It was standing room only at the public meeting in Athboy on Tuesday night when representatives from Body & Soul arrived to address feedback arising from the annual festival at Ballinlough.
The 2015 festival reached its capacity of 10,000 with tickets selling out nearly two weeks before the gates opened. As a growing annual event, each year presents new challenges for the organisers and some of these inevitably impact on the residents and businesses that live or operate in the surrounding villages and towns.
Avril and her team reassured those at the meeting that they are concious of the impact that the festival has locally and that they are keen to work with residents and business owners to develop the festival as a positive fixture on the local calendar for all who live and work in the area.
The key points from the meeting are summarised below.
- It was acknowledged that changes need to be made to the traffic management plan which is drawn up each year in conjunction with An Garda Síochána.
- Production traffic is currently routed from the north end of the festival site (via Clonmellon) while public traffic is routed via Delvin.
- It was acknowledged that the processing of vehicles as they enter the site needs to be improved. The number of security checkpoints at the site will be doubled in 2016 and it is expected that this will vastly improve the flow of festival traffic in to the site.
- Local residents suggested some further enhancements in this area, and the festival team have taken note of these to assess whether they can be implemented.
- It was pointed out that a number of campervans broke down on route to the festival site and caused obstructions and delays on the approach roads. The organisers are working to identify a solution – possibly by opening a separate gate with approach route for these vehicles to filter them out from general traffic.
- A drop off / pick up area for taxis will be considered for 2016.
- Naturally a festival on this scale will involve some noise but a concerned parent (representing a number of families) queried why music was permitted to continue until 4am.
- As a weekend camping festival, the organisers are permitted under their license to provide music until this time. Electric Picnic was cited as an example of a festival where music continues until 5am on each of the three days of the festival. Body & Soul is conscious of the impact it has on local residents and did not want to replicate that here.
- Music on the main stages at Body & Soul ceases at 2am on the Friday & Saturday and at midnight on the Sunday. With 10,000 in attendance, the organisers need to ensure that there is entertainment on site for those that want it – hence there is ancillary entertainment in different areas of the festival site for these people after 2am. It was pointed out that to end this option would risk the possibility of festival goers exiting the site at all hours causing safety issues. It could also mean that the festival itself is no longer viable.
- As required under their license, an independent acoustics consultant is on site during the festival to monitor noise levels. Avril Stanley (festival director) pointed out that permitted noise levels have not been exceeded in the lifetime of the Body & Soul Festival.
- One final point on this matter is that the direction of the wind plays a major role on the impact festival site noise has on local residents. Some living just meters from the site were unaffected by site noise, while those living miles away could not sleep! Again, efforts are made to control the impact of noise but wind direction is beyond the control of the festival team.
- In 2016, any resident that experiences what they consider to be unreasonable noise disturbance should call the Resident’s Hotline so that the matter can be investigated on a case by case basis.
Impact on Residents and Business
- The owners of businesses in the Crowenstown area reported that their trade was severely impacted by the festival to the point that they may as well have been closed. The organisers will address the matters with individual businesses on a case by case basis.
- A representative of the Athboy Traders Association reported that the town needed to be considered in traffic management plans so that local businesses in that area could also benefit from the additional trade opportunities presented by the festival. The organisers will work to ensure that Athboy, Clonmellon and Delvin are given equal consideration in future plans.
- A neighbouring resident pointed out that a 17 acre field being used as a car park was also being used as an impromptu camp site. There was no issue with this in practice, but organisers have been asked to provide additional portaloos in this area – for obvious reasons! This will be done.
- Any resident that lives on the perimeter of the festival site is encouraged to contact the Resident’s Hotline if they feel that additional barriers or fencing is needed to protect their property. A number of residents at the meeting mentioned that the festival team has been very responsive to their own calls and that others should do the same.
- The Resident’s Hotline which operates during the festival will be improved in 2016.
- It was reported that the festival had the lowest number of drug / drink related incidents across Irish festivals this year. Naturally, there will be isolated incidents but efforts continue to address these.
- If anyone is ever concerned about the behaviour or welfare of festival attendees in their area, they should call the Residents Hotline AND emergency services (garda and ambulance) as appropriate.
- This year, children from Crowenstown School participated in a tree planting exercise to mark Earth Day in conjunction with the festival team. Parents of children from other schools have asked whether they can be involved in any future activities such as this. This will be done in 2016.
- Anyone interested in having a trade stall at the 2016 festival is encouraged to monitor the Body & Soul website as applications will be opening soon. The application process is entirely electronic and all stalls are arranged months ahead of the festival.
- Finally, rather than attempting to jump the fences (!) volunteers are always welcome to get involved with the pre-event and live event activities in exchange for authorised free access to the festival. Approximately 250 volunteers are taken on each year and work approximately 18 hours each (spread over three days). The roles are assigned according to the skill set of each volunteer and cover everything from general labour to stewarding, supervision of exhibitions, information points and many, many more. Application forms will be on the Body & Soul website nearer the time.