Altitude Festival – Small Festival, Big Heart!

Altitude Festival – Small Festival, Big Heart!

Written by Joff Alexander-Frye

Photos supplied by Altitude Festival

Part of our proud British heritage is the belief in fairness, decorum and honour. One of the major ways in which this has continued to prevail to this day is the example of our democratic approach to politics and the way in which our country is governed. However, as recent events have proven, sometimes the ‘top-down’ approach just doesn’t do the job. Waiting for action or change from Westminster is, at times, simply not going to happen and this has given birth to an increase in more ‘bottom-up’ initiatives springing up around the UK. One such example is Altitude Festival, an event run by Devon Rural Events.

As a Community Interest Company (CIC), Devon Rural Events is a business with a social cause. In their case, their commitment is to invest in the local hamlet of Blackborough and to see both their and other rural communities thrive. Indeed, Blackborough, with about forty houses, a village hall and a phone box has been the venue since 2015 of Altitude Festival – an event that attracted 500 people in its first year, then 1000 in its second year and 1500 last year. I recently met with Greg Bottrill, one of the organisers, for a chat about the festival and its positive and progressive vision – to be Devon’s small festival, with a big heart.

The Altitude Festival dream started when a few likeminded people got involved with running the local village hall together. To raise some funds for repairs and community initiatives, they started to put on small events. They hosted a few large birthday parties, which had bands and food sellers and there emerged a definite vibe and buzz during these events – so much so that Greg and a few others started to think, ‘Maybe there is something more here?’. This was the birthing moment of what has now become Altitude Festival.

The Altitude Team consists of Greg, Phil Doodson, Jon Hague and Lizzie Whitchurch who together organise everything from site set up to branding and from music selection to children’s entertainment. This small but perfectly-formed team is the heartbeat behind the festival.

A selfie of the Altitude Festival team
From L-R: Lizzie Whitchurch, Jon Hague, Greg Bottrill and Phil Doodson

I asked Greg how a small team like theirs could achieve such an impressive end-result and, after thinking for a second, replied,

“Well, the ‘Why?’ behind what we do gives us a huge amount of energy and motivation. Our desire to see our hamlet and other rural communities thrive drives us to go the extra mile and produce the most excellent event that we can within our budgets. We also lean heavily on a variety of local suppliers and partners, without which the event simply couldn’t happen. For example, Forest Glad Campsite who allow us to use their parking facilities outside of the hamlet, Blackdown Yurts who offer a luxury glamping experience for those who desire it  at the festival and Crudge Coaches who offer three coaches to run a shuttle bus service between Forest Glade and the event site. Partnering with them to make the event happen stimulates the local economy as well as makes the event a smoother and more enjoyable experience. The collaboration is also a demonstration of our vision and ethos.”

Greg told me that the festival takes place on a farm owned by the Percy family and is left in exactly the same state as when they set up the festival. By working really carefully with local suppliers, there is a reduced carbon footprint on delivery of key items into the festival site and some smart recycling and plastic-reduction initiatives have meant that the level of unrecyclable materials at the end of the festival is minimal.

Greg continued,

“This festival isn’t ours. It belongs to the people who attend each year and especially all of the good folk who volunteer and give their time for free. We set an intentional tone of safety, inclusion, fun and being family-friendly and people then come in and join in with that existing tone. It makes for a really relaxed and fun few days! We’re also unapologetic about being small. We don’t want to be a huge festival. We are Devon’s little festival, with a big heart. We took the best of festivals that we had attended over the years and merged it into our own micro-festival.”

Live music in the tent at Altitude Festival

Conversation turned to what makes an event memorable and Greg expanded,

“The things that people really remember or talk about when it comes to festivals is the incidental, run-of-the-mill stuff. Toilet facilities, parking and the like. Of course, the performances and the memories with family and friends are the real goal, but people really do remember the more mundane things more than you think they do. As a result, we have given great thought to those things, to ensure that the stress and frustration is taken out of the equation for Altitude attendees. We attract a real mix of young families, young people and older people. We are trying to re-define what a festival can be by trying to cater for as many demographics of the community as possible. We refuse to conform to the image of festivals that people have – of leftover tents in rubbish-strewn fields where revellers have temporarily taken a vacation from their senses due to a variety of substances. That is simply not us. We offer something so much more wholesome, inclusive and fun than that!”

On the business side of the CIC, I quizzed Greg on how they manage to turn a profit – something that festivals are well known for struggling to do. He explained,

“All of our management team come from business backgrounds so we bring a clear and strong commercial approach to the festival. By attracting sponsorship from local businesses, managing our supplier relationships carefully and being committed to never spending more than we have budgeted to, we have managed to create a festival that is all paid for by the time the weekend starts. Any money we make at the festival is then pure profit and is able to be ploughed back into the community projects within our social cause. In previous years, those funds have been used to refurbish the village hall and go towards The Laura Percy Trust. We aren’t just focused on making a financial profit. We want to make a social profit. We sort of take each year as it comes and do our research on particular local needs. We’ll then find the charities that meet that need the best and that is who we will donate our money to.”

In terms of the long-term vision, “there is no intention or desire to be the next Glastonbury” as Greg put it. Blackborough is at the heart of the social cause behind the festival so there are no plans to move the festival away from the hamlet. Moreover, there is a much longer-term goal at play here, as Greg explained,

“Our aim is to make memories for people. We want the children in our community to grow up and remember that they were proud of where they grew up. And we want their parents to get stuck in and enjoy living in the wonderful part of the world that we do live in. If we can give our community something to be proud of and remember, then our job has been done.”

So, on June 14th and 15th this summer, you are likely to find me at Altitude Festival in Blackborough, with sleeves rolled up, a bevvy or two in-hand and some fine dad dancing on display. Maybe you want to make some memories too? Well, if you see me, say hello!

Follow Altitude Festival @AltitudeVF on Twitter or visit the website to catch artist announcements and much more!

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