Ireby Festival

A strict maximum capacity and quality artists mean this 15 year old festival in the Lake District has a reputation for selling out early

A community event, the Ireby Festival is held in a small farming village on the north-western edge of the Lake District National Park. Despite its self-imposed small size, it attracts visitors from around the UK to its mix of folk, roots and Americana music. Open Air Business talks to founder Charles Devlin.

Ireby Festival birds eye view

Describe your event and how many people it attracts?
Ireby is a small farming village in Cumbria, with a population of about 150. The festival is designated a not for profit community organisation and has a self-imposed capacity of 650. Music venues include St James’ Church, the village hall and the local pub, Emily’s Black Lion. The village square is also a popular meeting point, as is the Women’s Institute; the ladies here make delicious soup and home bakes.

People relaxing at festivalThe local primary school is involved and the Woodlands Country Guest House, which hosts music workshops. Concerts are held in a 12th Century chancel (the original Ireby church) situated a mile from the village. There is no vehicle access so visitors are taken on a guided walk from the festival site to the chancel. The main stage is a wide span marquee with a seating capacity of 650. The festival attracts people from all over the UK and has developed a reputation for selling out early.

How does the relationship with the landowner work?
The festival arena houses the main stage, tents, camper vans and a small number of caravans. From the onset, the local farmer has been a staunch supporter of the festival, and three weeks before the event he will free up several fields for our use. These are conveniently situated just a few minutes’ walk from the village square. Prior to the festival these field are grazed by sheep and cattle.

What is the event’s history and what made you decide to run it?
A chat over a glass of wine at a friend’s birthday party brought about the idea of a festival. At that time, I was a booking agent for a number of folk/roots musicians in the UK and Canada, so programming such an event was fairly straight forward. The inaugural festival was held 15 years ago in Susan Gray’s garden and sold 100 tickets. Initially, we just used the village hall but as the popularity of the festival grew we were offered an alternative, more spacious venue in the grounds of another private dwelling in the village, Ellenside House, where a main stage marquee was erected within the perimeter of a tennis court. The festival remained here until 2012 when it’s popularity outgrew the available space and required us to move to a larger open field site.

How did you find applying for permission to run the event?
From the onset, and to date, we maintain a good working relationship with Allerdale Borough Council licensing officers. Initially our license was a Temporary Event Notice restricting capacity to 499, which had to include all the artists, volunteers and infrastructure staff. We applied to change this to a premises licence, which is what we hold now.

Setting up festivalHow have you planned the layout of the event?
There is no flat field in or near the village suitable for staging such an event, however, with assistance from the farmer and other local businesses, we widened the entrance gates and re-enforced the uphill access to what is now the festival arena. A wide span main stage marquee sits on the flattest and highest section of the field, which boasts stunning panoramic views overlooking the Caldbeck Fells and Skiddaw, England’s fourth highest mountain.

How did you research and source your marquees, bars, and other infrastructure?
From the onset, we chose local suppliers and have been fortunate to develop a sound working relationship with some extremely professional individuals. They know how we operate and understand the nature of our voluntary community status and the physical issues we have to overcome to stage the event.

Musicians on stageWhat entertainment do you offer and how did you source it?
In relative terms the festival is tiny, but from an artistic perspective if fights well above its weight, with previous headline artists including Eddi Reader, Kate Rusby, Elkie Brooks, Seth Lakeman, and Cara Dillon. This year we have Jon Boden (ex Bellowhead frontman) and, from Scotland, Admiral Fallow.

The festival employs local, national and international musicians, and focuses principally on folk/roots/Americana with a pinch of blues and jazz thrown in for good measure. Sourcing artists for the festival is mainly through music agencies or, occasionally, directly with artists.

What provisions do you make for power, lights and sound?
Sound, light and power, staging, portable toilets and waste disposal is contracted from local businesses. The main stage, catering units and campsite lighting is generator powered. Other venues in the village are self-sufficient, but do require sound and stage lighting technicians.

Festival marqueesHow do you manage admissions and visitor safety?
Admission is by advance ticket purchased either by post and cheque payment or online through our chosen ticketing company. Visitors have to exchange their payment voucher for a wristband which allows entry to music venues. Professional security personnel are employed in addition to approximately 55 volunteer stewards deployed over the two festival days. One month before the festival the local authority and police require us to submit a management plan which covers all aspects of visitor safety, vulnerable adult and child safety and first aid provision.

What ground protection do you use for cars and footfall?
Access to the main arena and campsite has to be re-enforced with 8×4 rubber matting hired from a neighbouring festival. Generally, the fields drain well and fast, which is probably a bonus for living in a hilly area.

How do you publicise the event?
In national magazines, social media and through our website. Our local county newspaper, The Cumberland News, is very supportive too. We also place leaflets in the tourist visitor centre in Keswick.

What challenges have you faced?
Living in the Lake District, inevitably brings its own localised weather issues which requires us to hope for the best and plan for the worst. Ensuring problem-free access on and off the main site and adjacent car parking field is our principal challenge.

What are your plans for next year?
This year’s festival sold out at the beginning of March. We will have a debrief meeting at the end of May where a decision will be made on the next festival.

What advice could you give to someone coming into the outdoor event industry?
No matter where you are, always prepare for the worst weather possible. Stick to your budget and make sure all partners work in harmony – in our case that means artists, the paying public, infrastructure staff, volunteers and, above all, the local residents.


Lock Hart Leisure – 01946 725222 /

SVL Hire – 01228 562110 /

Bean on the Scene – / 07856 057755 /
Big Pizza Pies – 07847 807739 /
Red Raddish Catering – 07917 005000 /
Yates Brewery – 01983 867878 /

Leet Loos – 01697 343399 (Cumbria)

Gigantic –

Pro-Tect UK – 0843 289 1875 / (Cumbria)

La Playa Insurance – 020 3865 0149 /

26-27 May 2017
Ireby, Wigton, Cumbria

About Open Air Business 1380 Articles
The voice of outdoor hospitality - in print and online. If you liked this article, subscribe to the printed magazine here. We produce industry e-news between issues - please sign up here