Peter Buckley Hill’s 'Free Fringe' is just the ticket amid the cost of living crisis – Steve Cardownie

Many years ago, in my role as the city council’s Festival and Events Champion, I was invited to see some shows which formed part of Peter Buckley Hill’s “Free Fringe” and I am glad to see that from its humble beginnings back in 1996, it is still going strong and is staging a vast array of shows at this year’s event.

Wednesday, 3rd August 2022, 4:55 am
Peter Buckley Hill created the Free Fringe in 1996
Peter Buckley Hill created the Free Fringe in 1996

Better known as PBH, Peter is still striving to put on shows where neither the performer pays a fee, nor the audience member for a ticket.

According the Free Fringe website, PBH was disheartened by what he saw as unreasonable hire charges for venues and high ticket prices for the public so he tried a new model for putting on shows.

Instead of paying for a venue and charging for tickets, there would be no hire charge and free entrance for everyone and, if the audience liked the show, they would be invited to drop a voluntary donation into a bucket at the end.

PBH says that, “the venue makes money from increased drink sales, the performer goes away several thousand pounds less broke and visitors get to see far more quality shows than they ever could have imagined previously”.

With 36 performance spaces throughout the city centre, the 2022 Free Fringe, running from August 6 to 28, shows no sign of flagging.

While I might take issue with some of PBH’s financial claims, there is no doubt that his Free Fringe has introduced an element of entertainment that was out of reach of much of the population.

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It takes great pride in its diverse offering within Edinburgh’s festival programme stating that “although our roots are in comedy, we have expanded over the last few years to include theatre, spoken word, cabaret, children’s shows, music, science and rationalism, and dance”.

It informs would-be performers that “you must help out above and beyond your own show. The Free Fringe is an entirely voluntary organisation. We believe that remaining entirely voluntary gives the shows the best chance of succeeding on their own merits. Nobody gets paid, including Peter himself, they do it because they know that it works; that performers, audiences, venues and even advertisers get the best deal.”

PBH’s Free Fringe should not pose a financial threat to the Fringe itself but should rather be seen as a programme of events that helps to draw in audiences to live entertainment experiences, thereby potentially expanding the base of festival goers to everyone’s benefit.

There is also no doubt that, given the current cost-of-living crisis, the more “free shows” the merrier as families struggle to make both ends meet. The Free Fringe does not claim that it will help relieve the financial burden that many are facing but it is a small contribution that will be welcomed by some at least.

When all is said and done, Edinburgh’s summer festivals do provide value for money and, when compared to the price of seeing a Premiership football game for instance, they come out favourably. All PBH is trying to do is tip the balance a wee bit more.