Lovebox declared huge cultural success

The Lovebox and Citadel festivals have received rave reviews across the board in everything from the NME to the Daily Telegraph. ‘Summertime magic’; ‘dazzling headline show’ were some of the comments. But some residents have complained about the noise from the festival, the litter left behind and the general inconvenience of it all. Conservative Councillor Joanna Biddolph has now attacked Gunnersbury Park’s new management company, demanding a ‘shake-up’ of the management even though they’ve only running the park for less than three months.

I went to meet the PR for Gunnersbury Park a couple of weeks ago at their new outdoor café. As we sat down to our tea she was accosted by an elderly man demanding to talk to her about the rights of local residents. ‘I’m important’ he said; ‘I used to be a councillor’; ‘I know the local MP and I can cause a lot of trouble for you’. This was the first inkling I had that there was trouble brewing. His beef was that his friend had not been able to follow the regular route of her morning walk because the gate she usually used was closed off for contractors working for the Lovebox festival. ‘Ignore residents at your peril’ said the self-appointed residents’ spokesperson.

 

Reviews in the Guardian, NME, Independent and Daily Telegraph

David Bowler, CEO Gunnersbury Estate CIC answers the criticisms

Some residents have been up in arms about the Love Box and Citadel festivals restricting access to the park, leaving litter, people parking where they shouldn’t, excessive noise, a line of portaloos lined up along the pavement… and hundreds of young festival goers were left stranded when they couldn’t get on the last train from the nearest tube station on Sunday night. So, a few lessons to be learned undoubtedly, not only by the new management company which has just taken over the running of Gunnersbury Park, but also by TfL and Mama Festivals, the organisers of Lovebox and Citadel.

But now Chiswick councillor Joanna Biddolph has escalated the issue with an attack on the management of Gunnersbury Park. ‘Gunnersbury Park Management needs a shake-up’ she writes. Accusing them of ‘acting secretly and high-handedly and without concern for local residents’ her press release continues: ‘Councillor Joanna Biddolph urges Gunnersbury Park CIC to establish a formal community consultative committee so local residents and relevant organisations have influence’.

Interested to hear the management’s response to calls for it to be ‘shaken up’, I talked to David Bowler, CEO of Gunnersbury Estate CIC. He pointed out that he and his team of 15 had only been in possession of the keys to the estate since 1st May, since when they have successfully reopened the museum “we had to hump all the contents up the stairs to the upper floors by hand because the lift didn’t work” and overseen a major festival in which 110,000 people visited, without any damage to the park, to the satisfaction of the police, the emergency services and the two councils who oversee the park and many local residents, some 1,000 of whom received free tickets to enjoy the weekend.

Left: David Bowler. Right: main stage at Lovebox

Artistically Lovebox and Citadel have been a huge success. They were surprised and pleased to see five star reviews in the Telegraph and the Times. He made no apology, he said, for meeting his remit of making the park a venue of broad cultural appeal. Nor would he apologise for hosting a hugely successful commercial event. Ealing and Hounslow councils provide 40% the park’s running costs. The majority of the money needed to keep the park in the shape in which residents would like it to remain has to come from trading. This is the first time he’s had any money in his account.

On the teething problems complained of, he said these would be discussed at the ‘wash up’ meeting so they could learn lessons for future events. On the involvement of residents, he said it had always been their intention to have a residents’ forum, an idea to which he personally has committed the park’s management company at numerous public meetings going back many months, and which they will address in the autumn. Why hasn’t he done it before? “We’ve been busy” he said, “but I think it’s rather early on to be discussing whether we need a shake-up; we’ve only been in situ for twelve weeks. Judging us at this early stage is premature.”

When I rang the press officer for Gunnersbury Park to ararnge the interview, they hadn’t heard anything about demands for a ‘shake-up’ of Gunnersbury Park management by Cllr Joanna Biddolph because they hadn’t received her press release, so it came as news to them. “We’ve had a good week” she said, slightly bewildered. “Lovebox was a real success”.

