Festival fun outdoors for children and their grown-ups.
Starry Skies provides a safe natural environment for children to adventure in, and plenty of after dark fun for parents. It has sustainability embedded at its core and aims to be 100 per cent powered by waste vegetable oil or other biofuel. Organised by Kambe Events, co-founder Chris Johnson is behind the Festival Vision:2025 initiative, which is greening up the live events industry.
Describe your event and how many people it attracts?
Starry Skies Family Camp is a gloriously mucky hybrid between family festival and camping holiday – taking the best aspects of both of these and presenting them in the beautiful Welsh hills to an intimate community of under 500 families. With a focus on creativity, community and sustainability, Starry Skies is where the kids roam free! Created by Kambe Events, it’s the younger sister of our flagship event Shambala.
Explain a bit about your venue and its history
In the past few years we have moved to a cosy smallholding nestled in Monmouthshire, Wales. During the year the site is a functioning farm, boasting a gorgeous old barn that gets transformed into our ‘Centre Camp’ hosting our Barn Stage, food market, bar and ‘family rave’ space. The site has the space for kids to roam around in open fields and explore in its ancient woodland growing on top of an Iron Age settlement.
What is the event’s history and what made you create it?
Starry Skies was born from our own realisation that going on holiday with the kids can turn into an expensive battle of endurance. As long-time festival organisers we love taking our kids to festivals, but going as a family can often feel a bit like you’re missing out once the sun goes down. The institution that is the family camping trip often leaves you feeling more exhausted than before, contending with the weather and trying to keep everyone occupied and engaged.
We wanted to present something that took the best aspects of a family festival with a genuinely great camping experience. We wanted to combine the proper sense of community and excellent programming found at festivals with unadulterated family time in the great outdoors.
We’re now in our eighth year delivering our independent, intimate event to families across the UK. The motivations for starting Starry Skies remain central to how we run the event, making sure families are stimulated, and kids can roam free and get back to nature!
How does the relationship work with the venue you hold the event at?
We hire the site and work closely with the owners in the lead up to the event, keeping them informed of our plans. We like to maintain a close working relationship with the landowners, inviting them to have a presence during our event build and play a role in the build of the event itself.
How did you find applying for permission to run the event?
The licensable activity is all housed in pre-existing barns on site, a very authentic countryside venue for our music and bar offering! Because of this we can operate on a temporary events notice. We do not make any compromises on how we run the event in regards to EHO stipulations as we set very high standards of event management internally.
How have you planned the layout of the event?
Often an atmosphere is created by the aesthetics of an event. We look at booking rustic hand-crafted structures and awnings that lend themselves to the community feel we foster and which show the attention to detail going into the event. In booking these structures, alongside our decor, we are able to champion the creativity and love of the natural world that is central to our programme.
We also try to pair the structure with the activity that will be taking place inside. For example, we have: a cream traditional marquee for the ‘Arty Farty’ space as it lets in lots of natural light for the crafts; a colourful mini-top for the circus space; and a comfortable wooden yurt for the medical and lost kids space as it’s welcoming and warm. We also use the permanent structure of the on site barn as our main centre-camp space where people meet to eat, drink and dance.
We build our site map on Vectorworks, creating different layers for structures, power, water and sanitation etc.
How did you research and source your marquees, flooring, bars etc?
We have many pre-existing relationships with providers, and the ongoing database we have from years of working on Shambala provides us with a good starting point. We are not totally beholden to specific providers though – each year we review how services were delivered and if they can be improved with our sustainability policies in mind.
What entertainment do you offer and how do you choose and source it?
Starry Skies offers all sorts with a huge programme of activities to occupy and inspire kids of all ages and their parents. Our emphasis is definitely on creative play in the great outdoors. There are a few big hitters like Woodland Tribe, which facilitates children building their own dream adventure playground with hammers and nails, championing risky play alongside our Forest School. We also have a circus tent helmed by Bigtopmania which is a firm favourite. We then offer an evolving roster of workshops for all ages, a Health and Healing area and also a handful of excellent music acts every night.
