Hayley Byfield shares her learnings from organising her first festival, Wild Child.
I had been toying with the idea of creating a London-based children’s festival for years. Having worked in the arts, education and as a producer specialising in theatre for over 20 years, I had often made work for festivals and organised family areas at events. My vision was for a festival focussing on the arts, creative play and wellbeing. So emerged the idea for Wild Child, which ran over three days in August last year at the Dulwich College sports ground.
I wanted to create an event that would have the same chilled out vibe of a weekend camping festival but without the necessity to camp. I think attending an out of London festival with a family is becoming increasingly costly and I wanted to offer an alternative where families could come along for a day and have a similar experience.
No hidden extras
In order for it to be affordable I thought it was important to have an all-inclusive ticket price with no hidden charges. I have been to many festivals and heard parents’ complaints and read reviews about ‘hidden costs’ for rides, toys, balloons and face painting etc. so I wanted to eliminate those sorts of stresses straight away.
Relaxed and safe
It was important to create a festival vibe that was fun and exciting yet relaxed and safe. By keeping things small and intimate, parents could let their children run free without the worry of them disappearing into large crowds.
As a new mum it was important to me to have an area within the festival especially for little festivalgoers of 0-3 year olds as this age range often gets overlooked. I knew there were lots of amazing activities out there for little ones like sensory theatre shows, baby jazz, sensory messy play and baby circus, so I created a Babes in the Burrow area in a big airy dome tent.
The other areas for children over three included the Wordy Wood for storytelling and spoken word, the Crafty Den for arts and craft, the Little Top for circus school, the Playhouse for interactive theatre shows, the Harmony Hideaway for music workshops and bands, the Wellness Warren for yoga and mindfulness, the STEAM Lab for all things Sci-Art and Tech-Art, the Bop Along Ballroom for dance workshops and shows, and the Giggly Grove for comedy.
Keeping things unique
I made the decision early on not to try and get any big celebrity children’s acts as these feature at many other festivals. I wanted Wild Child to be about seeing and trying new things rather than what you can see on the TV every day of the week. I did make sure that there were some London-based favourites like Mrs H and the Singalong Band and FUN DMC.
I researched my ideas by attending a number of other festivals to see what the family experience was like. I found one of the most helpful things was looking at lots and lots of reviews of family-focused events written by parents to find out what they loved and what they hated. The most complained about things were queues for activities, long walking distances from car parks and having to pay extra for activities once inside festivals. I also visited the Festival and Outdoor Events Show and subscribed to industry publications
What we did well
In order to engage with local creatives in South East London, I ran a number of pop-up events at local community festivals doing some storytelling and arts and crafts. This helped to spread the word about the festival and from that local people got in touch who were keen to be involved.
I partnered with a team of mainly parents who ran businesses providing activities for families. They helped make Wild Child happen and headed up the various areas. I was really lucky to meet some great individuals and organisations including Seedlings Wellbeing, Okido arts and science magazine, MAMA.Codes, Fantastiko Circus, Let’s All Dance and Bambini Ballroom. I also did a call out on Arts Jobs for artists and approached people that I had either seen perform previously or had been recommended.
I wanted to find a private venue that had a large open green space and all the necessary event licences already in place. I looked at private schools within London who already held other events and went with Dulwich College’s sports ground. This was a lovely venue and the grass was like a beautiful carpet. With the really hot summer of 2018 it had started to turn brown but luckily a bit of rain a couple of weeks before the festival brought it back to life.
By using a private venue it meant I didn’t need lots of fencing, just overnight security. I positioned the marquees in a big circle with a large open space in the middle so there was plenty of room for people to picnic and children to run. Everything was close enough so that it was quick and easy to get from one activity to another and toilets were never too far away.
Asking for help
Having worked for Enfield Council preparing risk assessments for events and toured shows in public spaces, I knew the requirements for holding an event outdoors. I was able to prepare everything needed myself but made good use of the Purple Guide and did lots of research. I enjoyed doing this as I could ensure my vision was being adhered to throughout. That said, I believe it is always good to consult with other people who have experience. I had help from someone at a local venue who gave me advice and asked questions to make sure I had covered everything.
Asking for recommendations also paid dividends. The marquee suppliers recommended the toilet supplier, and I sourced security and first aid through contacts I made at other local events.
