Official Report (Hansard)
Date: 07 May 2009
Inquiry into the Funding of the Arts in Northern Ireland
Féile an Phobail
7 May 2009
Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Mr Barry McElduff (Chairperson)
Mr David McNarry (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Dominic Bradley
Mr Francie Brolly
Mr Kieran McCarthy
Mr Raymond McCartney
Mr Nelson McCausland
Mr Pat Ramsey
Ms Jenny Gillespie )
Ms Elsie McLaughlin ) Féile an Phobail
Mr Sean Paul O’Hare )
The Chairperson (Mr McElduff):
I ask members to declare or restate any potential interests. I am a member of Omagh District Council.
I am a member of Belfast City Council.
I am a member of Ards Borough Council.
I must declare my genius.
Mr P Ramsey:
I am a member of Derry City Council and a director of the Millennium Forum in Derry.
I welcome the representatives from Féile an Phobail — Sean Paul O'Hare, Jenny Gillespie and Elsie McLaughlin — to the Committee. I invite the director, Sean Paul O’Hare, to introduce his team and make an opening statement lasting 10 minutes, which will be followed by about 20 minutes of questions from members.
Mr Sean Paul O'Hare (Féile an Phobail):
My name is Sean Paul O’Hare, and I am the director of Féile an Phobail. I am joined by Elsie McLaughlin, marketing officer for Féile an Phobail, and Jenny Gillespie, events co-ordinator for Féile an Phobail.
This is a new experience and a fine occasion for us; we have never been to such a salubrious place, so it is great to be here. Jenny, Elsie and I will give a brief presentation so that we can get into the real discussions as quickly as possible.
Féile an Phobail is now 21 years old. The first festival was held in west Belfast in 1988, which was a very difficult time for all the community. One of the issues was that commemorations that were held in August each year to mark the introduction of internment inevitably led to street violence, bonfires and conflict, and they portrayed a very negative image of west Belfast. As a result of that, a community leader and some local politicians got together and looked at how they could change things.
Instead of commemorating, the festival was born out of wanting to celebrate who we were, just as we continue to celebrate who we are today. As with other communities, West Belfast has a very vibrant skilled and creative arts and cultural sector, and we felt that Féile an Phobail could provide a platform to showcase the talents of people in local communities, particularly young people. That was one of the core reasons for establishing the festival.
In the first year of the festival, we had a cart, a donkey and a circus tent; it was all very ad hoc. Local businesses supported the festival; however, funding on the scale of that which was given to big creative and quality arts events was not forthcoming. The festival has always been community-driven because in the early days, before funding arrived, before the festival became structured, before we looked at policy and before we got ourselves organised, it had to be.
Féile an Phobail is the biggest community festival in Ireland and is currently one of the biggest in Europe. Every year, we run a 10-day festival in August, a traditional festival in February, a comedy festival in May — which kicks off in two weeks’ time — and a children’s festival in October. We also have a full-time radio station. In relation to how public funding is spent, we feel that we put on a substantive package throughout the year for the people of west Belfast and, particularly over the past five years, for people from the rest of Belfast also. We have made numerous inroads into developing an outreach policy for attracting communities from across the city and beyond, as well as tourists. That is where we are.
A key challenge that faces us is the issue of funding. The relationships that Féile an Phobail, as a major player in the city, has with the arts sector, the Arts Council, the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL), and Belfast City Council is another issue, as is the matter of how those relationships are forged. Belfast is a changing city, and we are forming new relationships with arts groups, community groups and the statutory sector. Therefore, the issue is not only funding, it is about those relationships and how we can share resources practically. Another key element is that the festival is now 21 years old and, yet, it does not have a permanent home or venue in west Belfast, which affects us each year.
Ms Elsie McLaughlin (Féile an Phobail):
I will discuss the issue of how Belfast is changing and has changed over the past number of years. Belfast is now a destination city with street art, tourism and culture. Culture is at the forefront of life in Belfast, and that has had an impact on the quality of life of the individuals who live here. The changes that have occurred in Belfast have impacted on us all at a very real level, and have affected both our family and work environments. We all benefit from those changes, and we can all be a part of making change happen.
