OneFest: Sandra Bhatia

Festival founder speaks...
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Most festivals claim to have a community feel, but few are actually prompted by a relationship with the surrounding community.

Prompted by the Barge Inn Community Project, OneFest is the exception to the rule. Starting life at HoneyFest, the event grew out of a BBC docu-soap which followed Sandra Bhatia as she adjusted to village life.

Somehow managing to pull the event off, the re-titled OneFest returns this weekend (April 14th) with a new name, a fresh location and a packed bill.

ClashMusic got on the phone to the festival MD to discuss how the festival was coming along - and whether she would go back to village life again.

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You’ve lived in the village for a year, with the project intending to see if you could sink or swim. So: did you sink or did you swim?
Do you know what, I almost sank before Christmas! I said to the TV producer I’ve got to go, I can’t handle it.They were like no, no, no don’t do that! As they were half way filming through the documentary! It was the pressure with the locals that didn’t want the festival initially that made me feel that way. You can’t blame them, they thought Glastonbury was landing on their doorstep!

They held public meetings against it as the villagers thought I was turning up to drop a grenade on their peace and tranquility. At one point, I was climbing the walls as I’d never lived in the middle of nowhere before. The original festival was going to be a winter festival with Seasick Steve performing. He even drove down on his camper van have a look at the pub and see where he was playing... and to meet the locals! Unfortunately (and almost predictably) the weather was so bad before we had to postpone it till April. Also, we lost Steve’s performance because he was going to be in America..

The April event got pushed to the wall in terms of licensing as we had 17 objections! Myself and Graham attended the hearing and luckily, we won. All of this (weirdly enough) was documented on this BBC One TV series, so a few people saw it. The festival acted as an advert for the Barge Inn to demonstrate that it was a nice place to bring your family and friends. Not the previous local people made a point of avoiding. Honeyfest really amplified that message showcasing it’s new personality (and facelift!). It was just a lovely day.

One of the things I wanted to ask you is how this festival has spread back into the community. I mean, you say now the community has embraced it in a way, but have you noticed a positive effect on the village?
I said on camera ‘the festival won’t happen again’. I had to kind of honour that promise, I didn’t really have a choice and it certainly didn’t matter whether it was a success or not, I had made that promise in front of four and a half million people AND it was on tape! There was nothing I could do. So when the news broke that the festival was happening again and that I’d moved it people started complaining asking why I had moved it away from Honey Street!. I couldn’t believe it!

It’s just one of those things: guilty until proven innocent. Everyone enjoyed it so much in the end they wanted it within the village, but it was too late at that point. Engaging the local community is at the top of our priority list because of the way it was born out of Village SOS and the Barge Inn Community Project (Social Enterprise). Honeyfest was pretty volunteer heavy and we also made a point of using local suppliers and local food producers wherever we could. The first event also generated quite a lot of revenue for the local economy.
B&Bs booked up, campsites full, the local pubs were all busy.
That felt quite nice as a local business helping other businesses,
We now have relationships with other pubs asking them to take bookings for our punters.

We have tried to recreate the same thing this year. So we still have the Barge-Inn pub campsite – and even though we have moved the festival from it’s original home, the Barge-Inn Community Project we still have the important relationship with.

So they’ve got a shuttle bus running back and forth to the site, have special events at the pub during OneFest, a full campsite etc. It’s a bit of a OneFest weekend for them. Sound Knowledge, (local independent music shop) we use as a local ticket outlet. The guy who runs it has great rep in the area. We also still sell tickets from the Barge-Inn, along with a local discount, we try wherever we can we try to act community / local minded. To be honest, we couldn’t not! Because of VSOS! We have a duty to continue that thread. We have still got the Big Lottery Fund on site and our Barge Inn Community Project will also be present. We’re just a little festival, with good intentions and a big heart!

Is there a lot of local produce available?
Yeah, we’ve got lots of local food and other surprises on site!
We also have local traders selling non-food stuff and a variety of activities going on including a sports day!

You’ve got a battle of the bands as well, how that been going; has it stretched on throughout the year with various heats?
The first time round we had the Battle of the Bands. Mainly because a lot of young people in the area told me there was not much opportunity for local talent other than heading into Swindon. It was a great chance to compete for the main stage at Honeyfest to perform in front of a large audience and some industry people I have to say we were kind gobsmacked by the level of talent. We also held it in the local village hall to keep it quirky! Although we opened it out more genre wise and there was some great stuff. We had people applying from all over the country this time.

When did work on this year’s event start?
Honestly, when the last event finished we thought that was it.
When I finished Village SOS, I had never worked on an event with such incredible feedback. I said ‘we can’t not do this again?!’ So, I went back to Steve and Graham. We’re an unlikely team, but we work really well! Steve and his artist bookings and hes been in the industry forever. Graham’s done amazing production work and he’s smart with figures, and then there’s me… I have a great deal of respect for them both and they are incredibly good at what they do.

Being a promoter is hard work, and like being a gambler! You don’t know which way it’s doing to go. But we had a brilliant head start because of the TV show and all the press we got from that.

When does the arena and the marquee go up? Is that going to be moment where it all clicks together this year, does that go up pretty soon?
Yeah it does actually. We’ll start putting it up probably a few days before the event and Graham will start work on the site probably five days before coordinating everything. This particular site is not enclosed like the last one, it’s very open. So we’ve got to falsely create the intimacy. But it’s in the most beautiful spot, so yeah he’ll be down there fairly early creating the site.

Damon Albarn is on the line up, which is a major coup. What’s that like from an organisers point of view?
Because it’s such a small event, it’s got to be the right act.
The Dr Dee opera is very English. Our festival and Wiltshire is the perfect backdrop and compliment for what he’s doing with Dr Dee. It’s slightly unusual and quirky and it’s exactly what we’re about as well. I mean, it’s amazing, he’s going to be on stage at Hyde Park two months later for the Olympics and he’s doing our tiny little festival just before! I think that’s the testament to how talented he is, because he’s like a Rubik’s cube isn’t he? He’s got so many different projects catering for different markets. Gorillaz, Blur, Dr Dee – Incredible. So yeah, really, really happy. Looking forward to seeing it, to be honest, I haven’t seen it before.

To finish with, I think I should ask a question that a lot of people have asked you, would you go live in a village again?
You know what, I think everything’s about timing and at my age and being single. It wasn’t the right for me…It was a wonderful experience and I learned what it was to be a part of a community by living there. My parents moved there though!


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OneFest takes place on April 14th.

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