From humble beginnings in 2012, the Leek Blues & Americana Festival (LBAF) is one of the premier cultural and community events in the market town of Leek and the Staffordshire Moorlands. It is a volunteer-run, not-for-profit, 5 day Festival of high quality music.
In the last few years, Leek’s High Street, like many in the UK, was in difficulty, with the town’s quirky businesses struggling to compete with bland national chains and online shopping. The response was two-fold:
Firstly, Leek embraced the Totally Locally initiative, an alliance of local traders to promote shopping locally and to establish a Sunday Supplement artisan food & makers market.
Secondly, realising that retail alone would not save the High Street, the Festival was born, an opportunity to promote the town as a tourist destination with a vibrant and welcoming live music experience.
The Festival has grown in popularity due to a love of the town, a shared sense of community. It is about creating something sustainable, about inclusion, and about forging partnerships nationally and internationally.
The LBAF supports high quality live music in the town throughout the year (principally folk, blues, Americana, jazz and traditional music), culminating in a 5-day Festival in early October. A successful Crowdfunder will be used to support and enhance the 2019 Festival, held over 2-6th October.
The LBAF has two main principles: ensuring that at least 95% of events have free admission; and managing the Festival through community volunteers. To date the Festival has been supported through local donations, and the work of its volunteers. This will still largely be the case in 2019, but we will use Crowdfunding to enhance the Festival and put it on a more professional footing. Specifically it will:
1. Enhance the quality of the acts still further, with an international emphasis. In 2018 the Festival successfully attracted the Norsk-Americana Collective (a Scandinavian society of performing artists) and this year we have interest in performers from Spain, France, the US, Mexico and elsewhere. The Crowdfunder will help make this happen!
2. Put all the necessary insurances in place. This is needed to reduce volunteer liability;
3. Use more family-friendly venues, placing less emphasis on music in pubs and restaurants, with greater use of Leek’s Foxlowe Arts Centre, and provision of an outdoor stage (coinciding with October’s Totally Locally market);
4. Arrange workshops for children/young people during the Festival (e.g. in traditional instruments). This was trialled in 2018 and will now form a central feature of the Festival;
5. A professional approach to marketing, with a stronger online/social media presence and greater distribution of flyers.
One of the features of the LBAF is the extent to which it is community-managed. It is run entirely by volunteers, through an Unincorporated Association with 30 members (and growing). It has engaged with 40 local businesses (including the 18 cafes, restaurants and pubs which host many of the events); Staffordshire Moorlands District Council; and local arts and musicians groups. Crucially, 2018 saw much wider community engagement, and this is something which will be improved further as the result of a grant (e.g. having acts performing during the Totally Locally market; use of the Foxlowe Arts Centre etc).
A key factor in achieving greater community engagement in 2019 will be effective marketing . Crowdfunding will support a stronger online presence, greater use of social media, local radio spots; and greater dissemination as traditional media such as Festival programmes.
Our forward strategy is to use 2019 as a showcase, to demonstrate to private sponsors what a professionally-mounted Festival can do to benefit the town. Through supporting the 2019 Festival, this Crowdfunder will help lay the foundations for future success.