Literary Festival Changing Plans to Survive the Crisis

This is the week the Henley Literary Festival organisers would have been sending their programme to the printers but despite the lockdown restrictions started to be lifted they felt they needed to change their plans to ensure that the Festival can go ahead at the end of September however it will be primarily online and significantly smaller.

Founder and Director Sue Ryan said, “When lockdown came into effect in March, we had already been working for months with the aim of producing our best Festival yet and have continued to do so over the recent challenging months. The programme is ready, but sadly the dramatically changed world is not. Covid-19 has removed our anticipated income at a stroke and thrown our financial stability into crisis.”

The Prime Minster’s announcement about easing lockdown is welcome but it does not give any assurances that come September 29 we will be able to hold the festival we had planned. Our venues, understandably, cannot commit and there is no indication yet when the Government will allow big groups to gather indoors. It’s very sad because our unique selling point is our intimate venues. So our only option is to plan for a festival that we know we can achieve.”

There are some big advantages of taking the festival online, Sue explained, “We’re talking to some huge names who perhaps otherwise wouldn’t have come due to their geographical location.  We hope to announce the programme in two weeks time.  We’re signed up ten big names already.  It will be smaller (between 40-50 events).  Some events will still be book included events to tie in with their launch and these will be posted out beforehand.”

There will still be a printed programme which will be posted out to Friends and distributed around the town as previous years.  The prices for events are still to be agreed, some may be free with a donation button afterwards.  The other advantage of being virtual is that people can login from anywhere in the world.  The platform that will be used will also allow guests to answer questions.  Sue explained, “We think it will be in a way more interactive. If someone asks a questions, people can put a tick against this and we can see which questions have the most ticks and we’ll make sure this question is asked.”

Like all events Covid-19 has thrown organisations a financial curve ball.  Sue comments, “In the best of times we managed not only to break even, but also put a little bit aside to keep us afloat until income started to come in the following year. But these are the worst of times and even after slashing our spend – and most sadly having to make redundancies among our already very small team – the outlook is still bleak. In order to survive this crisis and produce future festivals in the future we need to raise significant funds. We know this is a hard time for many, but if you are in a position to do so we would dearly love your support at this crucial moment.We are proud of the contribution we have been able to make to the community over the last 14 years.”

Henley Literary Festival would welcome financial support for their future and invite people to become a Friend of the Festival for £35, £100 a Gold Friend and for £250 a Platinum Friend. Friends are the first to hear any Festival news and buy tickets, as well as enjoying discounts with their partners. And as a special thank you to those donating at this time, they are making three of last year’s highlights available to listen to: the inspiring Elif Shafak, Poirot star David Suchet and the frank and funny conversation between Telegraph columnist Bryony Gordon and Everyday Sexism founder Laura Bates. Friends membership can be found here.

If you do not wish to become a friend but would like to support the Festival you can donate here.

Sue added, “We’ve been truly heartened by the messages in the last few months from near and far letting us know how much Henley Literary Festival means to you. Your support at this time will mean that this special event can return in the form that we all know and love.”

More details Tickets will go on sale on 10 August 2020.


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