In two 90 minute meetings on Monday 3rd September the Lovebox organisers stood in front of very angry groups of local residents and apologised for a string of failures in their organisation of the Lovebox/Citadel festival weekend. Occasionally they blamed getting bad advice from other agencies.
It was a very different meeting from the one before the event when many of the same local residents expressed their fears about the things which, as it happened, went badly wrong. At that earlier meeting there was a slightly patronising tone from the organisers. We wrote at the time:
A lot of the responses (from the organisers) were a) we are still working this out with the authorities, b) we have done this many times before and it usually goes very well and c) we want to come back for at least three more years so it is in our interests to make it successful.
On this occasion, as the Lovebox speaker accepted that they had created a number of problems, these were all accompanied by the idea that they could be fixed at the event next year and that this process was how event organisation can be improved. The implication of this response is that, after 12 years of staging this event in Victoria Park, by the time they lost the contract it was running like clockwork. Residents around that park would not agree.
Poor stewarding, mistakes over road closures, serious danger from overcrowding at Acton Town, failure to predict visitors would arrive from other directions, slow clearing of litter, taxi jams in side streets when uber-type taxis were called, queues of cars with parents dropping off their children, poor communications between the public and the event, local businesses unable to operate, long tailbacks on major roads, overfull TFL buses, Gunnersbury Drive open at one end, closed at the other, crowds making noise long after the event had closed, copious urination, badly sited and very open toilets – each speaker added to the list with some miserable experience or other, even those who thought Lovebox was a good thing to bring to the park.
The local people were particularly distressed by data presented by the organisers about noise complaints – only 36 over the three days, so quite trivial, and no breaches of the noise regulations. Yet the map showing the sources of these complaints ranged over a very wide area around the park, covering many thousands of local residents, so obviously many people could hear it, especially the deep bass reverberations. The discussion forums on the local electronic newspapers tell a very different story. There were accounts of being unable to get through to the complaints line (was this to the organisers? Or to the councils?) What was disturbing about the Lovebox presentation on this point was the organisers’ complacent reliance on one source of data to discount the experience of the audience.
Lovebox referred to this event as the inaugural event, spoke of things which could be fixed next time, and said they wanted to return. David Bowler, CEO of the CIC which from now on grants the contract, said his board has not discussed their return. One of the three Board members present confirmed this and affirmed its independence. A long period of sustained applause was given to a speech from Cllr Mel Collins, who noted that the abolition of the Gunnersbury Park Joint Advisory Panel meant there was no public scrutiny of the decisions of the CIC by external interested parties, such as ward councillors, nor any chance to influence its decisions. David Bowler responded by saying the CIC’s management agreement with the two councils was closely scrutinised, especially by the two Lead Directors nominated by the councils to the CIC Board. “Scrutiny” clearly means different things to different people.
Will the CIC agree to Lovebox returning? Almost certainly. Firstly, the festival gave a lot of pleasure to over 100,000 people. Secondly, the CIC needs the money and the two Councils are likely to instruct it if it doesn’t. Both on the events programme and the launch of Go Ape, we are learning about the degree of independence of the new body. Thirdly, the organisers have promised to learn from experience (though it seems they weren’t learning fast enough on the ground during the three days).
The elephant in the room was the size of the event. These festivals were devised in rural landscapes, farms and stately homes. They have been transplanted into urban parks surrounded by suburban streets, but the programmes and the business plans have stayed much the same. The event went reasonably well inside the park, so the issue, as the organisers see it, is how to fix things to reduce disruption to the locals to tolerable levels. There is a case for wanting more imaginative, more appropriately designed events which entertain without imposing such local burdens. For example, at the earlier meeting we were promised that the 40,000 would come and go throughout the day – it would not be a mass exodus at the end. Yet by closing ancillary stages and ending with the headline acts, the organisers effectively created that mass exodus.
Senior politicians and officers in both councils appear to have leapt at the chance to bring Lovebox to Gunnersbury, especially because of the income it brought. The mishandling of the establishing of an events licence for the park and fear of a large programme of major events had made local people very apprehensive before the news of the festival emerged. The CIC – needing to establish itself with the public – was dealt a poor hand, especially as the building work for the Sports Hub has cut off even larger areas of the park.
The people at this public meeting were not nimbys or troublemakers – many of them had had a very rough time, caused by complacent overconfidence, inexperience, incompetence and probably an unwillingness to properly invest in managing the event outside the park. The issue for the CIC is how to be a good neighbour, and how to build up love and support for the park and museum, which it needs now and will need even more in the future.
Previous articles on these events can be found here: