Edinburgh Festivals should be run ‘from June to September’ says city MP

A street entertainer performs on the Royal Mile during the Fringe. Picture: Getty
A street entertainer performs on the Royal Mile during the Fringe. Picture: Getty
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Edinburgh’s festivals should be “stretched out” from June through till September, according to one of the city’s MPs.

Tommy Sheppard, a former Fringe promoter, has called for the shake-up to ease congestion in the city centre, help visitors find accommodation and allow more locals to attend events.

He wants the Edinburgh 
International Festival and Fringe to run on different dates so that year-round venues can host shows in both events.

The Edinburgh East MP has urged organisers of the city’s main events to embark on a “big think” to try to tackle a “considerable” overlap of events in August.

Mr Sheppard, a former comedy promoter, said he wanted to see the Fringe brought forward “by a week or two” so that it coincides entirely with the Scottish school holidays in future.

He said this move would encourage the development of more children’s and family shows, allow school pupils to see shows easily during the day and enable more school buildings to become venues.

The 2017 Royal Military Tattoo, Edinburgh Castle

The 2017 Royal Military Tattoo, Edinburgh Castle

Two of the city’s long-running events – the film and jazz festivals – have moved out of August in the last ten years to slots in June and July respectively.

However the Edinburgh International Festival only brought its dates back into line with the Fringe in 2015 nearly two decades after a controversial shake-up saw the “open access” event brought forward to ensure that it ended on the last weekend in August – an English bank holiday.

READ MORE: Tommy Sheppard: Changing festival dates could be beneficial

Some Fringe promoters are in favour of a change after noticing a dip in ticket sales during the last two weeks of shows once the Scottish school holidays have ended.

Edinburgh International Festival 2017 - EIF''Fondazione Teatro La Fenice

Edinburgh International Festival 2017 - EIF''Fondazione Teatro La Fenice

However there is understood to be reluctance within the Fringe Society to stage the event any earlier due to a desire to avoid any unnecessary upheaval so soon after the EIF’s dates switch.

Mr Sheppard, who founded The Stand comedy club and staged Fringe shows in the Assembly Rooms before he was elected to Westminster, called on the city council to “take a lead and steer this debate.”

Mr Sheppard, who was previously on the Fringe Society board, said: “I’m increasingly wondering whether putting all of our cultural and entertainment eggs in the one August basket is the best thing to do.

“Might it not be more sensible to stretch the festivals out over a longer summer season?

“Wouldn’t it be a lot better for everyone to schedule the events so there’s always something happening in our buzzing city from the film festival in June through to September?

“Spreading the festivals in this way would allow more people to attend and ease the problems such as congestion which infuriates locals in August.

“I’m only chucking out ideas here – and this isn’t my decision. But those who are in charge really ought to have a big think.

“Festivals Edinburgh exists as an umbrella body for all the city’s festivals and I’d guess they are best placed to coordinate the views of those who actually make the things happen. But the hosts, and those who pay the money, ought to have a view too.

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“So it’s right that our city council takes a lead and steers this debate.”

A spokesman for the Fringe Society said: “The Fringe dates are set in consultation with the participants, venues and promoters that make the festival happen every year and this will continue to be the case.

“While many children are introduced to the arts through their parents and families, we shouldn’t assume that all children access the arts this way.

“Schools and community groups also play a key role in making that introduction and moving the dates to be exclusively within the school holidays could potentially limit access to the Fringe for some children.”

The Fringe sparked a bitter row in 1998 when it decided to move a week earlier in the calendar to try to attract bigger audiences. The two events had been running together since they were both launched in 1947. When the EIF announced it was bringing its dates back into line for 2015, director Fergus Linehan said: “During the week when it’s just the Fringe or the International Festival, I’ve felt a bit short-changed.

“When both are running, it’s electric, it’s like nothing else on earth. The truth is, in its composite parts, Edinburgh’s individual festivals are replicated elsewhere in the world. What’s unique is that they all happen at the same time. That’s what makes it not just the greatest arts festival in the world, but the greatest event in the world.”

At the time of the EIF announcement the Fringe Society said: “We know that it is the combination of distinct festivals that sets Edinburgh apart.”

Mr Sheppard has put forward his ideas days after the city council’s new culture leader, Donald Wilson, called for the city’s main festivals to start in July to ensure they coincide with the school holidays.

He said: “It’s definitely worth having a serious look at. As a former teacher I can understand the arguments for it. If we’re talking about increasing participation in the festivals, to have the holidays coincide with them would increase a sense of ownership of them.

“It’s not just families who would find it easier. I think teachers and school staff would as well. I’ve had a lot of letters about this over the last few years saying it would be better for the Festival to be aligned with the school 
holidays.

“We have to look at widening things out geographically but it is also about deepening their appeal.

“We have to make sure we’re paying enough attention to the citizens of Edinburgh.”