What provisions do you make for power, lights and sound?
We work closely with our power provider (BES Systems) who also provide our sound and lighting for all the spaces. We liaise with them during the lead up to the event to gather the power specs for site requirements (toilets, showers, site lighting), venues and traders. We add details of generator locations, power lines and site lighting (such as our festoons) to the map and share with them.
They then come to site, set up and remain on site for the duration of the event. They manage the main stage lighting and sound in our barn too. Starry Skies aims to be 100 per cent powered by waste vegetable oil or other biofuel. The lighting on site is LED and low energy throughout. The only fossil fuel used on site is the gas for cooking in the cafe and heating shower water.
How do you manage admissions and visitor safety?
We employ a traffic management team to manage the ingress of cars and campervans to the event. We don’t allow our visitors to drive and unload their equipment next to their camp. Instead we have a drop off system where a team drives through the car park while people are arriving and collects their luggage. This is then dropped off to one of two luggage drop off points in the campsites so guests don’t have such a long way to go with it. Systems such as these ensure the safety of our site from the first arrivals, allowing kids to roam free from the off, and is made possible by the intimate size of our site (and boundless enthusiasm of our lovely crew).
What ground protection do you use for cars and footfall?
There is a slight incline on the ground into the main car park and also a bit of a hill in the campervan field, so we hire some track mats in from GT Trax to lay on the main runs into these areas. We also keep some back as contingency that our crew can lay out in other areas on site in case bad weather affects the ground in high traffic areas.
How do you publicise the event?
A mixture of approaches really. A lot of families return to Starry Skies year on year, so word of mouth is a key thing – if people have a great time, they’ll recommend us to their family and friends. We tap into the existing audience of Shambala families on occasion, and have used our social media channels to build a year round community on Facebook and Instagram.
In 2019, for the first time, we partnered with a few parenting ‘influencers’ but were very cautious about making sure the people we worked with were a strong match with Starry Skies’ values, so more rough-and-ready outdoorsy folk, rather than the glossy, everything-is-perfect types.
We do also occasionally partner with brands whose products and ethos are aligned with ours, to run competitions together and extend our reach into new audiences. We worked with Quirky Campers this year, whose beautiful camper van conversions are a great fit with Starry Skies, which was a really successful partnership. It’s all about sticking true to your principles and making sure the places you advertise and those you partner with are aligned with your message and values.
What challenges have you faced?
The weather is always the number one challenge for outdoor event promoters. This means that contingency planning has to be comprehensive for all eventualities. This does have an effect on budgets come rain or shine during the show, as producers have to have emergency infrastructure to deploy such as trackway.
What are your plans for next year?
We will continue to focus on our core aims of culturing in children an appreciation and love of nature so that they will become the future Earth protectors, and hopefully do a much better job then the generation that has preceeded them.
What advice could you give to someone coming into the outdoor event industry?
Use The Purple Guide for guidance on what you need for different event types and audience numbers. Be prepared to work in all kinds of weather conditions and be prepared/have contingencies in place.
Contact is key! Setting up regular meetings with different teams and land owners is essential for running a tight ship and creating communicative working relationships. This also puts you in the best position for maintaining a clear oversight of everyone’s requirements.
We’re big believers in the event industry taking responsibility and making commitments on the organisational level to sustainability. There are some really great resources out there, including our Kambe Resource that draws from our experience as industry pioneers with Shambala. Keep an eye out on any Festival Vision:2025 developments, which will create new free-to-use resources enabling the industry to go green and innovate.
STAGES, AV & POWER
Event Flag Hire www.eventflaghire.co.uk
GT Trax www.gttrax.co.uk
TOILETS & SHOWERS
Posh Wash Showers www.poshwashshowers.co.uk
5-9 August 2020
Cwm Cayo Farm