A 56 year old event celebrating everything a family festival should be.
Now in the hands of third generation family member Joe Heap, Towersey Festival has grown from a few music fans in his grandad’s back garden to an 8,000 attendee event which this year is at Claydon Estate, Buckinghamshire, over the August bank holiday weekend. We talk to Joe.
Describe your event and how many people it attracts?
Discover another lovelier world. Where three generations can party together, where people still talk to each other. A place you can wear whatever you want, sing your heart out, play like a child and dance like no-one’s watching.
An authentic independent festival with an amazing community spirit. It’s an exciting, inspiring, relaxing and homely place where you can see a line-up of top musicians and artists as well as discover new music, learn new skills and experience new things. It’s a festival for everyone, from small kids to grandparents, a place you can create family memories together. And from the moment you arrive you will feel part of the bigger Towersey family.
Towersey will always be a folk and roots festival with one foot firmly in our proud history and foundations, and one excitedly in the future of festivals and music.
We aim to bring people an experience that will live with them forever, provide them with life-long friends and ensure there is nowhere else in the world they would rather be on the August bank holiday! It attracts around 8,000 people over four days.
Explain a bit about your venue and its history
Towersey Festival this year moves to Claydon Estate. Located in the beautiful Buckinghamshire countryside, Claydon is a thriving, family-run country estate and has been the ancestral home of the Verney family for 400 years.
The estate has over 170 acres of scenic parkland, lakes, woodland and gardens. At its heart is Claydon Courtyard, a vibrant hub for arts, crafts and retail. Visitors can also discover the splendid National Trust property, Claydon House.
What is the event’s history and what made you decide to run it?
Towersey Festival was started back in 1965 by my grandad, Denis, in his back garden in the Oxfordshire village of Towersey.
It quickly grew from a handful of music enthusiasts and friends to a few hundred, moved onto a small field in the village and was then taken on by my dad, Steve.
It continued to grow, attracting more families and new generations of fun-loving festivalgoers. Its goal, to provide a culturally significant event for the local community, is a mission that continues today.
And now? I took over as festival director 10 years ago, with many other family members also closely involved in keeping the festival running.
How does the relationship work with the venue?
One of the reasons for moving to Claydon Estate is that they want the festival and they understand the need for partnership between the festival and the venue. We have a great open dialogue and they have been wonderful at facilitating our unique needs.
It has to be a partnership for an event to work. All parties have to want it to succeed and have a vested interest in success.
How did you find applying for permission to run the event?
The application process has been smooth so far (we are currently pending a SAG meeting). Having run the event successfully for 56 years without major incident and very few resident complaints we are confident on developing a great working relationship with local residents and the local authority.
Dialogue and discussion are crucial as is the understanding that a festival is a culturally important event and not just a commercial entity. Towersey is more than just a festival that parachutes in. It becomes part of the community it works in and offers genuinely life affirming experiences.
How have you planned the layout of the event?
With 56 years of experience behind us we have a fairly well tested layout although we tweak it each year. This year, on a new site, we are trying to keep as much of the layout the same as possible in order to create some continuity for customers and retain all of the lessons we have learnt over the years in terms of access etc.
All of our venues are covered in either big tops or clear span structures, with the addition of a couple of stretch tents that we own.
How did you research and source your marquees, flooring, bars etc?
We have a long-standing relationship with many suppliers, but we do have a look around every year. We work with companies that understand how important the event is to us. We look for partnerships as opposed to simply suppliers and have a string of relationships with some long-standing suppliers including Flying Hire for power, Albion Woods for the big tops, Oxford Marquees and many others.
We run our own bars in partnership with Bar Nation from Oxford. This gives us the control we need but also gives us the confidence that the bars will be great.
What entertainment do you offer?
We have 12 stages/venues and over 200 artists with everything from main stage bands down to circus workshops and puppet shows.
We work with most of the main UK agents but also get to a lot of other events, showcases and gigs. We try to see as much as we can throughout the year in order to keep our programme fresh and ahead of competition.
What provisions do you make for power, lights and sound?
We work with a number of production companies with main stages being produced by One Big Star. We are very conscious of keeping fuel consumption down so have moved almost entirely to LED lighting on main stages and work with Flying Hire (our power partners) to reduce fuel use every year.
Great sound is vital to us and our audience. We only work with PA companies that understand the music we put on. They have to have a working understanding of the types of bands we have.
How do you manage admissions and visitor safety?
We work with just one ticketing company (Gigantic) who look after all of our accreditation. Everyone on site goes through their system, from customers to volunteers to concessions and artists. This way we know numbers on site and have contacts for everyone.
We work with a combination of very loyal and experienced volunteers and professional event staff to run our sites and venues, and fully qualified security staff who understand the ‘soft’ approach we want at our friendly event.
We have a comprehensive emergency procedure plan which is published in our Event Management Plan, volunteer notes and in all venues.
What ground protection do you use for cars and footfall?
We use a mix of metal trackway for heavy duty traffic and deliveries, plastic trackway for cars and car parks, and walkway mats for heavy footfall areas. Ground protection is important for both customer safety and enjoyment but also to protect the beautiful site we work on.
How do you publicise the event?
We have a comprehensive marketing timeline and plan. Because we do not have major headliners, we focus on selling what makes Towersey so special and unique in a flooded festival market.
We focus all marketing on being as targeted as possible. Festivals are not for everyone so being clear about who it is that wants to hear about us is vital when working with a limited budget.
We have national and regional focusses but more and more we focus locally as people tend not to travel for festivals as much.
What challenges have you faced?
How long have you got? Competition is the biggest challenge. There are so many more events and some that are not always as thought through as they might be. We pride ourselves on being the original and still the best for a true (but easy) festival experience.
Access and ground protection is this year’s big challenge and the ongoing drive to be carbon neutral is always on our mind and in our planning.
How have you financed the event and how profitable is it?
The event is self-sustaining, completely independent and with very little sponsorship and funding (although we would love a bit more!). We focus on making the budget work based on sales.
What are your plans for next year?
We already have plans to develop certain areas of the programme but because 2020 is a big change year for us we want to see how things work. One thing we will be aiming for is to offset carbon with tree planting and other initiatives that festivalgoers can join us with.
What other outdoor hospitality sectors do you operate in?
We own a fair amount of event equipment and decoration – flags, bamboos, furniture etc. and have plans to start renting some of this out and helping other events look great.
What advice could you give to someone coming into the industry?
Find something different. Something no one else is doing. Start small and grow organically. Don’t rely on investment, funding or grants. Be self-sustaining and do the event for a reason that isn’t just business!
One Big Star www.onebigstar.com
HEAT & POWER
Flying Hire www.flyinghireevents.co.uk
Bar Nation www.barnation.co.uk
GT Trax www.gttrax.co.uk
D&P Luxury Toilets www.luxury-toilets.co.uk
28-31 August 2020
Buckingham MK18 2EX