Blackheath’s festival organisers speak out
Blackheath could get its own music festival in September if these three men get their way.
Tom Wates, Terry Felgate and Alex Wicks want to stage On Blackheath over the weekend of 10/11 September. Lewisham Council gave them permission last October – but the Blackheath Society is challenging the decision through the courts. Magistrates in Bromley will decide next month. Earlier this week, I spoke to the trio about their plans for the heath.
“If everyone spends £20, that’s £1m into the local area in two days – and that doesn’t happen very often.” For local businessmen Tom Wates and Alex Wicks, putting on a festival on Blackheath has been a long-held dream. “Everyone in Lewisham was really for it,” says Tom, who adds he spent two years talking to the council about holding a festival. “It’s something everyone thought was missing from the area, and they were pleased an outsider had come in with the idea.”
Their plan is for a two separate days of music on the area of Blackheath between the Territorial Army base at Holly Hedge House and Shooters Hill Road, with 25,000 people each day getting to see two stages of music. Hare & Billet Road would be closed for the weekend, and the TA building would be used for logistics to save space. Tom used to teach at Colfe’s school in Lee and now runs a business in Chislehurst designing school interiors and seating. Alex was brought up in Lewisham and works in sports event marketing. The third member of the team was introduced to them by a mutual friend – Greenwich-based Terry Felgate, who lives just off the heath, was involved in putting on Blur’s Hyde Park reunion shows and started out booking gigs at Goldsmiths College in the 1980s.
Together, they’re convinced On Blackheath will be something south-east London can be proud of.
“We’ve always seen the heath as an opportunity,” says Terry. “We want to establish a successful event that will benefit this area, and I think we can. Those events exist in parks elsewhere in London, like Clapham Common and Victoria Park. It’d be nice to have an event here, and the audience is here.”
But what kind of audience are they going for?
“Look at Latitude in Suffolk, that’s very much the sort of theme we’re loking at,” says Terry. “Left-field artists – things like Elbow, Mumford & Sons, Florence and the Machine – and then acts that are coming through – Noah and the Whale, Foals – that 6 Music side of things.”
“We wanted to back that up with a wider experience so it doesn’t feel like a mini-version of some other event, quite often you’ll go to festival and it’s the same food as the others. What we’d like to do is bring in as much from Greenwich and Blackheath as we can, so we’d have, say, beer from Meantime brewery.”
The festival won
planning permission from Lewisham in October, with the backing of four out of six members of a planning licensing board. “We were thrilled,” recalls Tom. “It was a fascinating hearing, very thorough, and there’s a 28 day period after that where objectors can appeal. The Blackheath Society appealed on the last day of those four weeks. But we have to crack on and organise it, so if the hearing goes in our favour, all we have to do is push the button.”
The resulting bad feeling has left the trio feeling a bit sheepish about the tongue-in-cheek name of their company – NIMBY Events – but Tom wants locals to hear their case.
“The first thing I’d like to say to them is ‘give us a chance’. We’re getting arguments that there’ll be hoodies coming up from Deptford or people will be leaving excrement in gardens.
“A lawyer at the hearing, who’s 50-odd, said every time he goes to a gig he wants to piss in someone’s garden afterwards. Well, clearly he doesn’t do that, and we think people of the age we want to attract are a little bit more mature. There’s lots of serious arguments about health and safety, but we’ve surrounded ourselves with experts in security and sound to answer their questions and more at every single point.”
If it gets the green light, On Blackheath won’t be the first big gathering on that part of the heath, as Tom recalls.
“Sometimes we hear, ‘they’re not going to be like those nice people from the climate camp.’ That was an illegal event, but now it’s ‘what a nice thing that was for the area’, because it helped local business and was good for the area.
“This is something that is legal, and we’re doing everything to ensure it’s a safe event that people can be proud of, and will be on the calendar like the fireworks which people look forward to every year.”
Terry continues: “I’d ask people not to be scaremongered – I hear people are saying it’ll be like Glastonbury on our doorstep. Well, Glastonbury’s 200,000 people camping over five days.
“There seems to be a misconception of what this is about – it’ll be two separate events with no camping. These events run in other areas – like Clapham Common has the Ben and Jerry’s event – and there’s no issue with people trying to camp. There’ll be a maximum of 25k each day, and having spoken to all those involved, including the police, they don’t see an issue with that.
“These fears that there’ll be riots and it’ll be out of control are unsubstantiated. A mystery’s been blown up – ‘who are these people?’ – well, just ask us.”
Greenwich Council did object to the event – the borough boundary lies a few feet to the north of the proposed festival site – although Tom feels that was because “Lewisham didn’t ask them their opinions”.
“The Blackheath Society have called up Greenwich’s policies on holding events, and they’re different from Lewisham’s,” he adds. “But they’re different councils, and we’re on Lewisham’s side of the heath. But we’re keeping out of all that, we’re doing what we’re asked to do and leaving the boroughs to it.”
Festival-goers will be encouraged to leave their cars at home, and Terry hopes On Blackheath will help change the perception that it is set in a hard-to-reach area. “It’s not. It always surprises people it’s 7 minutes from London Bridge. There’s so many ways of getting here now. I think the O2’s changed that. The site’s a 10 minute walk from Lewisham and Greenwich stations. People will be encouraged to come there, not via Blackheath station.”
But before any festival goer marches up Lewisham Hill, the trio will have to prove their case in a two-day hearing at Bromley Magistrates court from 3 March. In the meantime, a debate still rages about the festival. Whatever the decision, the huge costs of the appeal – with the Blackheath Society appealling for money through its members – mean the debate may well go on for a long time while afterwards.
Anybody who wants updates on the plans for On Blackheath can sign up via onblackheath.com.