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Summing Up – Luke Hasell, 42

Summing Up
15 February 2018
Valley Fest 2017.

Interviews with festival founders

Farmer Luke Hasell founded Valley Fest after a fundraising event following his father’s death and the diagnosis of his mother with cancer. Now entering its fifth year, the 5,000-capacity event, held at The Community Farm overlooking Somerset’s Chew Valley Lake, aims to reproduce the ethos of a family-friendly Glastonbury, reinforcing its commercial longevity through partnerships with local businesses. Attracting headliners such as Huey Morgan, The Stereo MCs, The Blockheads and Jose Gonzalez, the festival is one of several businesses linked to the farm.

 

What prepared you for the task?

“Before I inherited the farm, I was a project manager for construction business Kier Group, managing £100 million building projects, which prepared me to run a festival. I have the farm, a wedding venue, two butchers’ shops, organic meat and veg delivery schemes, and two restaurants in Bristol. My main passion is sustainable farming, with field-to-fork principles running from the butchers to the restaurants and events.

“I went to my first Glastonbury in 1989 and have been to every one since. Glastonbury will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s so crazy and magical. But it is so enormous, which can be daunting for some, especially those with young kids. I wanted to create a smaller festival for people like me, with a family, low key, laid back and completely inclusive. I also love Shambala [15,000], whose crew works so hard and operates like a family – that makes it special and that’s what we aim to achieve.

 

How did you make it all happen?

“I started with a small one-day music event in 2007 after my dad died and my mum was diagnosed with cancer. I had eight weeks to organise it and raised £12,000 for charity – it was bonkers and such a thrill to do. After both my parents had passed away, I had a responsibility to share what they left behind with as many people as possible. The first proper festival took place in 2014 but again, I only gave myself eight weeks. My mates sold 20 tickets each and we used Facebook to let people know. We had some circus acts, two stages, farming activities as well as the music. Previously I had organised Eat Drink Bristol Fashion [daily attendance around 1,000], a food festival in the centre of the city, which provided an excellent learning curve for me.

“I paid for it myself and it was very stressful but it all came together. We attracted 900 people in the first year. The Community Farm was born and the festival was established with the tagline, ‘Get on my land’.”

 

What has made the festival a success?

“My vision has always been to link the festival to the farm, raising money for charity and the future of organic food and farming.

“Although I invested in the very first event I had to collaborate by selling partner tickets in the second year. We simply wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them, but we are discerning about the partners we work with. They include food and drink businesses Yeo Valley, Pukka, Tideford and Orchard Pig, plus cosmetics brand Weleda and The Soil Association. They have to fit in with our brand and all food has to be organic.

“The partners buy tickets and have a presence on site plus use the tickets for marketing activity. This works really well for us and they all help put on an incredible festival.

“I started booking local artistes on my own using the MySpace website. People were very responsive and it was easy. As it grew we took on a music programmer, John Blakeley of Ear Trumpet Music, who is incredible. In 2015 we had Huey Morgan of the Fun Loving Criminals, who brought along [former James Brown saxophonist] Pee Wee Ellis.”

 

What have been your highs and lows?

“We had a hairy moment in 2016 when the new Bristol Downs Festival [30,000] announced Massive Attack the same weekend as us. There was a fair bit of rain that year, too, but we got through and it was a great festival.

“Last year’s event with Jose Gonzalez was a real goose bumps moment, and the team who make it all happen are incredible.

“I’m happy with what we’ve achieved but there are always ways to improve and enhance what we’re doing: we are still building the brand. Nobody can ever rest on their laurels, not even Glastonbury. I really want to reach more people with Valley Fest and would love to take the event to other places, particularly London, to communicate how we can make the world a better place through food.”

 

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