And that’s the point. The reviews were glowing: ‘Consistently one of the finest festivals in London’ – Time Out. ‘Childish Gambino and Pharrell Williams steal the show’ – Independent. ‘Childish Gambino stole the show with a passion and vigour that brought old and young together in wonder’. But what about the impact on residents? “I met an elderly couple of residents in their eighties” says David Bowler, CEO of Gunnersbury Estate CIC, “who absolutely loved it. Young people kept asking them for a photograph and asking them why they were there”. “I’m coming back” the man told me “to see Infantile Gambino”.

Broad cultural appeal

‘Residents’ includes the whole community, not just older people who like to take a stroll in the park, or parents with push chairs or dog walkers, says David Bowler. He has a remit from the two councils which hold joint responsibility for the park, Hounslow and Ealing, that Gunnersbury Park should be utilised as a “broad cultural venue” for all to enjoy. “West London”, he says “has a dearth of entertainment for young people”. Their remit is to put on “popular” as well as “highbrow” events for the whole community. “We felt on balance it went well.”

Commercial success

His other remit is to make the park a commercial success. While Ealing and Hounslow councils provide 40% the park’s running costs, he has to find the balance through commercial activity, just to keep the park as it is. “We have to manage 72 hectares (185 acres) and 22 Grade 2 listed buildings for some 600,000 people with a staff of 15. This is our first year of trading. All the money from the Lovebox and Citidel festivals will be spent on the park and in this first year we just want to pay our bills and get to the end of the year.” They have been asked to develop education programmes for the two boroughs and plan on setting up a ‘fighting find’ to restore the small mansion and stables which were not part of the restoration programme for the main house. “The festivals money comes nowhere near the £5-7 million needed to repair those Grade 2 listed buildings.”

Disruption

What about the disruption to people who regularly use the park? “Part of the park was already fenced off because we have a very large sports development being built”. The £13.9 million sports hub will provide locals with affordable access to a multi-use sports centre and gym, two external floodlit artificial grass pitches, new tennis courts, cricket and football pitches. The Lovebox site was next to the sports construction area. “For two weeks Lovebox amplified the number of routes not open. Most of the park remained open and if we host Lovebox again next year this won’t be an issue as the sports complex will have been completed”.

As we spoke the articulated lorries were moving in for the next big event, Secret Cinema, which will use the same site as Lovebox, but cover a much smaller area (an arena catering for 5,000 people instead of 40,000). David Bowler warns “the Yellow Gate will be closed periodically for much of the next year as we move 17,000 cubic metres of earth”, but he promises the sports facilities will be worth it. “It will be one of the biggest sports facilities in West London”.

Damage to the park

“Our grass is yellow, but so is everyone else’s. I was worried about the grass being gouged up but Lovebox laid so much track way, costing many thousands of pounds, it was like a temporary road way and there was no excessive compaction… They are an extremely professional organisation”. “When you think that we had 110,000 people through here in one weekend, a lot of them quite young and some of them falling down drunk even before they entered the park… there was no damage, no windows broken and only 20 arrests. They respected the park”.

The events were overseen by a Safety Advisory Group comprised of TfL, the Metropolitan Police, the Ambulance Service and Fire Brigade, Lovebox organisers Mama UK and Hounslow Council as well as Gunnerbury Park Estate CIC, who planned for everything from the timing of the traffic lights on the north circular so pedestrians could cross, to the potential for a terrorist attack. “I spent all three days in the control box with the MPS and the police were extremely reassured by the low levels of arrests”.

Excessive noise

There were complaints that the festivals were too noisy and that they could be heard by residents over a wide area. “They heard it but there’s a difference between that and the sound limit being broken. It was not. We had remote monitoring in the back garden of a local resident in Lionel Rd and the festivals stayed within the noise limits demanded by the council’s environmental health and monitoring staff, who were there.”

