Page last updated at 23:32 GMT, Monday, 15 June 2009 00:32 UK

Budging beach challenges Dragon slayers

By Simon Atkinson
Business reporter, BBC News, Kent

Setting up at Beach Break Live
"Do you think anyone will notice we're not in Cornwall?"

The sand has been laid, the chill out lounge is being decorated with beach balls and they are just putting final touches to the palm trees.

Meanwhile, a couple of roadies are carrying a huge amplifier to the main stage, whistling: "I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside".

With just hours to go until it officially begins, things seem remarkably calm given the imminent arrival of 10,000 students.

Barney Hooper, from the Performing Rights Society, says people still want music during the recession

Until a week ago, Beach Break Live was not due to be taking part in this Kent safari park, but rather, as the name suggests, on the Cornish coast, some 325 miles away.

But when Cornwall County Council controversially rejected planning permission for the event at St Agnes, organisers had the tough decision of whether to relocate or cancel.

"From a financial view, it might have been better to just scrap it, it's difficult to know," says co-founder Celia Norowzian, who is checking progress backstage, before darting to see how the entrance system is working.

"Festivals are a business, but they come with a lot of heart and creativity.

Celia Norowzian, co-founder, Beach Break Live
Festivals are a business but they come with a lot of heart and creativity
Celia Norowzian, co-founder, Beach Break Live

"It's hard to just look at it and say that it makes financial sense to pull the plug. The main thing for us is that the event goes ahead and that we do not lose people's confidence."

Lucky break

It is the kind of determination and spirit which would make established business tycoons proud.

And Ms Norowzian is no stranger to moving in these circles, having appeared on BBC2's Dragons' Den in 2007 with co-founder Ian Forshew - receiving four offers of investment in the festival.

The pair eventually plumped for financial backing from mobile phones entrepreneur Peter Jones, but after the show they pulled out of the deal, instead pairing-up with Outgoing, a specialist student event and travel firm.

And even without the enforced change of venue, they are operating in a tough industry.

Dozens of UK festivals have fallen by the wayside this summer and ironically, it was the failure of one of these that meant Beach Break Live did not become another statistic.

Red List Live was due to take place at Port Lympne Safari Park next weekend - until promoters scrapped it, citing the economic climate and the battle for customers with established local festivals.

Students at the festival
Most students were chirpy, despite the change of venue

But much of the preparation had already been done, including, crucially, a production plan addressing key issues including health and safety, traffic management and water supply - all of which has been used for Beach Break Live.

"If this hadn't been done there's no way in the world we'd have been able to pull this together so fast," says Ms Norowzian.

Profit warning

While the safari park technically has sea views, it is not quite the surfy, south coast environment that festival-goers had signed up to.

The man-made beach, hot tubs and those plastic palm trees - plus a skateboard ramp instead of surf beach - are all valiant efforts to bring a taste of Cornwall to the Garden of England.

But the change of venue and the resulting change of vibe - not to mention the lack of a Cornish pasty stall - is a real concern, Ms Norowzian says.

"It's a worry, given most people have signed up for a week by the sea. But we have a good relationship with our ticket reps who have sold the ticket in universities, and through them with our customers. Thankfully the majority of people say they're still going to come along."

A skateboarder at Beach Break Live
Organisers know how easily this year's festival could have toppled over.....

Attendance will be helped by free coaches or £15 towards petrol money for customers from the south west - a gesture Ms Norowzian admits will have a "terrible" effect on their profits.

But at least they have sold all the tickets - with the economic downturn having no discernable impact on demand despite a recent survey by the Chartered Institute for Personnel Development suggesting that nearly half of all firms will not be recruiting school leavers or graduates in coming months.

"Students are worrying about their futures and what's going to happen to them when they get out of university," Ms Norowzian says.

"But while they are at university, they have a lot more disposable income than people think and they are more focused on spending what they do have on leisure - going out and having fun."

'Like-minded people'

The festival goers seem to agree - many saying they were lured by the cost of the ticket, which at £84 for four days is less than half that of many UK festivals.

"For the money, the bands we're getting are just brilliant," says Lewis Griffith, 19, a drama student at the University of Northampton.

And doubtless the bar prices - with £2.50 pints of lager and alcopop deals of 'four for a tenner' - will go down as well as the drinks themselves.

"It's going to be a great week with lots of like-minded people, who are all up for a good time," agrees his friend Adam Javes, who studies law in Sheffield.

An on-site cafe
Not everything cornish has been taken off the menu

"The idea of having great bands and also chilling on the beach was a big part of the appeal, but we'd rather it was going ahead here than not happening at all."

Exams over

While students take up a hefty chunk of the audience at many UK festivals, this is the only large-scale event primarily marketed at them.

But though aiming at a single target audience could be "restrictive", being the market leader was making Beach Break Live a success story, says Justin Madgwick, co-director of VirtualFestivals.co.uk, a music festivals website.

"Where events are exposed by specific target audience restrictions is when a well-established event is already catering for that market," he adds.

Because of this target audience - who have now finished exams and lectures - it is one of the few music events held during the week, rather than on a weekend, something that brings advantages for the organisers.

Tractor setting up main stage
Setting up a festival site is tricky enough without last-gasp changes

Infrastructure from portable toilets to stages and mixing desks are more readily available and when it comes to cutting overheads, there is greater leeway for bargaining.

And while every weekend between now and mid-September is crammed with UK festivals, many artists are still available to perform during the week.

"That means we are more likely to get the artists that we want," says Ms Norowzian, adding that her main customers being students is also influential when it comes to trying to recruit big name acts - who this year include Dizzee Rascal and The Zutons.

Artists' management are keen to get their stars and up-and-comers alike to play, she says, because students are widely seen to promote the performers they like through word of mouth, as well as buying music, gig tickets and merchandise.

Security fears

On-site traders - who until a week ago had been preparing to set up stalls on the Cornwall coast rather than sharing a park with monkeys, tigers and lions - seem cautiously optimistic.

Emma Bray, whose HireATubUK firm has had the dubious privilege of providing the portable spa used by the Dingle family in Emmerdale, is confident their hot tubs can help make up for not being by the sea.

Judy Berger
Because of what happened, in a way, our expectations have lowered a little
Judy Berger, festival trader

"We've already got a lot of students hiring them for university parties, so they should be popular," she says.

Meanwhile, at the Affordable Vintage Fashion Fair - a collection of retailers selling clothes and jewellery - the mood is also upbeat, despite it being an unorthodox introduction to life as a festival retailer.

But they will have just eight outlets rather than the 12 planned for Cornwall, says manager Judy Berger, after some stallholders pulled out fearing that the last gasp changes meant there may not be sufficient security or that the infrastructure would not work.

"Because of what happened, in a way, our expectations have lowered a little, so if we make a bit of money then we'll be even happier than we would be usually," she says.

"But I'm an optimist and think they've done an amazing job to get it happening at all."



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SEE ALSO
Student festival is moved to Kent
10 Jun 09 |  Music
Student festival quits Cornwall
09 Jun 09 |  Cornwall
Search for music festival venue
09 Jun 09 |  Cornwall
Sponsors sing the festival tune
28 Apr 09 |  Business
Festivals spend despite recession
20 Mar 09 |  Entertainment
Festivals fight to boost bottom line
15 Apr 08 |  Business

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