Reviewing the Lovebox Festival, August 2019

On 8th August an audience of local residents and others listened to a presentation which reviewed the 3-day festival and suggested improvements for next year.

The audience across the three days was 84,052 paid-for tickets and 2444 free tickets – total 86496. Last year the overall total was 110,915. This decline may suggest that the experience in 2018 had not been good enough to attract a capacity audience again. Also there are many similar events in London’s parks and open spaces, and plenty of competition. The organisers have proposed an earlier festival in June next year on the grounds that it might make it easier to attract the top performers – this year they may not have got the best headline acts. There were plenty of comments on social media suggesting the event was a bit lacklustre with high additional charges, with tough security coming in for particular comment. What we don’t know is whether this audience regards the exiting arrangements (mass herding into Acton Town station with the street packed with a slow moving crowd) as off-putting in comparison to other London events. In 2018 the organisers claimed that the crowds had taken between 70 and 90 minutes to disperse to the point of being able to reopen Gunnersbury Lane. If the trains arrive empty and leave full, Acton Town can move around 20,000 per hour towards London late in the evening.

There were 31 arrests and 29 complaints about noise, very similar to last year. and 361 people were given medical treatment. The bulk of the 140 “contacts” (by phone and email) were about traffic, noise and anti-social behaviour. Some of these could be dealt with easily; for example, Jackie Sear the Community Manager, explained that floodlights near the houses on Popes Lane had been turned round after complaints when they were first installed, and additional stewards were sent to any area where they knew there was a problem on the Sunday. While the organisers claimed that these low numbers were a sign of success, the alternative view is that local people don’t complain because they know it won’t make a jot of difference. Also, it was clear from the comments at the meeting that, despite some publicity, people find it hard to know how to complain effectively. The noise complaints map showed a spread in a wide arc west, south and east of the park, whereas advance information about the event is circulated to residents west, north and east of the park. The loudspeakers in general all pointed southwards. Some of those present said that the noise had been much better managed this year.

The organisers claimed that improved stewarding had been successful. The attempt to divert the crowds to Ealing Broadway up the North Circular Road had been rather ineffective, though the residents of the shortest route via Elderberry Avenue had certainly had difficulties with the numbers of pedestrians (and late on each evening with traffic and taxis collecting festival goers). Some participants at the meeting said that things outside the park had been better organised this year, particularly with rubbish collection and some aspects of traffic management. A few said they were prepared to put up with noise and difficulties since those taking part really enjoyed it and the income helped make the Park and Museum sustainable.

Others gave accounts of difficulties of one sort or another, particularly the failure of communication on residents’ parking permits and too few traffic stewards who could not manage difficult drivers. The notices about the E3 bus routes from TfL were inaccurate and unhelpful. There were also comments about aggressive driving by delivery contractors (after a complaint, one contractor had then been told their driver was no longer going to be admitted to the Park) and work going on until 2am and resuming at 5am which gave Lionel Road residents a bad night’s sleep. The Lovebox representative apologised for failures in traffic management which he recognised had caused difficulties.

From our (the Friends) direct observation on the Saturday the impact on the hinterland of festival-goers carrying on partying, and the roads clogged with traffic, with drivers using their horns in frustration, meant that there was more noise later in the evening than there had been from the loudspeakers. Mamaco rejected any responsibility for this. The taxi/uber exit (junction of Lionel Road and Pope’s Lane) was slow and poorly managed and added to the congestion in the neighbouring streets. Throughout all of the three days, online traffic maps showed the northbound North Circular from the roundabout to Popes Lane as completely congested.

The CEO of the Community Interest Company was asked why Mamaco had been given permission to put on these events without the whole process having gone out to tender. He explained that the first event (2018) was an agreement between Mamaco and Ealing and Hounslow. Mamaco described that as their “inaugural” event. After that event the CIC was in a position to negotiate and made a five year agreement, on more favourable terms, of which 2019 was the first year. He therefore confirmed that there had not been a tender process and that these events would continue until 2023. He stressed the financial importance to the CIC. When asked about the press report that Lovebox was negotiating with the City Corporation to move to Wanstead Flats, he said he knew nothing about it, and the Mamaco representative stayed silent.

At the earlier Big Conversation meeting, participants were told that in 2020 the Lovebox/Citadel Festival will be on 12th, 13th & 14th June.