Edinburgh Mela festival in crisis as Chris Purnell quits

ONE of Edinburgh's biggest cultural events is in crisis after the sudden walk-out of its director amid claims it is being 'destroyed from within'.

Thursday, 17th March 2016, 5:20 am
Updated Thursday, 17th March 2016, 5:23 am
Desi Bravehearts at last year's Edinburgh Mela. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Chris Purnell, boss of the Edinburgh Mela, Scotland’s biggest multicultural event, has quit suddenly citing a “total breakdown of trust”.

Mr Purnell claims a number of members of its board have displayed a “reckless disregard” for the organisation’s own rules.

He alleged staff have been “subjected to open hostility, accused of disrespect and insulting board members simply for conducting due diligence in the course of their duties”.

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Chris Purnell has quit as director of the Mela. Picture: Gordon Fraser

He also warned of a growing “funding crisis” which has taken the event, which attracts more than 25,000 people, to the “brink of catastrophe” after 21 successive years.

About £300,000 worth of public funding for the two-day festival, which has been held on Leith Links in recent years, has been put on hold due to serious concerns over the way the event is being run by its 15-strong board.

Mr Purnell has told them: “The damage this may cause to the Mela, both in immediate practical terms and to its reputation, is incalculable.

“The board is controlled by a small group with no regard for the opinions of other board members, the advice of the staff or independent professional voices, however reasonable.”

Chris Purnell has quit as director of the Mela. Picture: Gordon Fraser

The Mela is currently backed by the city council, Creative Scotland and the Scottish Government, via its Edinburgh Festivals Expo Fund.

A spokeswoman for the city council said: “The Mela is Scotland’s biggest celebration of world music and dance and we have been a firm supporter for more than 20 years.

“Funding for the 2016 event has been agreed in principle by the council and fellow funding partners but will not be released until we are satisfied the organisation is operating to robust governance procedures.

“We expect and require appropriate controls to be in place across all organisations in receipt of public funding.”

A spokeswoman for Creative Scotland said: “We recognise the Mela as an important community festival which showcases a vibrant and diverse programme of world music and dance.

“We’re working with the organisation, and its funding partners, to support the Mela through this period of change. As with everyone that we fund, funding for the festival will depend on our satisfaction that robust governance procedures are in place.”

Shami Khan, chair of the Mela board, said: “Whatever is in Chris Purnell’s letter are his views.

“The board is dealing with the concerns he has raised and will continue to work with the funders to ensure the Mela can continue to function.”