Lucan Festival – key steps to staging a successful festival.

Lucan weir, photo by Tom Dowling

Situated just 12km west of Dublin city centre is Lucan a rapidly growing town of just under 50,000. When I first arrived in Lucan close on 20 years ago, it was still a relatively small town with less than half its current population. Since then new estates have sprung up along South Lucan from Superquinn reaching down towards Liffey Valley. New housing brought many new nationalities and cultures to Lucan, today it has one of the youngest populations of under 15’s in the country. For a town growing so fast there were inevitable strains and one of the first to be stretched were the number of school places available. Politicians and planners were slow to respond and it fell upon the residents of Lucan to raise their concerns. It was around this time that I first became involved in the community; from there I got involved with many campaigns over planning issues and the lack of social infrastructure for Lucan due to its rapid growth. Many sporting organisations in Lucan t helped gel the newer communities together through sport, we even have a new vibrant Adamstown Cricket Club.

Conor Lambert’s, Custard Pie Puppet Company a very popular family event at Lucan Festival.

When I first arrived in Lucan there was a small summer festival which involved the Italian embassy, which was lovely but faded out. Culture plays a very important role in bringing people together and a local festival is a good way to encourage that. Efforts made to revive a festival in Lucan finally paid off when South Dublin County Council provided funds to run a small festival in 2009. A new committee was formed in 2010 and I took on the role of secretary, many local groups were keen to be involved and we encouraged the local business to support the festival. We were also lucky to have the support of CPLN Area Partnership which provided us with some funding to run cultural events for the minority communities in Lucan. With a small budget I also took on the role of finding a vacant business units where we could hold a week long arts exhibition, after some searching DNG estate agents provide us a 1st floor building where had 16 local artists display their art. With such a young population my focus was on providing a number of events that would attract families to the festival. Although I had never done a treasure hunt before, we succeeded in planning one hour event for the under 10’s with the focus on making them more aware of the history and environment they live in.

Sandy McKenna (far right) Press officer and volunteers coordinator, briefing volunteers before an event at Lucan Festival 2011

In 2011 following the success of the previous year, more volunteers came forward to join the committee and it gave the festival a new energy. The key to the success of any festival is volunteerism and our press officer Sandy McKenna was a real force when it came to getting people involved, and in training people for the various roles. With the festival growing it required a curator to develop a programme and link events with an appropriate budget, a daunting task but a role I was happy to take on. In my role I set up meetings with local politicians as the concern was that South Dublin County Council would not provide any financial support in 2011 at the same time I constantly updated local businesses of festival plans. I spoke with The Arts Council for advice on how to move the festival forward. It quickly became clear not only did we need a venue for our arts exhibition but somewhere that we could use also use as an office. Over the first half of 2011 I visited many other festivals around the country to see what worked for them and their structures.

JoJo and James transition year students from Lucan Community College at the Festival office, photo by Tom Dowling.

After a meeting with the Principle of Lucan Community College 2 transitions year students James and JoJo volunteered to assist in the office in the week prior to the festival. Both took to their roles in the office and other tasks like they had been involved with the planning of the festival for months. One of the big successes in 2010 was Cinemobile a mobile cinema theatre (truck) seating 100 people, which we set up in the car park of Superquinn and the support of McDonalds, with films from the very young to a special ladies night screening. In 2011 we extended it over 2 days selling out our Ladies night screening of Bridesmaids very early. There were many wonderful events over our week-long festival, from puppet shows and street entertainments for the very young to a tea dance for the young at heart, historic walks, crafts exhibition. One of the biggest events added to the 2011 programme was the Village Stage, with 8 performing bands on Sunday afternoon providing some local bands an opportunity to perform in their own town. None of these events would have been possible without the financial support of local business and Lucan Chamber.

South Dublin Lord Mayor, Catriona Jones and Tom Dowling curator, Lucan Festival at the official opening of the 2011 festival. Photo by Rachel Fox

A few pointers on staging a successful festival:

  • When a committee is formed preferable 8 – 10 members, get advice in drawing up a constitution which clearly outlines all members roles, the numbers of year’s officers can serve.
  • Keep proper minutes of all meetings with email accessible to everyone minutes should be issues well in advance of the next meeting and seek comments it will help make the best use of your time at the next meeting.
  • As with any organisation make sure you have a very transparent and efficient system for keeping accounts. As a voluntary organisation raising monies from local business and fundraising it’s essential to be account how that money is being spent.
  • Set aside one meeting, to establish a consensus what the aims and ethos of the Festival are and who is your target market.
  • Get insurance for both public liability and employers insurance for the year, remember you will be having regular meetings, fundraising, putting up posters ect.
  • Become a member of AOIFE Assocaitaion of Irish Festivals you will get advice, discounts on insurance and regular training courses.
  • No festival or large scale event can ever be successful without volunteer support, assign one committee member to coordinate volunteers roles for various events. Remember some volunteers may only be available at particular times or days, some may only wish to volunteer for particular events.
  • Funding is available through various state agencies explore all opportunities. Do your research before applying and tailor your particular event to match the agencies criteria. To receive funding from some it may require registering with Revenue as a charity.
  • Keep local businesses updated regularly on plans the festival, with a greater understanding of what the festival is about, they are more likely to provide financial support when you start fundraising.
  • Make sure both committee and volunteers are briefed on Health and safety issues related to the particular event.
  • If you’re going to seek road closures get in contact with the local Garda and the local authorities at least 3 month prior to the event and a notice requesting closure will have to appear in local papers.
  • Set a date to finalise both the number of events and the budget for the festival at least 12 weeks prior to the festival.
  • It has never been so easy to get information to the public, use all methods available, Facebook, Website/Blog, Twitter and email. However they key to success here is keeping all them updates and respond to peoples queries as quickly as possible otherwise people either un-follow or disengage.  Not forgetting the more traditional methods, issue regular press release to local papers and have a few members available to go on local radio. Be consistent in your message regardless who is representative is.
  • Working/Volunteering on a festival should be fun, it’s essential that that appreciation is shown to all those who gave up their free time to make the festival happen. Check out if there is volunteering centre in your area.
  • Following the conclusion of the festival it’s a good idea to reflect on what and who made your festival a success and build on that for the coming years. This should be an opportunity to address inefficiencies without attaching culpability.

Birds of prey event at Lucan Village green. Photo by Marketa Dowling

All festivals must keep reinventing itself each year, it must set itself new targets to achieve otherwise it will lose momentum, putting the same programme year after year becomes boring to those involved and those visiting. But the most important rule for every festival committee is to ensure everyone involved in the festival is having fun! For me personally I meet many good people who gave so much of their free time to make two wonderful festivals, which was my reward.

Tiger face_Lucan Festival 2011. Photo by Maria Svecova

Unfortunately a number of members from last year’s committee are unavailable this year (including myself) due to work, college or family commitments. Wishing the 2012 committee all the best as the finalise preparations for this year’s festival it will be a difficult task with a reduced committee and resources. This years Lucan Festival takes place between September 9th -16th

Festival brings people together creates a sense of pride in your neighbourhood, your festival – it’s unique it’s yours and can lift the spirits of everyone momentarily.

If you are planning to set up a festival in your area the contact the Association of Irish Festival (AOIFE) who have over 400 festivals registered with them. They can provide you with a range of documents covering all aspects surrounding festivals. They also run some good training courses through the year at various locations around Ireland. I wish the committee every success in planning future festivals.

Basket weaver at work during Lucan Festival 2011. Photo by Joe Houghton

© Tom Dowling 2012 photos credited including entries to 2011 Festival photo competition.

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