Féile an Phobail has been a driving force behind making change happen for the past 21 years. We positively showcase good relations in action, which is, essentially, the bedrock of Belfast’s success. The féile in August 2000 was independently evaluated and found to contribute more than £3·3 million to the economy of Belfast. That was nine years ago, so you can imagine that that contribution has grown substantially since then.
Féile an Phobail contributes immeasurably to social capital in Belfast. Social capital has been suggested as an explanation for why some cities work better than others, with resulting economic, social and health benefits. Féile an Phobail’s contribution to social capital is, and always has been, significant. Social capital includes those tangible things that count for most in the daily lives of regular people, such as good will, fellowship, sympathy and social intercourse. An isolated individual is helpless socially, but with the fellowship of his neighbours he is enhanced as an individual. However, most importantly, the community is enhanced also, and it benefits from the co-operation of all its parts. That gives rise to social trust, civic co-operation, democracy, and group identity and solidarity.
Féile an Phobail has an impact on two levels; it impacts on the individual, and that has a knock-on effect on the community. The individual develops self-confidence and self-esteem, and their creativity and thinking skills are increased through their work in community arts. Féile an Phobail increases appreciation of the arts, especially among groups of people who would not otherwise have regular access to the arts. It enhances mental health, physical health and well-being, reduces antisocial behaviour and alleviates the impact of poverty in communities throughout Belfast. It also increases the employability of individuals, and it decreases social isolation.
That all has a knock-on effect on the working of the community. It improves the community’s skills in planning and organising, develops a community identity, strengthens and empowers communities, and improves understanding of different cultures. It enhances social cohesion and activates social change, as well as contributing to urban regeneration.
The individual and the community are two important factors, but the business community is another important factor, and we work to draw that community into the equation. We have recognised that successful companies are now alive and alert to their local and wider communities. Getting involved in communities and their issues provides an insight into the hearts and minds of businesses’ employees and customers. It allows them to make a positive impact on their communities and that positive impact is, in turn, fed back into their business.
Féile an Phobail impacts on the business community at two levels. First, it is difficult for businesses to get involved — it is easy for a business to say that it wants to get involved with the community, but how it does that is another matter. Businesses need established forums to make links with communities. Féile an Phobail provides such a forum in a professional way, and it is a vital link between business and the community. The second most important thing that Féile an Phobail does for the business community is to directly serve businesses’ ends, through the advantages that social capital provides to the local workforce, local consumers and the local economy, in the form of increased confidence, improved health, greater empowerment and commitment.
Féile an Phobail impacts all communities in Belfast, not solely the community of west Belfast. It sets the tone for inter-community involvement and opens the doors for other communities to become engaged. It showcases the fact that celebrating one’s identity is a non-threatening and positive action. It highlights the level of shared interests that exist, both socially — in regard to entertainment, etc — and civilly, across all communities in Belfast.
Ms Jenny Gillespie (Féile an Phobail):
As Sean Paul mentioned, the August Féile is the largest community festival in Ireland, and one of the largest in Europe. It is now into its twenty-first year, and we are very proud of that. During the August Féile — which lasts nine or ten days — there is a total footfall of around 150,000 people, which is quite a considerable number. We are also working with around 150 different community groups across the city.
Féile an Phobail involves a number of projects. There is Féile an Earraigh, a celebration of Irish traditional music and culture, which takes place every February. There is also the Laugh at the Bank comedy festival, which will take place in two weeks’ time. That is the latest festival to be added to our list.
The August féile is a nine-day festival that offers a whole host of arts and events. Draíocht is a children’s festival that presents youth arts at Halloween. Oscailt, which is our disability programme, is an annual event, as is the youth arts development programme. Féile FM received its full-time radio licence in 2007. During the nine-day festival in August, we arrange a whole host of events, such as comedy, concerts, walks, tours, discussions, drive-in movies, exhibitions, debates, talks and so on.
