Chippenham Folk Festival is a unique and distinctive event of national importance. It features the very best in English traditional music and dance with an emphasis on participation and education. Run entirely by volunteers, it has minimal and very local sponsorship; it is fiercely independent and entirely in control of its artistic programme. Ticket prices are kept as low as possible and the festival runs over four days. It is designed to be non-profit.
It is a '200+ events, make up your own festival in a variety of venues in a small, welcoming, market town' festival. Just like English traditional music and dance it is modest, unassuming, inclusive, fun and ultimately rewarding.
There is huge support locally and as a spin-off, the town makes a lot of money because of the festival. Chippenham Folk Festival prides itself on being within the town and supporting the town's economy, cultural heritage and education. The Chippenham Town Council and Chippenham Area Board of Wiltshire Council recently honoured the festival organisers with a Civic Award for both their dedication to the folk festival and for the importance of the folk festival to the town of Chippenham.
The festival started in Lacock, a nearby picturesque village in 1972. It was soon clear that the Festival had outgrown the village and it gravitated to the nearest picturesque town. The festival has continued to evolve while holding true to the original principles. The people involved in it have changed, new areas become dynamic, some venues disappear and new venues become available; putting on the festival is always challenging but at its core, the people who are involved in the festival are passionate about it.
What is it?
Chippenham Folk Festival is an annual event which features the very best in English traditional music, dance, song and folk activities with all its related interests. It has maintained its principles over its 40+ years and has a unique and distinctive brand. From modest beginnings the festival has grown to be one of the keenest supported in the country.
Many of the Chippenham attendees are repeat visitors from previous years, which is substantially higher than many other festivals
The Chippenham Folk Festival punches well above its weight and is regarded as one of the premier folk festivals in the country despite its tight budget limitations. It looks and feels like a much bigger budget production.
Every pound raised through ticket-sales, collections, donations etc is spent on the Festival; none goes towards salaries. The driving force is not profit-making - we know how much money there is to spend each year. We don't have to go for the 'safe' or 'money-making' options.
As the festival is sited right in the centre of the town much of the money spent its attendees does not end up in the festivals purse.
When applying economic business principles to the event in the town it has been shown that the Chippenham Folk Festival puts about £1.5 million into the local economy every year but in return receives less than 10% of its annual budget in sponsorship and local authority funding.
What makes it different?
There are a large number of comparable folk festivals taking place each year. Each has a slightly different flavour. Chippenham Folk Festival has a unique brand and a wide geographic draw, mainly because of its focus on English traditions and its location within an accessible small market town.
Chippenham Folk Festival offers a balanced programme of music and dance. With the large number of events and venues the festival is kept at the human scale so everyone feels involved.
The Ceilidhs and social dance are the real 'engine room' of the festival - they seem to be non-stop from the Friday night until the Monday night. For Ceilidhs the festival always has a cracking line-up; for social dance there is a full list of internationally recognised leaders and callers. Many of the social dancers buy their tickets each year without even knowing the line up; they trust the festival to provide the best fun going.
The concert venues are small and intimate and encourage participation - they provide a folk club atmosphere and suit artists who can quickly establish a rapport with the audience. We book artists who are not just entertainers, but communicators - they draw the audience in. The concert programmes are put together with knowledge, forethought and experience.
In addition to the concerts, social dances and the Ceilidhs, we present one of the biggest gatherings of Display dancers. We have recently as many as 80 dance display teams over the week-end and they regularly perform in The Big Top tent in the Island Park which protects both dancers and audience from the elements. The early summer Chippenham heat-wave is legendary if not mythical!
What happens on the different days?
The Festival Friday, daytime, is almost exclusively for local schools and around 300 children have a day of tuition in song, dance, playing instruments and story-telling. In the afternoon the children all come together in one venue and have a dance. This to us is a wonderful indication of interest in our future enthusiasts.
Other festival events start in venues around the town from 6pm on Friday evening.
Over the following three days there is a myriad of events both in any of the 14 venues in and around the town.
There is minimum daily throughput of around 5,000 people in the Island Park enjoying the large number of free activities that take place there for the enjoyment of the enthusiasts and public. The Popular Street Market put on by the festival, happens on the Bank Holiday Monday and can easily attract in excess of 15,000 people.