We had a great team of volunteers who managed each area of the event, which freed me up to deal with any issues on the day. I also had a site manager and a deputy. The team worked really well.
I commissioned a fantastic illustrator who illustrates for people like Mothercare to create 10 mascots based on British woodland creatures with a ‘tribal’ theme. There were characters like Om the Otter for the Wellness Warren and Origami the Owlet for the Crafty Den. Using these characters on the map and signage made it really easy for families to navigate their way to the different activities and it was fun for the children to find them all and have photos taken.
As a children’s festival, this was important. All activity providers had to show insurance documents and that they were DBRS checked. We also had a policy that everyone who attended had to be part of a group with children in it.
You can plan as much as you want but of course there are always going to be things that you can’t control!
Set up time
We had a two day set up but after a spell of amazing weather it rained really heavily on the morning of the second day. We lost half a day which really put the pressure on getting everything ready. Even though it’s a small festival I would still allow a three to four day set up in case of bad weather.
We were let down by couple of caterers who pulled out at the last minute because they said they had better offers at larger festivals and would make more money elsewhere! This was of course extremely frustrating and put extra pressure on the other caterers and meant queuing times were longer, which was one thing I really wanted to avoid. Next time I will insist on a contract and take a deposit for the pitch fee. Making use of the Nationwide Caterers Association (NCASS) to find caters with all the H&S documentation in order makes a lot of sense too.
I discovered that it’s really hard to recycle at a small festival. This is a whole other subject, but it basically turned out that our event was too small to get any of the recycling companies to service it. We had already made it a policy that the food vendors had to use eco-friendly tableware and we also encouraged families to take their rubbish away and recycle it at home. In the future I want to have a whole area at the festival that helps to educate families about recycling, going plastic free and being more sustainable.
The water for the wash basins in the toilet trailers stopped working and nobody was responding on the emergency line so we had to stock up on hand sanitiser! Reassurance from our supplier that the number given will be manned is something we will definitely be seeking.
Thoughts and learning
The feedback from families was fantastic and it was really reassuring that the event had achieved the right vibe and focus. I am digesting all the learning from what I consider to be the pilot Wild Child to work out how best to move forward. This includes:
There had been requests to include the option to camp. It would have been hard to manage this at the current venue as space would mean limiting camping to just 100 families. I have since made enquiries and had interest from other venues.
We ran Wild Child across three days and to keep things simple we kept the programming the same. The only thing that changed was the music line up. This meant we had to sell three times as many tickets as an all-inclusive festival with camping.
Age group focus
The majority of children that attended the festival were under five so it makes sense to focus the festival more to this age group.
Most tickets were pre-booked which was excellent, and only about 5 per cent of people paid on the door. We used Ticket Tailor which is very reasonable as you pay a monthly subscription rather than a fee per ticket sold. That said I believe they are changing how they structure this. Next time we are planning on using a bigger ticketing site and maybe partnering with them for more exposure, perhaps through Ticketmaster’s children’s event portal, Minimaster. Across the three days we had approximately 2,000 people although we were not at capacity.
We did a deal with a local brewery and made a good profit on the bar. This is something we would definitely expand at future events. There are some logistical challenges in running a bar yourself but these can be easily overcome with refrigeration trailers.
The first Wild Child was funded through personal finance. In order to grow and offer a greater range of activities the next event will need to attract sponsorship and other forms of funding. We invited brands to try the event out in its inaugural year to see the quality of our audience and the feedback was excellent. One baby food brand in particular is keen to be involved in the next event and support it financially, so the plan worked!
It seemed that as soon as I announced Wild Child, lots of other children’s festivals popped up in London – some quite close by. I obviously kept a close eye on them and the reviews afterwards and learned what can happen if you over promise and under deliver!
There are so many variables to consider in putting on an event, and each can have a big impact on its success. Perhaps the most important are location and date. I am already considering whether I should move Wild Child to just outside of London to attract those who want a more rural experience still within easy reach of the city. Feedback also suggested June or July might be a better time of the year than August.
Take away message
Deliver what you promise and work hard to establish yourself. It’s likely to be hard, especially without funding as you may have to take a financial hit, but if you do it right you will win over your attendees and create a good base from which to grow. The proof is in the pudding, so watch this space!