Licence to wow

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New festival WOW Fest received over 130 objections to its premises licence application. But it didn’t stop its organisers from being granted a three-year licence to organise the event on the Isle of Wight…

In April 2011, Geri Ward and Phillip Snellen announced the launch of WOW Fest, a new event that would celebrate world music, dance and culture on the Isle of Wight. And that’s when the whispers started – could the Isle of Wight sustain three large music events over the course of the summer? Ward, director of communications, and Snellen, festival director, seemed to think so and proceeded to complete the event’s licence application. The licence application for the three-day festival was opposed.

In all, over 130 objections were lodged. For many, the rejected application and sheer number of objections would deter some organisers from even bothering to carry on but Ward approached Rebecca Thomas, head of licensing, Seddons Solicitors, and on September 22, following a hearing, was granted a three-year premises licence.

Thomas takes up the story: “Geri prepared and lodged the licence application herself and then instructed me to work with the festival when the application went in. It meant I had a lot of intense work to do – reading up on all the points and getting up to speed with a 200-page document.”

Thomas, together with WOW, began the task of working through over 130 objections. In fact, there were so many objections that the venue for the hearing had to be changed in case all of the objectors turned up. Councillors, residents and the authorities cited a range of concerns – vandalism, noise, trespassing, numbers of people and public safety all came into question.

Location, location

The event will be staged on the south side of the island between Shanklin Road and Whiteley Bank, an event site that has yet to be established. It was found following a two-year search and is owned by a number of farmers and straddles an A road. Ward says that the festival team purposely looked for a site in private ownership, and now they have 200 acres of land available for their global party that has been in the planning for several years.

The event’s plans state that the festival site and camping will be situated on the south side of the road with car parking, coaches, drop off and pick up points placed on the north side. How to get festival goers from one side of the road to another and high speed limits were two of the issues raised at the hearing, but this is the only festival site in Europe with a 23-mile cycle track – the Sunshine Trail – running through it, so the organisers are keen to promote cycling. The creation of a luggage pick up service should visitors wish to arrive by bicycle is currently being discussed, and the festival has partnered with Southern Vectis, offering unlimited bus travel on the island if festival goers leave their cars on the mainland.

“The council’s three main concerns centred round noise, the A road and numbers,” continues Thomas. “But the Sunshine Trail will be lit with eco-friendly lighting so that people can get about, numbers for the event have been limited and noise levels have been imposed too.”

For example, on Friday and Saturday nights no live or recorded music must be played on the main stage after midnight. Similarly, no recorded music must be played on-site on Friday and Saturday nights after 2.30am. WOW Fest and Thomas are working closely with Vanguardia and between the hours of 10am and 11.45pm on Friday and Saturday noise levels must not exceed 65dB (A) Leq 15 minutes, and between 2.30am and 10am they must not exceed 45dB (A) Leq 15 minutes.

The site has raised areas, almost bowl- like, creating a natural amphitheatre.

Explains Ward: “If you stand at the top of the camping field you can see Sandown Bay and the cliffs, and St Martin’s Down is the backdrop. It’s a beautiful site.”

Open communication

The very first WOW Fest will take place on August 17-19 – 18,000 festival goers will be allowed in 2012, 20,000 visitors will be allowed in 2013 and, in 2014, it’s hoped the event will attract 22,000 people. The licence makes WOW Fest the third biggest annual event to take place on the island, and the festival will take place at the same time as Cowes Week and the island’s annual fireworks night. The three- year licence was granted on September 22 with 68 conditions yet even though Sarah MacDonald, senior licensing, Isle of Wight Council, is now happy with the application, some residents have created a Facebook campaign – No to WOW Fest IOW – believing it will damage the island.

Thomas concludes: “You can always try and negotiate and deal with concerns but sometimes you can’t because people don’t express their objections properly. We had one elderly resident who objected to the festival because it would harm her grandchildren. How exactly it would harm her grandchildren she couldn’t say. On the other hand, one of the farmers on neighbouring land expressed concerns over livestock that can’t be moved and so the organisers are providing security at his barn. Solutions can be sought; it’s just a case of communication.”

Adds Ward: “This is festival tourism and we believe the island’s tourist market needs new and fresh reasons for a wider variety of visitors to choose the Isle of Wight in August from amongst the zillions of other holiday choices they could otherwise make. We’re forging the future of the Isle of Wight summer so that people have more reasons to come. It’s a bold move but it will make a difference to the future of the island.”

Founded on a sustainability policy that aims high in terms of green festivals and feeds into the Eco-Island initiative, WOW Fest travel partners all bring opportunity for people to travel to WOW on the island without a car and stay for longer.

As well as initiatives on waste and water, the festival, in time, aims to be totally solar powered. WOW Fest also aims to give back via charities, like SolarAid and Building Schools for Africa that help in parts of the world from where WOW Fest derives its artistic inspiration.

“WOW Fest is all about the music and the global vibe,” says Ward. “Think of Glastonbury’s alternative fields and that’s the closest comparison to what WOW Fest will be like. It’s a global party in an Olympic year.”

Five stages celebrating the best in Afrobeat, ska and reggae music will entertain the crowds. Adult weekend tickets are being sold for £140 with under 18s being permitted free entry with a full paying adult, and the cost of the ticket also includes unlimited bus travel on the island.

Two temporary supermarkets will be located on-site – Spar and Co-op – allowing festival goers to pre-order food online and collect it when they arrive, and luxury camping will be available too.

Louise Prior will handle the festival’s production, and the organisers are currently talking to The Event Safety Shop, Firefly Solar, Lion Trackway, Creative Bars and Stage Miracles about supplying the event.