HebCelt Inspires Far Flung Festival Ambitions

By Reporter, The HighLand Times, Friday May 18 2018

Pictured: The performance area in front of a temple in Sha Lo Wan.

The success of the multi award-winning Hebridean Celtic Festival has made it a model which is inspiring other community-rooted events on the other side of the world.

This summer, organisers of HebCelt, in the isle of Lewis, will welcome representatives from an economically-challenged Hong Kong village who will hold an inaugural festival this year to help regenerate the area.

A fact-finding visit is also planned by an academic keen to learn how to make festivals in a maritime area of Australia more community-inclusive and sustainable.

The delegations aim to draw on the experience of HebCelt, which is being held for the 23rd time this year in Stornoway and other parts of Lewis and Harris.

The festival is a not-for-profit charitable event firmly rooted within its community and is almost entirely managed by voluntary effort.

It has grown from a small gathering attracting less than 1,000 fans, to an international showpiece which welcomes an annual audience of around 16,000.

In that time, it has generated well in excess of £20 million for the local economy.

The festival has won a number of awards, including five in the last few months for its economic, cultural and environmental success and is a strong promoter of the Gaelic language and culture.

Its success has impressed the 50-strong population of Sha Lo Wan, a village in Lantau Island, Hong Kong, which will hold its first music, dance and drama festival in November.

To prepare, Dr Vicki Ooi, artistic director, and Oscar Fung, of AFTEC (the Absolutely Fabulous Theatre Connection), will travel to HebCelt for a meeting arranged by Steve Taylor, an environmentalist and economic development advisor who specialises in developing and implementing sustainability projects.

Steve has worked with major events including T in the Park, the Lake of Stars Festival in Malawi and Glasgow’s 2014 Commonwealth Games Festival.

His involvement with HebCelt includes helping it to become the only Scottish festival ever to win an ‘outstanding’ Greener Festival award.

He said:

“We discussed a large number of festivals in the UK, but the one the villagers were most interested in visiting was HebCelt.

“It was the event that stood out for them in terms of cultural and economic development.”

Sha Lo Wan is accessible only by foot and ferry and suffers from depopulation and a fragile economy. 

Nearby, the once quiet village of Tung Chung became a new town and is now home to more than 25,000 people in high-rise buildings near the airport and on the metro line.

A Disneyland resort, built on Lantau Island, is served by its own metro line.

“Sha Lo Wan has kind of been forgotten about”, said Steve.

“The villagers wanted to do something to regenerate the place and decided on a festival.

“Hopefully it can be a catalyst to bring people into the area and develop it as a cultural hub.

“They have been impressed with what HebCelt has achieved and want to see for themselves how it works and how it has helped people appreciate traditional culture and make it an asset.”

The Flight FEX Festival from 3-4 November is expected to attract about 1,000 people in its first year, with the help of free tickets sponsored by the Hong Kong Government.

Meanwhile, music teacher Dr Adam Hardcastle will also travel to Stornoway in the hope of applying HebCelt’s success to small community festivals in the border region of Victoria and South Australia (known as the Green Triangle) where festivals are held in communities with populations ranging from 600 to 30,000.

The trip is funded by the Churchill Fellowship which helps people travel overseas to gain insights to assist communities.

He said:

“The reputation of HebCelt’s balance of local and 'outside' music suggests it would appeal to local people and visitors.

“This balance is obviously paramount in sustaining a regional music festival.

“I am interested in volunteer structures, funding models, partnerships with tourism bodies and local councils, logistics in an unpredictable climate, popular/folk genre balance, peripheral attractions, economic benefits to Stornoway and surrounds, and the festival experiences for musicians and fans.”

HebCelt director Caroline Maclennan said:

“We will be honoured to host the visitors from Sha Lo Wan and Australia and hope we can provide them with some inspiration and practical help.

“Starting or running a festival is a daunting prospect, particularly in a remote or rural setting.

“But with ambition, determination and the help of volunteers and community it can be a richly rewarding way of stimulating the economy whilst promoting local culture.

“HebCelt’s success is fundamentally down to its grass-roots support and we are happy to pass on our experience to other community-based events.”

The 2018 HebCelt will be held from 18-21 July and will be headlined by Deacon Blue, The Fratellis, Eddi Reader, Skipinnish and Roddy Woomble.

Day tickets are available exclusively from the festival website.

See www.hebceltfest.com



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