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End of the National Waterways Festival

The IWA has announced that there will be no National Waterways Festival in 2014. The decision has been taken in light of the poor performance of the 2013 Festival in Watford, where a desperately low public attendance was a major factor in the event suffering a loss in excess of £40,000. 

Furthermore, it seems unlikely that we will ever see the return of the old-style Festival. A press release from the IWA states it has “decided against planning festivals of this type for the foreseeable future, as the financial risks for the Association are too great.” IWA National Chairman Les Etheridge said: “The old formula for IWA’s National Festival clearly no longer works and a new style is needed. We intend to support a wider range of events across the country.” 

A flavour of this new approach has already been suggested, as the organisation has confirmed it will have a major presence at the Stratford River Festival and is looking to boost its presence at the 2014 Crick Boat Show

Negotiations had been conducted with the local authorities of Stratford to run the National Festival alongside the annual river festival in a combined event. However, the calamity of Watford meant that this was a risk too far for the Association – in terms of both its finances and reputation. 

It has been clear that the National Festival has been in long-term decline for many years with ever reducing numbers of trade exhibitors and visitors. A ‘sabbatical’ in 2012, with no event taking place that year, is likely to have contributed to the poor performance of the 2014 Festival – once the pattern is broken it is very difficult to re-establish an event.

Waterways World commends the Association’s brave decision – the National Festival had been the major event of the waterways calendar for many years and in the early campaigning days it played a pivotal role in achieving the IWA’s aims of conservation and restoration. But the scene in 2013 is very different from when the first event took place in 1950 and an entirely new approach is required for a successful event. 

The decision now enables the IWA to focus on its outstanding work in other fields. This includes its ceaseless campaigning and lobbying activities, the management of the Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation and the tenacious work of the Waterway Recovery Group.  Sometimes difficult decisions have to be made, particularly where tradition is involved, but the IWA is now free to do what it does best.

                 Waterways World   

Friday 18 October  | Andrew Denny  | 6.27pm, Friday 18 October 2013

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