12 Things You May Not Know About Cheltenham Festivals

At the Chamber’s April networking event held at Chaplais Kitchen in Montpellier Cheltenham Festival’s Co-CEO, Ali Mawle, gave a very enlightening talk about their work.

What really stood out was how, behind the highly professional, polished presentation of the main Festivals, they do a huge amount, year after year, to help so many underprivileged young people. Also, how much they do to support the wider local economy. The Charity is all about delivering on their real social purpose:  we believe in a world where everyone can explore and create culture.

The Chamber is delighted they are members of our Large Enterprise Action Group. This was created to bring together larger businesses in the area to improve collaboration. It has now set up an Education and Business project to build stronger relationships between local business, schools and colleges and improve young people’s life chances and the skills available locally for recruitment.

Much of the Festivals’ community programme is only possible with sponsorship and partners. Local businesses of all sizes can raise their CSR profiles, while supporting their work. Anyone interested can simply contact Jenna Marks (jenna.marks@cheltenhamfestivals.com) for an initial chat.

Did you know?

  1. The main Festival Events are just the tip of the iceberg. For each day they are live, six days are spent on community outreach. That’s 180 days of year-round community activity and partnerships.
  2. This ethos has its roots in 1945 when the first Music Festival was run to “uplift peoples’ spirits with beauty and culture” after the war. Cheltenham was seen as a “spa for the soul” to help people “flourish and function.” As the birthplace of Holst and links with composers like Vaughn Williams, music was a natural way to start. This was followed in 1949, by what is the world’s oldest – and most imitated – Literature Festival. The Jazz Festival was added in 1996 and Science in 2002.
  3. Although originally set up and run by the Borough Council, Festivals has been completely independent since 2006. All the costs involved in planning, creating, setting up, clearing down and restoring the festival sites come from generated income.
  4. Ticket sales account for just under 50% of income. The rest comes from sponsorship, patrons, membership, trusts or grants. This means they can bring in big names and run the Festivals professionally. More importantly, it also funds the outreach programmes.
  5. They reach 35,000 children through 400 schools. However, local schools come first, especially those in low-income communities. They aim to reach every local special needs school and all schools with 25%+ Pupil Premium.
  6. Programmes are run by a small, dedicated team, working closely with teachers. As Ali said, “We believe in the power of teachers. If you can inspire one, you can inspire a hundred children.”
  7. “Reading Teachers = Reading Pupils” is Cheltenham Festivals’flagship literacy programme. Working in partnership with literacy charities across the UK, it simply promotes a love of reading. It has transformed some teachers’ careers and inspired troubled children to become passionate readers. Some of them even had the chance to meet the author of their favourite book and read it aloud on a Festival stage.
  8. Other programmes include ”Musicate”, and “DataFace” a new programme designed in partnership with CyberFirst (part of GCHQ) and the Jean Golding Institute at Bristol University. This aims to bridge the cyber / tech skills gap, by helping teenagers learn in a fun, engaging way.
  9. Obviously, they play a huge role in making Cheltenham the Festival Town. However, they also recognize that a vibrant culture is key to inward investment and attracting the right talent. Ali is Chair of the town’s Culture Board and represented Festivals at the recent Canadian cyber business delegation.
  10. They provide lots of free tickets. Working with community groups such as CCP and Cheltenham Welcomes Refugees, their Connections programme means many local people who are living in poverty, are disabled or refugees can enjoy the most relevant events. These take priority over tickets on sale
  11. The Festivals feature a lot of events and activities that people can enjoy for free. From the free stages to interactive workshops, these contribute hugely to the buzz that surrounds every festival.
  12. No greenwashing here. Sustainability and its related topics often feature in the Science and Literature Festivals, but they know they must “walk the talk.” For example, by switching generators from diesel to bio-fuel in 2023, CO2 output for the Jazz Festival fell from 22 tonnes to just 0.28 tonnes. A 96% reduction!




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John Morgan Partnership

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