Stendhal organisers question council ‘fairness’

John Cartwright, Ross Pakhill and Colm O'Donnell pictured during preparations for last year's festival. INLV2713-014KDR
John Cartwright, Ross Pakhill and Colm O'Donnell pictured during preparations for last year's festival. INLV2713-014KDR

The organisers of the Stendhal Festival of Music and Art in Limavady have responded to a storm of online debate over a funding decision by the local council.

The Sentinel, in an exclusive front page story a few weeks ago, broke news that a new ‘Countryside Festival’ was coming to Ballykelly this summer. Last week, this newspaper also revealed that Limavady Borough Council had agreed, in principle, to award £15,000 worth of funding to the new festival - double the £7,500 worth of ‘deficit funding’ available for Stendhal - winner of the Best Small Festival in Ireland award.

This prompted a storm of online commentary from Sentinel readers, election candidates and others.

Below is the full statement, issued to this newspaper by John Cartwright, head of PR and Communications for the Stendhal Festival: “Since it was announced that a new festival set to have its first year one week after Stendhal this year has been awarded £15,000 at the first time of asking from Limavady Borough Council, we have been getting a few requests to talk about it in the press regarding our attitude towards it.

“We aren’t looking to rise a row here over money, what we will do, however, is point out the facts and let people make up their own mind as to whether or not they think that what has occurred is fair, not only to us, but any local people in Limavady who look to council to be a fair body who look after the interests of local people.

“Firstly, we wish the organisers of The Countryside Festival all the success in the world – it looks like it will be a great event which will bring tourists to the borough and that must be supported by everyone locally as we look to expand on our growing tourism industry.

“Limavady Borough Council have chosen to support a businesses which is not local to the area, to the tune of double the amount of funding (perhaps more, as we will explain) than it has ever supported us with, at the first time of asking.

“At our first time of asking in 2008, not only did we not receive such a massive amount of funding support, we had to arrange a special meeting of council to try and get a decision on if we could simply get granted a licence, in which meeting around 40 per cent of councillors voted to not grant us a licence.

“One of the main objections on our first time of asking for a licence for our event in 2008, was that we planned to hold our event on a Sunday – ever since then we have agreed to not run on a Sunday – the Countryside festival will take place on a Saturday and a Sunday.

“In terms of our funding – Over the past three years we have availed from funding from Limavady Borough Council’s community festivals pot.

“Year one we received £5,000, year two and year three, £7,000 amounting to £19,000 over three years. We have been grateful for this funding and things would certainly look a lot different for us now had we not benefitted from it.

“We are awaiting confirmation of our funding application for £7,500 for this year, however, this funding is deficit funding and always has been, meaning that we can only avail of this funding should our event finish with losses – if we come in £7,500 shy, the £7,500 is there for us, if we come in £2,000k shy, we get £2,000 and if we break even or make a profit, we get nothing. This is the same with a number of other local events which rely on council funding to operate to the level in which they do.

“We never made an issue of this before as this was what was being awarded to all the events in the area, as long as it was fair.

“The funding handed to the new event has no such restrictions. It comes from a legacy pot which we are being told is being used to give out one off payments to new events which will leave a lasting legacy to the borough. The total pot for this fund is 20K.

“Council acted to award the funding on recommendations based on research that stated: ‘Through market research by Countryside Festivals Ltd it was identified that a gap existed within the North West region for a quality, family orientated visitor attraction such as the proposed Countryside Festival.’

“Not only did Stendhal win Best Small Festival in Ireland at the annual Irish Festival awards alongside three of the biggest and highest regarded festivals in Ireland ( but we were also nominated in the category for best family festival, an aspect of the festival that we pride ourselves greatly on.

“In considering whether to approve the dates for the new event, the only other event considered for fear of a clash of tourism interest was the Milk Cup.

“Stendhal Festival of Art facilitates workshops, community outreach programmes and charity events throughout the borough. So far we have not been made aware of any such things which will be undertaken by the new event.

“Stendhal festival of art has a huge team of volunteers from the local area who give up vast amounts of their time and expertise to facilitate the festival and, like the entire organising team, do so for free.

“Many local businesses support Stendhal and have done over the years, we thank them and look forward to continuing to repay the faith they have shown to us.

“The main issue here which we would like Limavady Borough Council to clarify is why are they showing such massive support at the first time of asking to an enterprise which does not base itself in the Roe Valley, when there are events of a similar ilk, run by local people and ratepayers, which have been working tirelessly over years and years to bring tourism to the region who have never been afforded funding support to this level?

“With RPA on the horizon, how can the people of Limavady have any faith that they will be fairly represented in the new super council when they are not being fairly represented in their own council now?”