Rubbish

“They did a really good job of litter picking … eventually. It was a bit slower than I would have liked; they were still doing it on Monday and Tuesday, but there were no substantive detrimental effects.”

Parking

“We had a public meeting with Lovebox and residents. The festival organisers said the vast majority of their audience came by public transport. Residents still wanted parking restrictions, so they respected that. There was a suggestion from the floor that they issue parking permits to residents in a similar way to the Mela festival, so they replicated that. But the strength of any of these schemes is only as good as the individual marshals employed. They had hundreds of staff and it may have been that individual marshals were performing at their best. I’ll be raising the issue with Lovebox if we decide to do it again, but they’re reasonable and pragmatic people.”

Festival goers ‘kettled’

There was fury from some of the festival goers who found themselves ‘kettled’ by police for up to an hour, many of whom then missed the last train home. “It was the festival organisers’ choice to have one single point of access and egress and it was decided that Acton Town was the best option, but this was all discussed by the Safety Advisory Group. There’s a little bit of ‘he said, she said’ but Lovebox say TfL cancelled two earlier trains which meant that there were too many people to get on the last train.”

Did the festival finish late on Sunday night?

“The festival actually finished five minutes early but security held the crowd leaving because there was a danger of crushing. It was the festival organisers’ decision. I criticised them because there was not enough information as to why people were being held. Maybe they could have put up electronic screens so people could read the information and understand why they were being held. But that will all be resolved (as regards planning for future events) when we have our next Safety Advisory Group meeting in September.”

Residents’ involvement in decision making for the park

“There is a broad commitment for transparency. We were only given the keys on 1st May. We’ve had to install and train staff to open the museum on 23rd June (a date set previously by the two councils). That’s been all consuming. It was a very tight deadline and we only had a functioning lift for two days before opening, so there was a lot of additional physical work. That’s been our main focus. Then we were straight in to preparing for Lovebox and today the lorries are arriving to set up for Secret Cinema.”

What about transparency?

“In the autumn we will look at how best to set up a Park Users Forum. We need to consult with park users and we should include park users, including students and youth groups, teenagers and 20 year olds.”

The Gunnersbury Park Estate CIC has only been in existence for a year. “Until the recent local elections the two councils had a joint advisory panel and we were summoned to take questions about Gunnersbury Park. Post-election, that panel has been dissolved. The councils decided it was no longer needed, having created a CIC (Community Interest Company). The councils are no longer managing the park as it devolved to a CIC.” There are three council wards bordering on the park. “I’m dealing with two councils, three wards and nine councillors from three political parties. New councillors have been elected and they’re thinking ‘why can’t I go to a panel and scrutinise the running of the park?’ They want me to recreate it.”

Whether local councillors will be involved or other local representatives has yet to be decided and will be decided by the CIC’s board of seven members in consultation with the councils, but says David Bowler, involving residents is something that has been on the table for many months. “They will get something in the autumn.”

The councillors for Turnham Green ward in Chiswick are all Conservative whereas both councils are Labour. In answer to Cllr Joanna Biddoph’s attack he says “where minority party members are in situ, if you don’t have power you need to use your influence where you can and often opposition councillors are critical.” In response to her demand for “shake-up of the management of Gunnersbury Park” he says “I think it’s rather early on to be discussing whether we need a shake up; we’ve only been in situ for twelve weeks. Judging us at this early stage is premature.”

Next big events in Gunnersbury Park

Secret Cinema events will be taking place in Gunnersbury Park throughout August. The ‘hipster mini-village’ will be deconstructed by 7 September.

The Mela festival will not be taking part in the park this year, but in Southall Park instead.

David says they are hoping to bring the Diversity Dance Group with Ashley Banjo (winners of Britain’s Got Talent 2009) to the park in October. Lovebox next year? Maybe. Not decided yet.

Lovebox and Citadel festival headliners 2018

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Lovebox ‘settled into its new home’

See also: Lovebox and Citadel back next year