Our sponsorship relationships have proved successful, and, along with InBev Ireland, we won the Arts and Business award for 2008 for sustainability in the arts sector. Moreover, we won an Arts and Business award, again with InBev Ireland, for investment in the arts in 2008-09. The social contribution aspect of our work is also award winning, and in 2007 we won the Junior Chamber International Belfast’s social contribution award. We achieve endless PR; in 2008, Féile an Phobail achieved £354,104 in print PR value, which involved 194 pieces of print media coverage. Furthermore, we have many successful campaigns on radio stations and TV and through online advertising.
Féile an Phobail has a wider impact on the promotion of arts and culture through extensive promotion in the North and South of Ireland and overseas. We drive the Belfast tourist market through our events and partnerships with Tourism Ireland, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and the Belfast Visitor and Convention Bureau. We produce approximately 150,000 brochures that are distributed across the city and further afield. We use extensive advertising channels and extensive PR and attain footfall figures of over 150,000. During the week of the August festival, our website receives over 100,000 visits.
Thank you for your presentation. Several members have indicated that they want to ask questions.
Thank you for your interesting and informative presentation. In the current economic climate, accessing funding is becoming much more difficult. I am interested in how your organisation is funded. For example, what percentage of funding comes from local government compared with central Government? How do you attract private investment? How many staff do you employ, and how many are volunteers? What percentage of your annual expenditure is spent on staff?
That was four questions. [Laughter.]
You are not the worst offender, Wallace.
Féile an Phobail has seven staff and over 150 volunteers, some of whom are on our committees. We divide our festivals into themes that range from exhibitions, drama, entertainment and children’s activities to discussion and debates, which is a key area. We have a finance and personnel committee and an overall management committee, the members of which are all volunteers. Those committees ensure Féile an Phobail’s accountability and they liaise with the staff to plan our programmes.
Our youth arts programme is funded by the National Lottery, and we receive £152,000 from that programme over three years. The Arts Council is providing annual funding of £123,000 for one part-time and four full-time posts, on a three-year basis. Recently, we have successfully secured multi-annual funding of £30,000 from local government through Belfast City Council. We recoup between £200,000 and £250,000 from ticket sales, sponsorship and other income. Therefore, our total annual income is approximately £450,000 to £500,000, depending on how successful we are in obtaining funding.
Our main events are sponsored by DCAL and also receive some Arts Council lottery moneys. DCAL’s major events fund is, rightly, particular about the ratio of generated income to public funding. We adhere to that ratio and to the levels set by DCAL, and we strive to cut our reliance on public funding.
However, we have a policy that our maximum ticket price is £10. We serve an economic area of Belfast that has pockets of severe deprivation, hence, to support our policy of arts for all, we have a £10 limit on ticket prices and hold lots of free events for children. Our debates and discussions are also free, which is key to our programme. Féile an Phobail’s rationale in seeking public funding is to keep ticket prices down.
Congratulations on turning twenty-one. Coming from my community, I confess that I have never heard of Féile an Phobail. Perhaps that is part of the problem. It is what makes being a member of this Committee very interesting.
How do you think that Féile an Phobail fared under direct rule in respect of obtaining funding and recognition? Has devolution improved your position? It was mentioned that you had no home.
We have an office but no venue.
How do you manage? Did you ever have a home?
Let me clarify that I, personally, have a home. [Laughter.] Because we have no venue, we use every available local space, such as leisure centres, schools, parks. We work very well with Belfast City Council’s parks and leisure department.
Does Féile an Phobail pay for the use of those facilities?
Yes we do, despite our having lobbied for a change in that situation, which is one that we find difficult. Mr McNarry said that he had not heard of us. Féile an Phobail recognises that its brand must be promoted across the North, certainly from the perspective of increasing tourism and out-of-state marketing. It is interesting that this year, through its major events fund, DCAL is considering how to push for out-of-state marketing for Féile an Phobail.
What does “out-of-state” mean?
