A reiteration of Wild Paths, a multi-venue event launched last year, Wild Fields has become the finale to Norfolk Showground’s Summertime Social.
We talk to Wild Paths’ Benjamin Street and Norfolk Showground’s Stephanie Crowe on a partnership that has meant a carefully curated and hugely popular new festival has made it into its second year despite Covid.
Describe your event, its history and how many people it attracts?
Ben Street: Wild Fields is a two-day music festival curated and co-managed by the same team that organise Wild Paths (its multi-venue sister festival). Wild Paths attracted around 4,000 people in October 2019 and for this new ‘Covid-safe’ outdoor iteration of the festival we’re expecting somewhere in the region of 2,500 over 12-13 September.
Wild Paths was launched last year as a multi-venue, city-wide music festival in the heart of Norwich. Its mission was to bring artists of national and international notoriety to the area and shine a spotlight over the city and all the talent that resides here. We also had themed after-parties, drinks and networking events, open bowling parties, live art installations and discussion panels.
With Covid, 2020 looked like it was going to be a no-go for Wild Paths until Norfolk Showground approached us to organise, curate and present an event on the final weekend of its Summertime Social – a season of live events held throughout August and September in partnership with Ideal Event Services. Even though it was a really tight turnaround, with a lot of the infrastructure and venue preparations already in place, we knew we could make it a success and dedicate the time to delivering a strong line-up.
Tell us about how Summertime Social came about
Stephanie Crowe: The Norfolk Showground wanted to do something for the performers and event organisers – especially those who have been affected by the events of 2020 – so we created Summertime Social.
We consider ourselves as playing an important role in bringing together the people of Norfolk, and the site is fortunate to have a considerable amount of open space. We also have established facilities perfect for supporting outdoor events and we wanted 2020 to have some good memories!
We contacted a range of local organisations to be part of the programme as we wanted Summertime Social to be an opportunity for events and varying demographic groups to take part in elements of their usual annual programme. One of our partners, Ideal Event Services, provides infrastructure and services to a lot of these events so was able to contact them directly to discuss how we could assist.
Wild Paths is a unique event which offers a great live music experience for Norwich. We knew the local community would feel the loss of such a great experience, so approached the team at Wild Paths to take the finale spot of the Summertime Social programme.
How does the relationship work?
Stephanie Crowe: It’s a bringing together of like-minded and equally-driven people who have experience in events. Partnerships have been formed due to an amazing common purpose and we hope the changes that have taken place over the past few months will continue to develop in future years.
Communication is key to all good relationships and this has been a great opportunity to share knowledge and ideas!
How did you find applying for permission to run the event?
Stephanie Crowe: The Norfolk Showground is very lucky to have great relationships with the local authority who have been incredibly supportive of the programme. Again, communication has been key in ensuring the that all those involved are up-to-date and have a good understanding about what we are hoping to achieve.
How are you managing Covid safety and social distancing?
Stephanie Crowe: We have implemented a number of measures across our event site including one-way systems, increased maintenance and cleaning, and layout to support social distancing – as well as supporting NHS Test and Trace systems.
The Norfolk Showground is 150 acres of flat space with hard standing walkways and an existing infrastructure of facilities. The customer experience was key in the development of the venue – we wanted the feeling of a festival but with an acknowledgement towards the current situation.
One of the key elements of this was obviously customer viewing and we didn’t want people to feel caged or confined so opted for roping off the various socially distanced spaces. One way systems to move around have been adhered to and it’s great to see people enjoying themselves in this responsible way.
We are aware that we can only do so much and ask everyone involved to support these measures. The most important thing is asking people to respect themselves, others and the space in which we are holding the events. Responsibility must belong to everyone.
The support we have had has really blown us away – people are engaged in the programme as well as being respectful of the ‘rules’ we have put in place.
Making sure we are transparent in what we provide, what the attendees can expect and what we expect has been key in our communications. Having said all of this, there is still a degree of trepidation due to the changing world in which we now live but you can’t expect everyone to accept change at the same rate, can you?
How have you planned the layout of the event?
Stephanie Crowe: We are lucky enough to have over 150 acres of open space with clear lines of sight. The main feature of the site is the stage, which has been framed with existing tree lines and positioned keeping in mind existing facilities.
Customer experience is key to how we have formed the layout. The stage, structures and marked out spaces have helped define the Summertime Social environment and ensure attendees feel informed and confident onsite.
How did you source your infrastructure?
Stephanie Crowe: Our event partner, Ideal Event Services, has been amazing in the sourcing and erection of our structures as well as being a go-to for many of the events in the local area.
What entertainment does Wild Fields offer?
Ben Street: We have live music, DJs and food and drink pop-ups. The live music was chosen on merit – who the booking team thought was most exciting and current in the live music scene. There’s a focus on local and regional here, with over 60 per cent of the acts based in Norfolk and all the food traders involved are local companies. That’s always important to us but now there’s even more of a pressure to book from local talent.
How do you publicise the event?
Ben Street: The focus has been predominantly digital for obvious reasons. We created a good amount of engaging content for socials and utilised ours and our partners’ mailing lists (Skiddle, University of East Anglia, Summertime Social). We’ve also made a festival newspaper with artist interviews, a ‘pimp your face mask’ cut-out and some words from local business owners who are involved with supporting the project.
We’ve tried to balance the importance of projecting a safe and responsible event while retaining the core reason why people want to go to festivals… to have fun and feel liberated.
What challenges have you faced?
Stephanie Crowe: 1) The Great British weather – unfortunately we had to postpone one of our early Summertime Social events due to high winds but safety is the priority for all involved.
2) The changing world of events – the current worldwide situation has changed the event landscape and working with this and learning to do things differently in a short space of time means it’s all hands on deck.
How have you financed Wild Fields and are you expecting a profit?
Ben Street: We receive some public support from the Arts Council and we also have a few commercial sponsors that have supported us (either financially or through some form of support-in-kind). This project’s also had a good bit of personal investment, but it’s something the county and the local music scene needs and I believe in its potential.
What are your plans for next year?
Ben Street: We plan to bring back our original multi-venue format in 2021 – if we can find a safe way to deliver our city festival across Norwich’s many venues and unique spaces then we will. The city needs an all-encompassing, multi-venue celebration that champions it and its music community, and in 2019 we were just getting started…
However I think the opportunity to run a green field event and the relationships we’ve built this year have given the whole team a hunger to bring back Wild Fields in 2021 too. Maybe with a couple more stages and a more broad selection of talent, possibly moving into visual art and comedy too.
Norfolk is starved of prominent music festivals and we’re hoping that the Wild Paths/Wild Fields brand will plug that gap and raise the county’s musical profile.
What advice could you give to someone coming into the outdoor event industry at this time?
Ben Street: Make sure you’ve demoed every possible scenario that could play out at your event and made sufficient preparations for all of them. Now more than ever you have to be able to quickly contain an issue before it gets out of hand.
Look at all the different innovative systems and platforms that are becoming available in light of the pandemic and its restrictions. Contactless ordering and paying systems will be key in supporting the successful events of tomorrow.
Ideal Event Services www.idealeventservices.co.uk
East Anglian Bars www.eastanglianbars.co.uk
Must Have Tickets www.musthavetickets.co.uk
Zed Security www.zedsecurityguarding.co.uk
Norwich, NR5 0TT