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Future of Frome Festival secure after new deal with town council

A NEW partnership has been forged between Frome Town Council and the Frome Festival, securing financial backing for the popular annual event which attracts thousands of visitors to see top-name entertainers alongside home-grown attractions and events.

The initiative is part of Frome Town Council’s new drive to attract visitors to share in the town’s rich cultural and artistic diversity.

Peter Wheelhouse, economic development and regeneration manager at the council has been working behind the scenes with Robert Morris, chair of festival trustees, and the festival’s creative director, Martin Dimery, to bring about changes to funding that will secure the long term future of the festival.

Peter explained how the new relationship will benefit both parties. He said, “By changing the way we fund the festival we are putting it on a sustainable financial footing, providing financial certainty for the organisers, and looking at ways we can work more closely together.

“From this year onwards, festival funding will be ring fenced from our ‘Town Events’ budget, in recognition of how important the festival is for the town economically – and in terms of attracting new business to the area. We will be working jointly with the festival to help them find sponsors, and they will benefit from our national public relations and marketing campaign, which begins this summer.”

Chairman of trustees, Robert Morris, welcomed the changes. He said, “The festival has always had good relations with the town council, but we are now entering something new and potentially exciting – a partnership, which underlines the festival’s contribution to the economic as well as the cultural wellbeing of Frome and the surrounding area…”

Martin Dimery, creative director of the festival, commented on the new relationship and how it will affect his planning for the event. He said, “Frome Town Council’s decision helps to ensure that the Frome Festival is more sustainable in the future. In the past we have only been able to plan one year at a time.

“The goodwill of Frome Town Council means a great deal to us at the Frome Festival. We hope to reward their faith by presenting a superb festival – for Frome and the many thousands of visitors who join us – this year and for many years to come.”

Peter Wheelhouse also outlined his vision for enhancing the area’s potential saying, “We are working hard to develop Frome as a ‘visitor destination’ and are hoping to attract national press and media coverage. The Frome Festival will be an important part of that campaign.

“Frome is also experiencing an influx of entrepreneurs – primarily from London and the south east – who are attracted by the availability of affordable flexible business space, the network of support that is available in the area and the lifestyle in the town. One example of the investment that is attracting this interest is the expansion of the ‘Old Church School’, a work ‘hub’ where high quality office space can be rented on a flexible basis.

“The council is also lobbying very hard to improve rail links to Frome. So we have, in effect, a twin-track mission – to secure investment as a visitor destination and to encourage local business. Between 2006 and 2010 the town saw a 30% increase in self-employment. This demonstrates a vibrant, self motivated business community that we can develop further.

“In terms of ‘destination tourism’ Frome has great diversity to offer – events like the monthly ‘Super Markets’, the Festival, the Carnival, the Cobble Wobble all attract visitors who will come again and again. With Frome it’s a ‘life style’ thing.”

The Sunday Times clearly finds itself in agreement with much of the above. In a recent edition of its ‘Style’ magazine, journalist Francesca Hornak wrote, “Hipsturbian utopia, though, is Frome, in Somerset, and its offshoot, Mells. Conveniently close to the private members’ club, Babington House, (should a media-type suffer from Shoreditch House withdrawal symptoms), Frome is known as the Ibiza graveyard thanks to the hordes of former ravers pottering around twee boutiques with impossible-to-parody names such as Poot and Millie Moon. The latest coup for Frome’s hipsters, though, is the Steiner Academy, where kids learn through ‘wild play’.”

Francesca follows this up with a quote from Pearl Lowe, a high-profile ambassador for the festival and for Frome, “Before we moved here, I read about the Frome Festival. It’s wonderful what happens here – comedy, cookery classes, art classes, even a jazz breakfast. I knew I’d be happy…” Just to complete the picture of bucolic bliss a ‘neighbour’ of Pearl tells the journalist that “At Frome parties, gorgeous, bohemian types turn up with their accordions, trombones and double basses, and everyone sings beautifully all night long.”

A little tongue-in-cheek for sure, but who could possibly resist? In another article in The Times newspaper in mid-March Frome was listed number six  in their list of ‘Top 30 coolest places in Britain’ – just behind Hebden Bridge, Bethnal Green and Totnes. Anne Ashworth, property and money editor advises her readers to, “Follow the cool crowd” and head for Frome. All signs that a real resurgence is taking place in the town’s fortunes. And a great time for the Festival to be consolidating its place in the town calendar, thanks to secure funding from the town council.