It refers to Scotland, the South, England, Europe and America. We work very closely with the tourist authorities because we believe that Féile an Phobail is a good brand and a strong one for Belfast.
In the past five years, we have moved to some venues outside west Belfast. We recognise that some perceptions of west Belfast exist that mean that people from certain quarters may not feel comfortable there. In an attempt to make progress on that, we now use city-centre venues. We are not moving out of west Belfast, but we certainly use the city centre as a taster to encourage people to come along, enjoy the féile experience and then attend other events in west Belfast. We are very keen on people having that experience.
Sadly, Belfast is still segregated, particularly around issues of community relations. We want people to come into west Belfast and east Belfast. An issue that has caused us difficulty — which relates to the issue of our organisation not having an home — is that capital funding has, mainly, been driven towards the city centre. That has meant that parts of east, north, south and west Belfast do not have venues for brilliant arts projects, which is an issue that we have raised with the Arts Council and DCAL.
In respect of your question regarding direct rule, I have been in my post for nearly five years, and we are now operating according to the fourth community festival policy to be issued in that time. It has been pretty traumatic to have four changes in funding policy. I must thank the Arts Council and DCAL for helping us to meet whatever parameters have been set. Equally, however, Féile an Phobail’s long-term objectives are not helped by the current funding arrangements, which mean that the longest that we can plan to fund certain posts for is three years.
That does not help us to achieve a five- or 10-year plan, which féile and other festivals across the city and beyond hope to implement, so that we can help to stimulate tourism and community regeneration. Festivals are great because they are not only about culture and art, they also help to stimulate the social elements of life through debates and discussions. Everyone, including representatives of all the political parties, comes along and debates issues in an environment that is friendly and constructive. That is one of the areas in which our festival has been so successful. We merge the community element, the political element and entertainment together, into a 10-day programme. That has been our key achievement.
You mentioned an exercise in which you may extend your work to other parts of our nation in the United Kingdom — do you have a programme for that? [Laughter.] What is funny about that?
We are very keen to use venues right across the city. Currently, the biggest aspect of Féile an Phobail’s work is in building capacity. The community festivals fund has changed, so there are now lots of community festivals right across the Six Counties and Belfast. The difficulty that we have experienced because of the new arrangements is that it is fine to give money to groups, but they may not have the capacity to put together —
Sorry to interrupt, but earlier the Committee had a discussion about creating links with Scotland, so I am interested to know whether, given that you mentioned doing work there, you have developed a programme for that.
We work very closely with Celtic Connections. We tie in with other festivals right across Britain and Ireland. We have a very strong programme in which we tie-in with Celtic Connections directly, particularly in relation to Scottish traditional music. That is why our festival is held in February and its festival is held in January. We have a good working relationship with the Celtic Connections festival.
Unlike David, I have heard of your organisation, but I was not aware of the immense amount of work that do until I heard your presentation this morning. Do you think that community festivals, as an art form, are adequately funded in Northern Ireland? Finally, for the benefit of others as well as me, what does Féile an Phobail mean?
I should have explained that — it means the festival of the people.
Excellent. Thank you very much. That is an easy one to remember.
Community festivals, and festivals in general, are not funded adequately. They have huge potential, particularly in rural areas and areas that have not used community festivals as a mechanism for regeneration. Unfortunately, the fact that funding policy has changed four times in the past five years has not made the issue any simpler. We have now resolved the situation somewhat; however, considering the amount of groups that there is, the money that is available is pretty mediocre.
Four or five years ago, there was an interim arrangement between DCAL and the Department for Social Development (DSD), and we pulled in around £145,000 for our August festival. The stream for which we can apply is now down to about £70,000 or £80,000, although we in Féile an Phobail appreciate that that money has to be driven right across all communities. Groups now apply for small amounts of money, but they also need support in relation to capacity.