Coming for the first time? - here are some tips.
If you haven't visited the festival before it can be quite bewildering. There are up to twenty different venues in use around the town. So if it is your first visit, you need to park up and get yourself to the main hub at the Island Park, just next to the main town bridge over the River Avon. Although the Festival Office is usually elsewhere in the town, for the duration of the festival it migrates to the Island Park event offices.
The first place to find you find should be the ticket office. There you can buy a copy of the Festival Programme; go and sit down with a cup of coffee in the nearby café and study the 'Working Programme' in the centre of the Souvenir programme.
Pick out the events you want to attend; there is a map showing the sites in the Programme, along with further details of some of the events/artists. Some events will be 'free'; some will have an entrance fee. You can work out whether it is better value to buy a season ticket, day ticket, or event ticket, or pay on the door.
For 'free' events there is still usually some cost to the festival, so a contribution into the collection buckets would be appreciated.
There is so much happening that your problem will be deciding what not to do. Once you 'find' the Festival the action will be continuous from 10am to 11:30pm.
During the odd times when you are not busy, or are moving between venues, you can browse in the various shops and stalls on the Island Site.
On the Bank Holiday Monday even more stalls arrive and line both sides of the High Street. There are also many shops, pubs and restaurants in Chippenham and Bath, Swindon Avebury and the Cotswolds are close by.
How is it run?
There is an adopted constitution based on the model constitution suggested by the Arts Council England which ensures that the festival has closely defined interests. It establishes a management structure with an elected Executive Committee and Festival Manager, which in turn appoint a Management Committee. The managers plan and implement the Festival for their particular areas, but they also work together to produce an integrated festival.
Over the years Chippenham has evolved into what can be described as a number of interlocking festivals taking place at the same time. There is an enormously successful social dance festival, a concert festival, a ceilidh festival, a display dance festival and a children's festival. Each has its own manager and they work closely together to maximise resources. Each year the festival tries to make the programme simpler, but each year the enthusiasm and drive of the managers means that it gets more complex. At some times, there will be six events going on at different venues.
Chippenham Folk Festival is a 'not for profit' organisation and operates on the basis that the sale of tickets (in addition to local donations) pays for each annual festival. There is no paid staff and limited fixed assets
Where and what is Chippenham?
Chippenham is a small Georgian market town, sometime referred to as "Little Bath" surrounded by rich Wiltshire countryside. It has developed over many centuries from a crossing point of the River Avon and following the building of the canal, the railway and the M4 Motorway. Despite modern development it retains its historic character.
Chippenham is extraordinarily blessed to have the countryside coming all the way into the town alongside the river. The festival is privileged to be able to make use of this green space right in the middle of the town at the historic crossing place of the River Avon for four days each year.
This Island Park is the hub of the folk festival and one of its major attractions; for many people it is the vital green space within this beautiful market town which can be enjoyed as part of the festival ambience.
Other venues have become favourites with concert performers; The Cause is a delightful and atmospheric set of halls near the oldest part of the town centre.
Who is involved?
Everybody - the Festival is about inclusion.
At its beating heart, however, are the volunteers - all of them bringing skills and expertise that money could not buy. People from all backgrounds and circumstances make the festival happen because they believe in it and enjoy it, and appreciate the pleasure it brings to others.
Who benefits from the Festival?
Everyone benefits from the Festival being in the small market town of Chippenham.
Residents and visitors benefit from the free events which the festival puts on in the streets and around the Island Park. Some of the events would not be seen by the general public if the Festival was in a green field.
The town benefits by having a cultural event of national importance in the area and from the influx of visitors. Up to 30,000 people visit over the weekend, with 15,000 in the High Street on the Bank Holiday Monday.
As far as possible the festival makes use of services and suppliers from the Chippenham area and encourages its contractors to do the same.
Local businesses benefit by about £1.5 million each year by the festival being in the town. Many businesses time their own activities to coincide with the influx of people for the festival.
People like what Chippenham Folk Festival has to offer and come back every year for more. The fun starts early and continues throughout the weekend - come and join us.