Three nights of camping bliss in a Nottinghamshire forest courtesy of ‘the Friendly Club’.
Having celebrated 100 years of its previous end of summer members’ get together, the Camping and Caravanning Club used time off during 2021/22 to reimagine the event as a festival to engage a new audience of members. We talk to Nicola Simpson, the club’s director of marketing and insight, and festival production partner Pat Toland from Coalesce Events.
Describe your event and how many people it attracts?
Nicola: The Torchlight Festival of Camping is a new family-friendly festival from The Camping and Caravanning Club. It ran this year from 19-22 August at Nottinghamshire venue Walesby Forest, building on the club’s long history of end-of-summer camping events.
The festival featured live music from Gabrielle, Squeeze, The Wurzels and Boyzlife together with a range of entertainment including expert talks and cooking demonstrations. An illuminated light trail through woodland showcased the club’s long history while the venue’s on-site activities, which include high ropes, mazes, archery and sailing, meant a perfect weekend could be had by the whole family.
We had just over 1,800 camping units (tents, trailer tents, caravans and motorhomes) attending the festival, which meant approximately 4,500 festivalgoers.
Explain a bit about your venue and your history with it
Nicola: Through the club’s different regional camping units we’ve had a long association with Walesby Forest that dates back several decades. The club has members across the UK and we wanted a venue that was centrally located to appeal to as many people as possible while also having good infrastructure and plenty of attractions in the region that campers could enjoy visiting before and after the festival.
Given we have a long association with the venue, we knew Walesby Forest would be a good partner for our inaugural event. We will be returning to Walesby next year and then plan to move to a larger site in 2024 so that we can accommodate more campers.
What is the event’s history?
Nicola: The Torchlight Festival of Camping takes over from the club’s long-established end-of-summer event called the National Feast of Lanterns (NFOL). The NFOL has served us really well and reached its 100th birthday last year so we felt the time was right to give the event a full refresh with a new look and feel. Torchlight aimed to keep the flame alive for club traditions while appealing to a new audience of members. Thanks to the hard work of our wonderful staff and volunteers – supported by the team at Walesby Forest – it did just that. We’re really pleased with how it went.
How does the relationship work with the venue?
Nicola: Central to any relationship working well is advance planning and regular meetings with all partners. Fortunately Walesby hosts similar size events regularly so is well practised with it. They manage all site amenities and we take care of the rest. They also have a great relationship with the local authority SAG and so made securing permissions relatively easy.
During the event itself we had a team of club staff and a small army of experienced club volunteers who worked alongside the Walesby Forest staff and benefitted from their excellent support.
How is your relationship with the local authority and community?
Nicola: We are known as ‘The Friendly Club’ because being good partners to work with is central to our culture. We have nearly 100 club sites around the UK and working closely with local authorities and the communities in which we have campsites is vitally important. We have extensive experience of holding large camping events and we hope that helps when working with any venue, local authority and community.
Walesby is fairly remote and so our impact on the local area is greatly reduced.
How did you plan the layout of the event?
Pat: We designed the site around the main arena so that all focus was on the main stage. We then overlayed food vendors, bars and other tents on to the plan ensuring the flow of people would not cause pinch points. Our final check was to run the plan through software called GoVisullay that calculates the total square metres of usable space so that we can check we have sufficient for the amount of people onsite.
All our tents and stages were hired in from the various suppliers listed below
How did you work with creatives to make these spaces work?
Nicola: It’s really important that the main areas of the site not only provide sufficient space for people but also look great. We selected tents that provide different environments inside and dressed areas which lent themselves to the brand of the event. We also used the trees to light up sections helping to transform spaces from day to night.
We dipped our toe in the water this year but have so much more in store for future shows.
How did you research and source your infrastructure?
Pat: I tend to use trusted suppliers that I’ve worked with for years. I used two suppliers this year which I hadn’t previously used and although one performed really well the other totally let me down. It’s vital in this industry that people communicate well and do exactly what they say they will do. If they don’t the knock on effect to others can be really time consuming and has the potential to ruin the show.
What entertainment did you offer?
Pat: The Camping and Caravanning Club is a member’s club which means they know exactly who their audience are so can ensure the entertainment appeals to them. We created a roster of entertainment that provided something for the whole family. From kids acrobatic sessions to Squeeze headlining, we booked all artists through our artist booker, Jasmine Tidswell.
Audience appeal is probably the most important factor when booking but price and requirements also play a huge part.
What provisions did you make for power, lights and sound?
Pat: Providing over 1,200 caravans with a 6 amp electrical hook up has a host of challenges around it and with over 30 generators onsite it was our biggest install. An eye watering fuel bill came along with this, like all other events this year, but we opted to use solar lighting towers to help reduce this. We still have so far to go to totally remove fossil fuels from events but we are making steps in the right direction.
How did you manage admissions and visitor safety?
Nicola: This was a ticketed event that was sold well in advance. Admission was based on having the right accreditation attached to the window of your vehicle and controlling access to site. We worked in conjunction with an independent health and safety company which monitored and advised us on crowd safety. Safety is of paramount importance to the club.
How did you cope during 2020 and 2021?
Nicola: As with so many other organisations and businesses in this field, we were affected by the pandemic and were unable to run anything on this scale during the last two years. Instead we channelled our energy and focus fully on the relaunch of our annual end-of-summer event to make Torchlight the success it was.
What ground protection did you use for cars and footfall?
Pat: We selected a site with great road infrastructure so that we could avoid needing trackway. With so many vehicles coming to site in a short time frame we needed to be protected from any challenges the weather might throw at us.
How did you publicise the event?
Nicola: Torchlight is a members only festival and as a membership organisation we have a number of ways we can promote events to our members, who number more than 750,000. This primarily included stories and adverts in our monthly magazine, Camping & Caravanning, together with email and social media communications.
What additional challenges have you faced?
Pat: This was the first time the club outsourced sections of the festival to third party contractors and so we all had to adapt to work together. With so much at stake, celebrating 100 years of something, people were determined to do it justice. I can safely say that everyone came together and added tremendous value in their areas.
It had real potential to fall apart but we actually witnessed the opposite and saw everyone pull together in ways I’ve not seen before. Naturally there were things we didn’t get 100% right but we will learn from this and ensure Torchlight 2023 builds on the success of our inaugural event.
What are your plans for next year?
Nicola: We are looking forward to returning to Walesby Forest next year so make sure you stay tuned as we will be announcing plans soon. We wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise but you can rest assured it will be bigger and better!
What advice could you give to someone coming into the industry?
Pat: It’s important to understand that you can only make one decision at a time, so try not to get bogged down worrying about things not yet in your control. Events are all about making calm and calculated decisions at the right time. It’s also important to know that you will make mistakes, but that’s part of the learning; celebrate them along with the successes to ensure you learn and grow.
Coalesce Events www.coalesce.events
STAGES & PA
AF Live www.aflive.co.uk
STAGE LIGHT PERFORMANCE
Invisible Circus www.invisiblecircus.co.uk
Tarren Productions www.tarrenproduction.co.uk
HEAT & POWER
FTS Event Power www.ftseventpower.com
Greene King www.greeneking.co.uk
TOILETS & WASHROOMS
Premier Security 24/7 UK www.premiersecurity247.co.uk
Torchlight Festival of Camping
Nottinghamshire NG22 9NG