I met Belfast City Council to discuss that issue because although groups are now pulling in money for community festivals, they are struggling with capacity issues, such as delivering a programme, managing health and safety and other aspects of events management. The difficulty with that is that groups come to us, as an established organisation, for guidance. We work with groups from the Village and from north and east Belfast, and we try to support them. We have a very successful template and we are only too willing to share that, right across the North. However, those groups need to be resourced properly — not only in relation to events, but in relation to capacity.
Ms E McLaughlin:
Community arts festivals, because of the nature of those events, find it very difficult to attract corporate sponsors. Professional arts festivals are much more in line with a corporate strategy. We are slightly on the back foot with regard to attracting sponsorship.
Mr P Ramsey:
You are very welcome this morning. It was a good presentation. You talked about social capital and its importance to the community. What level of involvement do young people have in your work, particularly those who may be displaced from society?
We have revamped our youth arts programme. Thanks to moneys from the National Lottery, we have a three-year youth arts programme. The sole aim of that programme was to help displaced and alienated young people in our communities. We feel that art can be used in a much more positive way to drive the youth elements in our communities.
We use our festivals as a platform to showcase all the work that we have done with young people throughout the year. That work includes drama, exhibitions, radio and other art forms. We are now working with young people in various art forms and we showcase the art that comes from that. We have a youth arts subcommittee, which is made up of young people aged between 12 and 23, and they plan our youth events programme. Those young people are now being trained and skilled to run the events, and they are the people who will eventually take over from us.
A key element of our radio station is that it is driven by young people. By the age of 16 or 17, those young people are trained in presentation skills and in radio production, and many will have moved into the mainstream media. Over the past 12 years, more than 120 young people have moved into further education through their radio work, or have moved into the mainstream media.
We have a vibrant youth programme. We work very closely and do outreach work with youth organisations in Belfast, particularly if we have identified work that we can do with young people who may be part of the antisocial element in their area. Such an element is prominent in many areas, and west Belfast is no different in that respect. That is one of the key areas in which festivals are a great mechanism for unlocking huge potential, because we get those people onto 12-week programmes, they showcase their events in the festival, and they then get recognition from a lot of people during festival week.
Mr P Ramsey:
The Committee is looking at the funding of the arts in Northern Ireland, and funding in this region is not as good as it is in the Republic of Ireland, Wales, England or Scotland. We are trying to get qualitative evidence that can convince not only DCAL, but the Executive, that there is good reason to invest in the arts.
Earlier, Elsie referred to the economic value of the festival, and she mentioned that in 2000, an independent study found that that amounted to almost £3·5 million. Do you have any suggestions or proposals for how DCAL or the Arts Council could attract more funding, either privately or otherwise? For every pound of public money that you receive for the arts, what amount does that bring to the local community — is it £3, or £5? Is there a need for you to carry out another independent evaluation?
It is a matter of funding — we would love to do another economic audit of our annual festival programme, but it comes down to whether we put funding towards a festival or towards an economic audit. It is a catch-22 situation. That is not only the case for us, the Community Arts Forum and other partnerships and umbrella organisations in the arts and cultural sector face the same problem.
With regard to the regeneration of communities and the employment of the local workforce, tourists are coming into those areas because of festivals. There was no festival in Belfast city centre over the second bank holiday in May, but we are now putting together a comedy festival in conjunction with Belfast City Council. There is a need to invest in more substantive and quality events for people coming into the city. That is what we are looking at.
I can provide figures as evidence of the economic impact of our festivals, but we have not done another audit. We want to carry out another audit, but that presents a funding issue for us.
Mr P Ramsey:
We need that qualitative evidence to convince the Executive that there is a good rationale for spending an extra £2 or £3 per capita. Without that evidence, it will be very difficult to make a case.
The Arts Council, DCAL and Belfast City Council, as statutory organisations, set out very strict criteria in respect of how an organisation such as Féile an Phobail has to prove itself in order to attain public moneys.
Who carried out the independent evaluation in 2000?
Quinn Consultants carried out the evaluation.
