Willow Festival organiser hits back with 2,815 word response to Peterborough City Council after critical letter

The Willow Festival
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The organiser of the Willow Festival has issued a 2,815 word response to Peterborough City Council after it released a letter criticising his behaviour.

Mark Ringer has defended his actions after the council accused him of “abusive behaviour” and claimed its involvement in previous years had stopped the police from closing down the festival at the last minute.

It also claimed it had put £100,000 into the event in 2012/2013.

The council has stopped the three-day music extravaganza from running at the Embankment in July due to what it says is the non-payment of a £4,500 fee to hire the land, a point disputed by Mr Ringer who says the council is refusing to accept the money as it does not want the festival to go ahead.

The incendiary letter, written by Councillor Janet Goodwin, cabinet member for city centre management, culture and tourism, was sent to councillors then forwarded to the Peterborough Telegraph.

It makes a series of accusations, including:

* That “in 2012, it was discovered an hour before the event was due to open that the security cover was inadequate. The police objected to the opening of the event with this inadequate coverage. The council immediately stepped in and arranged for more security cover at the council’s expense to ensure the event opened safely.”

* That “in 2013 on the day before the event was due to open, the police threatened to demand a review of the licence due to insufficient security cover for the event which was in conflict with the numbers promised in the plan submitted by Mr Ringer to the Safety Advisory Group who oversee the safety of the event. At this point Mr Ringer irresponsibly walked off site and said he had cancelled the event, leaving the businesses and concessions uncertain about their position. The Chief Executive, Annette Joyce, Mr Ringer and Mr Ringer’s business partner met the next day, as a matter of urgency, and the council agreed to pay £10,000 to employ extra security cover.”

Cllr Goodwin concluded: “Aside from the safety concerns and the considerable efforts made by the council to secure this event with a considerable financial contribution, Mr Ringer’s abusive behaviour has not created the kind of trusting and respectful such as these a success as well as safe for families and children to attend.”

A furious Mr Ringer, who had just read the letter to councillors, said he would consider legal action against the council for misrepresentation.

He stated: “It’s an absolute disgrace, I can’t believe it. It’s just a whole load of fabrications and I’m totally stunned they sent it.

“I’m writing to councillors now saying I strongly disagree with the letter.”

Issuing a fuller and more detailed response on Facebook, Mr Ringer claimed his success with the festival was now paying dividends for Peterborough.

He said: “So I was instrumental in making the city a place where other promoters may wish to stage events, and that is what happened. The concerts on the Embankment that followed were as a direct result of our successes in making Peterborough and the Embankment site an attraction for promoters.

“Indeed the very promoters that staged most of these shows wanted to buy The Willow Festival from me back in 2003 and turn it in to a commercial event, but I refused to sell it to them on the grounds that it was here for the city, not for anybody’s personal financial gain.

“So it was much to do with my efforts that brought the city the opportunities it now has regarding commercial exploitation of large scale music events on the Embankment, not the current council teams. The Willow Festival put the venue on the map as it were and the current council team are now reaping the benefits of that, so I have succeeded in my goals.”

Responding to the claim about the lack of security in 2012, he stated:

* “We had made depositions to the police for some time that what was being asked of us was overkill and totally unnecessary regarding our security presence. Our very experienced security company set the levels of security cover they felt was more than adequate and they agreed with us and supported our depositions.

“We were under the impression that all was fine until a late demand for more security by the police was brought to us. This wasn’t in the last hour, but the day previously.

“We again tried to make our case and so did our security firm, but to no avail. The council did indeed step in and pay for more security, but as far as I am aware this came out of our allocated budget and I wasn’t privy to how the council spent the funds allocated to us.

“In the end, we were right. The additional security was indeed overkill and not required.”

Mr Ringer then defended himself against all other accusations, before turning his attention on Cllr Goodwin.

He added: “The suggestion by Cllr Janet Goodwin that we only apply minimum safety requirements to our events compared to other organisers is frankly insulting. We have achieved a fantastic record of safety with very high consideration for public health and safety issues, as is borne out by the fact that the council have even adopted our own security firm and approach for their own events now. This was a ridiculous statement by Cllr Janet Goodwin and ill informed.

“I have also been accused of being abusive? It’s true I have lost my cool on occasion, but that was also borne of frustration at being treated like an idiot at times and by the continual lack of proper input and support from Peterborough Council. The financial support for two years was simply fantastic, but the officer support was dreadful.”

The Willow Festival, which showcases local artists, is being billed by the council for the first time this year as the event is charging for tickets.

The council, which previously provided funding for the event, states this makes the festival a commercial venture, a point disputed by organiser Mark Ringer who says the event is not-for-profit.

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