Fringe by the Sea

A 10 day multi-arts festival at the seaside town of North Berwick.

North BerwickRunning from 6-15 August, this year’s Fringe by the Sea is breaking out of its usual town centre venues into open sided marquees and stretch tents to allow for social distancing. Bringing £1.5m of economic benefit to East Lothian, the event is an important community asset. We talk to festival director Rory Steel.

Describe your event and how many people it attracts?
Fringe by the Sea is a multi-arts festival with community at its heart across 10 days in early August. It attracts up to 20,000 visitors to 160+ events.

Explain a bit about your venue and its history
Taking place in the East Lothian town of North Berwick, the festival has been hosted across a number of event spaces in the town from church halls to community centres and even a chip shop. However, the main auditoriums have been two spiegeltents in the harbour area of the town.

Fringe by the sea written in the sandWhat is the event’s history and what made you decide to run it?
It was started in 2008 by three residents who felt there was no need for locals to travel into Edinburgh to see quality artistic performances when they could have it on their own doorstep. The current management team took over the running of the festival in 2018, since when we’ve doubled its size through a more diverse programme, but still very much with community at the heart.

Over the past year, we’ve seen just what a vital contribution communities play in public health and wellbeing. Our intention this year is to celebrate the strength of the East Lothian community, invite others in and create new opportunities for people to connect as well as bring exciting new talent and established names to the region. With the festival bringing £1.5m of economic benefit to East Lothian, we hope to provide a welcome boost as we recover from the pandemic.

How does the relationship work with the venues spaces?
This year we are moving to new spaces, erecting open sided structures to ensure audiences are covered from the worst of any weather that might be thrown at us while meeting anticipated social distancing and other Covid-preventative measures. Many of these spaces are operated by the council or other local not-for-profit organisations who are very supportive of our endeavours to host an event in 2021.

How did you find applying for permissions?
East Lothian Council has been very supportive in our efforts to stage an event and we are in close correspondence with its Safety Advisory Group. Our final licencing application will be submitted in May, by which time we ought to have a clearer picture on guidelines for events in August. In any event, we will be submitting a number of contingencies and working closely with the council to ensure a safe event that members of the public can have confidence in attending.

Huts at Fringe by the SeaHow have you planned the layout?
We are using a mix of stretch tents and sideless clear span marquees. One stage will have an open air audience.

How did you research and source your infrastructure?
We are using local suppliers, with whom we have longstanding relationships.

What entertainment do you offer and how did you choose and source it?
All acts are carefully curated by the festival management team. This year headliners include Basement Jaxx, Peat & Diesel, Candi Staton, Janey Godley and The Poozies. We also have a strong community interest programme.

In 2021, we will be commissioning a number of artists and arts organisations to work with community groups in creating a final piece for showcasing at the event around the theme of ‘open arms, open spaces, open minds’. So we are actually commissioning pieces of work as well as providing a platform for established artists.

Further to live events, a number of key performances will be made available through webcasting.

Fringe by the Sea performanceHow do you manage admissions and visitor safety?
There will be a careful crowd management system in place, but as we are planning for individual events with a capacity of 200–500 people (depending upon what maximum capacities will be by August) it’s a very manageable number. Our ticketing agent, Citizen Tickets, has been a fantastic partner and we will be working closely with them on pre-event communications to ticket holders.

Please detail the measures you have taken specifically for Covid-19
We are planning for events up to 500 (current guidelines are 200), signage, sanitation stations etc, etc.

How do you publicise the event?
Our master partner DC Thomson Media has a fantastic presence in Scotland. We also work closely with The List and East Lothian Courier. Social media buy, outdoor and other targeted print is also part of the mix.

How have you financed the event?
We are a not-for-profit organisation and have received significant grants from the North Berwick Trust, another master partner, and Event Scotland. We have reached our sponsorship targets through a mix of national and local brands including Belhaven Brewery (Scotland’s oldest!), SSE Renewables and the Marine Hotel & Lawn, our official hotel partner.

What are your plans for next year?
We will take a lot of learnings from this year and if all goes to plan would like to build on them by continuing to use the new spaces we have mapped out.

What advice could you give to someone coming into the outdoor event industry?
Have your eyes open, plan everything to the nth degree and pray to the sun gods.

Fringe by the Sea graffiti


Stretchtent Scotland

DM Audio



Fringe by the Sea

Fringe by the Sea
North Berwick
East Lothian

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