Thank you very much for your presentation. Over the past few weeks, we have had presentations from different community arts groups. Last week, the representative from New Lodge Arts gave us a good definition of community arts. This morning you have given us an excellent definition of a community festival. Many community arts groups say that their events are increasingly taking place in the city centre. To say that they are forced to go there is, perhaps, the wrong word; however, you have said that there are two reasons for that “pull” towards the city centre — outreach, which is necessary, but also for better venues. How do you convince people that, to make community festivals better, there is a need for better venues in those communities?
We have spoken at length on that issue with the Arts Council, and it is aware that although our project — which is immense — receives public money, we are paying it back into public organisations through paying for venues. The money does not go into the events as such. That is a waste of the funding exercise. There is key need for arts in communities such as west Belfast and the Shankill. We are working with a group on the lower Castlereagh Road in east Belfast. Those are small, localised communities that are crying out for development. There are a lot of people for whom arts projects can make a big difference — particularly the young, vulnerable, or disabled — but they must be done at a community level.
There is still a significant amount of people who cannot afford to pay £40 for a high-quality arts event in the Waterfront Hall or the Odyssey. That is not to take away from those venues; there is a huge need for them. Equally, there is still a need for free events, and those that we run at a maximum cost of £10 a ticket. We sell 70% to 80% of the tickets for those events, and we are running at 80% to 90% capacity for our free events. We have no problems with filling venues. We have to prove year-in, year-out that we are up to the mark, so the Arts Council, DCAL and other funding agencies have all seen those statistics.
There is a need for the féile to be kept at a community level. Measuring the exact impact of community events is a grey area. I have not heard of anyone — from here to the States — who has been able to do that. It is hard to measure the social impact of the arts, particularly on individuals. I know that research has been done on the subject, but the sector needs to push that forward.
Other members have mentioned the issues that I want to discuss, but I have a couple of questions. You will agree that the level of funding that is provided for the arts does not adequately take into account the contribution that you make to targeting social need and regeneration. Quite often in meetings of this Committee, it has been suggested that arts organisations should be looking to other Departments for funding — particularly the Department for Social Development and the Department of Education — rather than depending totally on DCAL. We know how low the funding is in comparison with other areas. Have you approached any other Department for funding?
My second question is a more local one. How popular is the ‘West Belfast Talks Back’ event in the féile?
Mr D Bradley:
It depends on whether Nelson is taking part or not. [Laughter.]
‘West Belfast Talks Back’ is probably our biggest discussion and debate event as far as media coverage is concerned. We were one of the first organisations to bring representatives of the DUP, Sinn Féin, the SDLP and the Irish Government to a table in west Belfast. We did that more than seven or eight years ago, and it was a remarkable achievement for all concerned. We are confident that we lead the way when it comes to debates and discussions.
I shall be blunt; we do not get any cross-departmental support. DCAL is the home of Féile an Phobail. The interim period, between 2001 and 2006, was a nightmare for practitioners delivering on-the-ground programmes. We had to press Labour Party Ministers for festival funding, which was split between DCAL and DSD. The festival was kicked from pillar to post until, eventually, DCAL took it on board. Since then, it has moved on again.
There is little or no cross-departmental appreciation of what we are trying to do. There are massive tourism and social-development aspects of our programme, yet we receive little or no support from DSD. We have brought up the matter locally and at MLA level, but we have had no joy in getting what we should have received. Given that many of our programmes are aimed at elderly, young and vulnerable people, the DSD should bear some of the responsibility for funding us, but we have not had any joy so far.
As well as key input from the Arts Council and DCAL, we would like to see a lot more cross-departmental and local government co-operation. For example, we have to deal with 20 to 30 evaluation mechanisms for the various funders, which is an administrative nightmare. There is no joined-up approach. I could talk until the cows come home about cases of such an approach not being taken.
The previous Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure, Mr Poots, said that the arts sector had to step up to the mark and prove itself. We believe that we have proved ourselves. We know about the programmes that we are running, and DCAL and those who are responsible for administering funding know what they are doing, which is why they are supporting us and other good projects. I cannot fault the people in the Arts Council and DCAL, who have been supportive; however, four policy changes in five years have created a huge amount of turbulence, which any organisation or Department, never mind Féile an Phobail, would have found difficult to deal with.
