A deliberate ‘slow grow’ strategy has kept financial risk at a minimum while creating a solid reputation for a music festival that celebrates creativity
What began as a community-focused event in a garden near Cambridge is now a fully-fledged music festival. Held in Moggerhanger Park, Bedfordshire, it is now planning for its eighth year. Open Air Business talks to James Stevens about this not-for-profit venture.
Describe your event and how many people it attracts?
KingsStock is a fledgling music festival, very much in the same vein as the hundreds of similar events that have popped up across the UK in recent years. We are run as a not-for-profit venture, making our ethos a little different to most, and hope to gain charitable status before our eighth edition in 2017.
We are patiently going for the slow grow, avoiding influential corporate sponsors, aiming at building a reputation as a festival, not just an event with known performers. Although sometimes frustrating, we believe it will build longevity. The event started at our home and we hope to maintain that ‘garden party’ feel.
What is its history?
The event originally started as a community-focused barbecue with a couple of musician friends. One of those 2am conversations led to the conception of KingsStock, which was at the beginning 70 people in our garden in the village of Kings Ripton near Cambridge.
When we got to 200 people in our garden, we knew we had to move and took the event to a caravan rally site called Burleigh Hill Farm. This allowed us to grow the event to more than 600 people, and of course led to us having to implement some formal structures into our planning as we worked with Huntingdonshire District Council. The council has a good working relationship with festivals due to The Secret Garden Party, which is a substantially larger endeavour than our own, being in the district. In fact SGP has been quite an inspiration for our event and some of our team attend annually.
Our directors are all Christians, and the bands all have a similar connection, although we don’t fit into any expected pigeon hole of Christianity and are entirely independent. A lovely product of the faith aspect is the lack of ego across the festival, which creates a really inclusive feel.
How did you apply for permission to run the event?
Due to us being quite small as outdoor events go, we didn’t need to make many compromises with regards to planning and licensing; in fact both these things help steer us to a more professional delivery.
How have you planned the layout of the event?
In the past two years we have moved from Burleigh Hill Farm to Moggerhanger Park in Bedfordshire, which is a prestigious country house with a rich heritage. Its core business is weddings, but it has been very open to diversification across its 33 acres of parkland, which has meant flexibility in accommodating our growing festival.
The main area of the estate we use consists of a series of walled gardens, a repurposed Second World War hospital unit and some of the extensive woodland. We currently run three stages and the walled gardens act as arenas. The 10ft high walls not only act as a sound barrier, but also trap the heat of the late summer sun. The formal shape of the walled gardens does dictate how we use them, but with a bit of imagination you can create outside of the literal box.
How did you research and source your marquees, stage, bars etc?
Due to the grassroots nature of our business we have not yet hired in marquees, although that day is coming. Instead we borrowed them in the early days, and now purchase Gala Tent marquees when funds allow. Experience with these products has convinced us they are well worth the investment.
What entertainment do you offer?
We mainly support unsigned, up and coming, UK-based bands. We don’t focus on any given genre, and our patrons are broad minded enough to give any band a chance.
We track down bands through the normal sources, but also follow up contacts gained by working with other bands. We seek to build relationships with the musicians we host, and try to treat them how we would want to be treated.
What provisions do you make for power, lights and sound?
Given the permanence of Moggerhanger Park, we are able to tap into existing services on site; our use of electricity is carefully managed by our in-house team who work alongside professionals such as Audoria (a start-up business that has emerged from Cambridge Youth Musical Theatre) and Whitton Electrical Services. Sound systems and lighting are primarily provided by Solitech based in Cambridge.
Our stages are installed by Impact Stages from Peterborough, and are amazing pieces of kit that can be erected in a relatively short amount of time and, by design, can be built on uneven surfaces, which makes them ideal for our purposes.
We hire in a big screen for use on our largest stage; it is a clever bit of kit that is essentially an LED curtain, making the whole structure incredibly lightweight. This is supplied by the very attentive Music-AV.
