack of available Covid cancellation insurance, or a government-backed alternative, made the financial risk too high. Base Camp Plus is a much smaller event and is broadly within tolerable limits in terms of financial risk for us as an independent promoter.
What are your plans for next year?
While we have made the most of a bad situation two years running with the Base Camp format, the prospect of getting back to the full version of the festival in 2022 is really exciting for everyone involved. We were officially granted a capacity of 15,000 just before the pandemic hit, after our sell-out 10-year anniversary in 2019. The support our audience have shown throughout the last 18 months has been humbling and I’m confident that the consistent, steady growth of our first decade can be carried forward into the next one.
In a normal year, we start the process of planning the full festival by dreaming up a theme – the most recent being Generation XYZ, Making Waves, The Wilderwild, and At The Movies – and use that to inform many of the activities and workshops programmed. We obviously don’t want to give too much away, but the theme will revolve around the joys we’ve largely been denied during the pandemic; experiencing different places and cultures, sharing ideas with friends and family, and being exposed to new things you may not even have realised existed.
What advice could you give to someone coming into the outdoor event industry?
Work as many festivals as you can, have fun, work hard and buy a Leatherman.
Pearce Hire www.pearcehire.co.uk
STAGE, SOUND & LIGHTING
Deer Shed: Base Camp Plus
30 Jul –1 August