We are seeking longer-term funding that can be secured for more than three years. As well as a long-term, joined-up approach from the various Departments, we require support to improve the capacity of new groups to run events.
Mr D Bradley:
OK, a Chathaoirligh. Tá fáilte romhaibh, agus tréasluím libh an obair mhór atá déanta agaibh le bliain agus fiche anuas; bhí an cur i láthair a rinne sibh inniu an-spéisiúil fosta.
Congratulations on your work over the past 21 years. You presentation was interesting, particularly the part about social capital, which is often ignored. You mentioned that you do not have a permanent venue. I appreciate that having a permanent venue would cut down on overheads, because you would not have to hire other venues. However, do you not agree that one of the interesting and stimulating aspects of festivals is that they are usually scattered over a wide area, which, rather than being a disadvantage, means that they are able to reach out to various subsections in the area in which they operate?
If you do not mind, Dominic, I will ask Nelson to group his questions along with yours.
Mr D Bradley:
That was just a subordinate clause. [Laughter.]
I wish to make a request, followed by a question. Some years ago, you received PEACE funding to produce a little booklet on how to organise a community festival. Would it be possible for the Committee to have a few copies of that booklet, so that we can see the sort of work that you have been doing? Furthermore, will we be getting a copy of the report from 2000?
Do you mean the independent evaluation?
Yes; that would be useful.
Please note that request for those two documents.
We have three programmes, which we will give you now — we did not want you to be reading them during our presentation. There will be no problem getting you copies of the other documents that you requested.
You mentioned that other areas in the city do not have the capacity to manage a substantial programme of events. Those areas can manage a small one- or two-day event, but they find it difficult to hold anything larger. In your case, the key was that for a large part of your 21 years in existence, you had core staff who built up a body of experience and expertise. Do you accept that to reach your level, those other communities require the sort of funding that you were given?
Those communities must have the opportunity to build up a body of experience and expertise so that there is some permanency in what they do. They can get advice from yourselves or others but, unless they have core workers, you are imparting that advice to volunteers. What can be done to ensure that other communities have the opportunity to develop in the same way and to the same level as yours?
It is simple — through funding. For us, there was also a capacity issue around training, and we availed ourselves of training and tied-in with other arts organisations and forums. We have never shied away from such involvement, which is one of the key elements —
The problem arises if there are no staff to send to the training in the first place.
We had no staff for the first 12 years of the festival — it is only in the past nine years that we secured staff, which was the result of a community drive. We would not be where we are without those 12 years because, in that time before we got staff, we showed our commitment. We had proven ourselves as a project, but we did not have the staff to develop it further. Once we got the funding, we moved on to a different level. A key element, in which DSD and DCAL have to get involved, is the need in certain areas for core staff and for a three-year plan, as opposed to a six-month interim-funding arrangement of £5,000 for a small one-day or weekend festival. There is no doubt that core staff are needed, which is why we are successful.
I ask you to conclude your remarks and incorporate an answer to Dominic Bradley’s question.
We love having 27 or 28 different venues, because it means that we are involved right across the community. We change those venues into festival venues as well, which brings more attention to what we are trying to provide. We have two full-time, year-long programmes: the radio station and a number of key concerts that we could fill again and again. We could have a central venue, but that would not take away from the community elements that we will always utilise, particularly the public spaces.
We want to bring the safety factor back into our local parks and our open spaces — we want to do the clean-ups and create a community vibe. If we were to lose that, we would lose our community status, and we will not go down that road. We can now merge the high-quality events at a very low price with our community elements — having that mixture is the reason that we are successful. However, having to undertake tasks such as transforming a leisure centre into a festival venue makes our job more difficult.
Mr D Bradley:
Are you are company limited by guarantee?
Yes, and we are also a charity.
I thank the representatives from Féile an Phobail for their presentation. Go raibh maith agaibh, an triúr agaibh. I wish you every success in the future.