Friday afternoon was a bit of a weird one. We were just cracking open a beer with our departing interns and doing that thing where you go ‘God this time two weeks ago Culture Night was just getting started’ and then the phone rang…
By the time I’d hung up everything had changed.
The Tourism Events Fund has over the last four years allowed Culture Night Belfast to become one of the biggest nights in Belfast’s calendar and in 2014 granted us £30K representing one third of our annual budget. Now, two weeks after our most successful event ever, we’ve been told that this fund no longer exists. While it is damaging for all the 65 organisations who have been cut, it is catastrophic for Culture Night as we rely on this budget to manage the huge crowds we have managed to attract over the last few years. We can’t cut programming as we don’t do any, we can’t put up ticket prices as we don’t have any, this budget is the minimum required to run a massive outdoor event on the streets which is open to everyone. In short, we can’t deliver the event safely with a 33% cut.
So here’s some facts about Culture Night Belfast and what we do
- We received £30K from the NITB Events fund which represents one third of our £90K annual turnover.
- This investment provides a platform which other business and organisations use. The value of their additional programming is about £500,000
- We also receive about another £90K of in kind donations from local business.
- 50, 000 people spent just under £2,000,000 on local business on the night
- This does not account for the additional spend of the tourists who were in town for the weekend because of Culture Night.
- Nor does it account for the additional revenue generated after the event as people return to venues and businesses they discovered on the night
- 82% of our audience say that they attend new venues on Culture Night that they haven’t been at before
- 54% of our audience say that they are more likely to pay for the events in future as a result of coming to the event.
- This year of those we surveyed that were attending from outside of Northern Ireland 55% were from outside UK & Ireland
Now ask yourself this, ‘How many £30Ks in the DETI budget work that hard and deliver so much?’ If there are any I suspect they are fellow recipients of the NITB Events fund, or at least were. Nobody is saying we should be treated differently. No-one is saying that tourism events funds should be sacred. But to cut 100% from a fund that delivers so much both economically and socially is plain madness from a Department that should know better.
The macroeconomic argument for events is well understood, they encourage spend in local businesses, increase footfall to key areas and lift the image of a nation. But they are also vital for our social fabric; they improve our quality of life, connecting us with our city and provide safe shared spaces to build a community.
The one thing that both the political system and wider society can agree on is how events, both nationally and internationally, have lifted the image, mood and economy of this place over the past decade. To retrench on these events, forcing them to close or barely survive, is not just golden egg economics but also risks setting this place back a decade.
We are quite happy to stand toe to toe with others and demonstrate that we deliver on a business case. But we didn’t get to make this argument the decision was made without consultation or debate. I’d love to have had the chance to make our argument but now we’ve got a mountain to climb to save one of the most important events in Belfast.