Lee… ding the way

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LeeFest began in Lee Denny’s back garden. Now, it’s an award-winning and growing festival for 2,000 people. Stand Out met its founder and discovered there’s life after physics…

What do a fake Barbour jacket, a pair of wellies and a white van have to do with site sourcing? Not much, you’d think. But when you’re an enthusiastic 23-year old looking to find a new site for your next festival they certainly helped Lee Denny look the part.

Denny is sat opposite Stand Out in Nando’s, a favoured haunt and scene of many team meetings he tells me, and as he gets stuck into a pile of fries and a Diet Coke, he begins to reveal LeeFest’s new developments.

The non-profit music festival, which took form in his parent’s back garden, is now a thriving, small festival that has just been bestowed the mantle of Best Grass Roots Festival at the UK Festival Awards.

2009 saw the event take momentous steps from its homely roots to a field in Beckenham. 2010 sees the one-day festival move to Higham Hill Farm, Bromley. So why the move?

Denny explains: “The 2009 event was really successful but we received one noise complaint. We monitored the noise and stupidly admitted that we went two decibels over the limit at one point during the day. The noise issue was blown out of proportion and so we’ve had to move.

“Bromley Council suggested a few council-owned sites at a cost of £10,000 so we went on the hunt ourselves.”

Denny donned a pair of wellies, haggled over the price of a fake Barbour jacket at Camden Market and drove round the Bromley countryside for weeks. He felt his newfound look would make farmers warm to him as he approached their land. And it worked.

“I wanted to look the part. It’s no good wearing baggy jeans and a baseball cap and approaching farmers saying ‘can we use your land for a festival?’. It was a concern that all would say ‘no’ and it didn’t help that we had a specific area in mind:” Denny recalls.

“The sites the council suggested were in town and didn’t fit with our event. We’re not another Underage or another Field Day. We had made a conscious decision to grow our event in 2011 and we wanted take it further into the country so the move is just a little earlier than planned.”

The new location is a 10-minute drive from the old site in Beckenham and has its own road and access. The ground is flat, the grass is well kept and the roadway means that the festival budget will be significantly saved from costly track.

“We wanted a nice looking farm, just off a main road with good access for production and we’ve got it. There is ample space for parking, even though cars will be discouraged, as we want to be as green as possible, and we’re going to run shuttle buses from the town centre to the site.”

Denny is keen to promote the use of bridleways and safe cycle paths from the town to the farm and so in the lead up to the festival will publish a series of webisodes– short, informative videos which people can watch to discover the routes to follow. The videos will be placed on YouTube and on the festival website (www.leefest.org.uk) to further engage with a social media-savvy audience.

Value for money

LeeFest is aimed at 18-28 year olds, even though families are drawn to the occasion, and features three stages – a main stage that will see roughly the same production as 2009 but with more lighting, a second stage, which will be themed and a dance tent, which has been upgraded from a white marquee to a Roustabout tent.

“We are still looking for sponsors,” he continues. “There will be a beach for volleyball, perhaps a dressing up area, we’d like to put a skate ramp in and the bars will be themed.”

LeeFest’s budget is a mere £40,000, covered entirely by ticket sales. Tickets are currently priced at £20 per person. This figure may increase by a few pounds once artists’ production costs are finalised, but Denny remains extremely conscious of making the event accessible to many. Last year’s event saw 1,500 people attend. On August 14, 2010, 2,000 people will descend on Higham Hill Farm; 500 camping tickets priced at £5 per person are available with the scope for another 500 to go on sale should the initial 500 sell out.

Cause for encouragement

At just 23, and fresh from university with a degree in physics, Denny is now considering a permanent career in events.

“The UK Festival Awards was a good experience for us [Alex Brooks, production manager, Squib Swain, artist management/liaison, Richard LeGate, artist booking/publicity and David Hayes, PR]. We sat in seminars all day, with everyone touching on small, emerging festivals and how it is a cluttered market, run by inexperienced people. At one point, we thought ‘is that us?’ and then we won the Best Grass Roots award. After that we had nice chats and received a lot of encouragement from Rob da Bank and the guys from Creamfields and Secret Garden Party.”

Spurred on, Denny is keen to continue in the events field and is on the hunt for sponsors so that he can grow the non-profit festival.

“Keeping the festival non-profit is a safeguard to protect everything that the festival stands for. Ensuring that any profits are split between charity and being put back into the event means it can never fall prey to the natural greed of man. The audience get an event that is entirely worth the ticket price and everybody coming together to support a good cause creates an amazing atmosphere!”

For the next few years, LeeFest has pledged to help Kids Company, a central London charity that provides support to vulnerable inner-city children and young people. The festival also provides opportunities for the children that KidsCo look after to get involved in the event doing things they love such as artwork, performing or photography. In fact, if any event professionals reading this would like to get involved and donate their time or resources, Denny would love to hear from you.

“The festival dictates a 10-day spell on-site. Load in beings on a Tuesday and we will hand back the site on the Wednesday after the event. At the moment we are looking for a media sponsor, help with wristbands and some crew catering would be nice – my mum does it at the moment,” Denny laughs. “And I’m sure she’d like some help with the dishes.”