We have built ongoing relationships with our providers, and also give them the freedom to experiment with new concepts and ideas at the festival. Having a rigid plan with these things is not conducive to creativity.
How do you manage admissions and visitor safety?
We run our own ticketing systems using WordPress add-ons for our website, including Woo Commerce products; having Prime Xeon as a website partner really helps.
Our attendance is relatively low, sitting at about the 650 mark, although that does represent a growth rate of 800% since the launch of the festival. This firmly places us in the micro music festival genre, and makes visitor safety a fairly gentle affair, allowing us to operate safety and security as an in-house team run by people who have managed some significant royal events. Disclosing details, as you can imagine, is a highly sensitive issue, but the team’s collective CV would reassure organisers of events many times bigger than our own.
What ground protection do you use for cars and footfall?
We are very fortunate to have excellent drainage – it was designed that way 200 years ago – plus the naturally sandy soil in that part of Bedfordshire means that we can park all vehicles on mown parkland without risk of them getting stuck.
How do you publicise the event?
We use many of the traditional methods to let people know about the event such as flyers, banners and posters, but we have also used paid targeted advertising on social media platforms. We have managed to get countless opportunities to be on local radio shows – everyone loves a festival – and this year dabbled with national advertising in a few publications such as Sorted Magazine, Inspire Magazine and The Big Issue. Measuring success has been tricky, but we know raising awareness is the start of gaining ticket sales.
What challenges have you faced?
Given our slow grow approach, we have avoided any major challenges. The most significant was our move to Moggerhanger Park, which happened at short notice leaving just five months to pull together the event. Of course, there are the financial problems that are all part of running a festival. Again, our slow grow approach has only meant deficits of a few thousand pounds, compared to some of the huge amounts of debt generated by other music festival organisers. This is partly down to us running our own in-house crowd funding campaign called Heaven Sent Friends, which allows various individuals and small businesses to partner with the event.
How do you keep you team informed of operational developments?
Our entire team is made up of volunteers. We are driven by passion not profit, although this does not mean we are not commercially minded. The team try to run with as flat a management structure as possible, reducing hierarchy and fostering ownership. We run a virtual office using Google Drive and Slack, supplementing these with social media communities for our volunteers and Mailchimp for communicating with our mailing list subscribers.
What are your plans for next year?
In 2017 the festival will run from 11 to 13 August, and naturally we have already been planning for about six months. In many ways we will continue to do things the way we have been doing them, although we have a need for a larger covered stage area so the show can go on regardless of the weather, which has hit over 30°C over the past two years. We are going to have to move our campsite to expand the number of pitches we can provide, and will also be hiring in more showers and toilets.
We are also looking into pre-built tents and structures so that we can offer a glamping option. However, it is possible to upgrade your ticket to stay in the stately home, which takes glamping to a whole new level. Moggerhanger Park lends itself to glamping all year round and we are exploring how such a venture can be taken forward.
What advice could you give to someone coming into the outdoor event industry?
We are quite a modest operation but, as we have been doing it for several years now, our key piece of advice would be to start working with local authorities at the earliest opportunity. They have provided us with valuable information such as producing a noise management plan, which gave us documented evidence that we stayed within the expected parameters. The licensing people are friends, not foe.
11-13 August 2017
Moggerhanger Park, Bedford, MK44 3RW
Gala Tent – 0800 988 4252
Solitech (Cambridge) – 01223 420520 / email@example.com
SOUND & STAGE
Impact Stages (Peterborough) – 07966 223459 / firstname.lastname@example.org
MUSIC-AV – 01733 303262
Whitten Electrical Services – 07788 135359 / email@example.com
WI-FI / CARED MACHINES
iZettle – www.izettle.com/gb
Access Insurance – 020 8651 7420
PrimeXeon – 01223 850730
Moggerhanger Park – 01767 641007