Will festivals in Cheltenham be more inclusive in 2020?

The festivals in Cheltenham attract thousands of people each year from local to international, pumping millions of pounds into Cheltenham’s economy and benefitting the towns local businesses – but do people have the wrong impression of the those who attend the celebrations in the Regency town?

Cheltenham has always been a vibrant town, with a festival tradition. The oldest being the Festival of Performing Arts, which has been going on for more than 100 years. This was followed by the Cheltenham music, literature, jazz, and science festivals, the Cheltenham Gold Cup and now over 25 significant landmark calendar events a year.

Cheltenham’s festivals appeal to both a regional market, a local market, but also a national market. So with the literature festival, for example, they do get a lot of people from in and around Gloucestershire but a significant number that travelled from outside the immediate area. But who exactly are the people that attend the festivals?

The first thought for many people when they think of Cheltenham, is the regency architecture of the town. The glorious buildings that line the streets of Montpellier and the promenade or the iconic and grand Pittville Pump Room. This leads people to the common misconception that the town and the festivals are ‘posh’ or ‘exclusive’ to certain people.

In a survey of people between 18-40, 100% of people thought that the festivals were aimed at a middle-classed audience. It was also repeatedly stated that people want cheaper tickets with no option of paid membership and exclusivity as all the better seated tickets for the bigger events are sold out by the time they go on general sale.

There was also mutual agreement in the comments section of the survey that there needs to be events in more deprived areas of Cheltenham and not just the main strip.

An anonymous user answered: “Involve the whole of Cheltenham, not just the picture postcard version”.

When speaking to Kevan Blackadder from Cheltenham’s BID about the misunderstanding of the intended audience for the festivals he said:

“I think there’s a perception among some Cheltonians that they’re not for them. And then they do feel a bit elitist and I know that Cheltenham festivals is trying to tackle that”.

“There is more work being done in West Cheltenham to try to ensure that there is engagement and so they understand that actually the events are for them, I think that’s really evident is with the Science Festival, because a lot of that happens in the town hall as well as well as on all the sites”.

Kevan seems hopeful that there will be more work done in 2020 to represent and include the people that aren’t based in the centre of Cheltenham:

“It’s really important that areas like Hesters Way are involved where they can. I thought it was great this year, that Cheltenham Paint Festival did some brilliant work on the sides of the flats in Hesters Way, and I think that’s had a really good reaction out there”.

Hopefully with this in mind, the festivals in 2020 will be more accessible to those who often don’t get the chance to attend, or are put off by the ‘posh’ stereotype.

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