Bognor Regis Herald — Opinion: Time for a major rethink on Town Events after low-par crowds at Birdman and Rox

This article may offend the die-hard supporters of the now-traditional offerings of Birdman and ROX. Now please do not mistake what is being said — we all surely support fun events in our town, mainly organised by terrific and hard-working volunteers, and the Herald supports use of public money to support these.

However, our Town Council, on which has descended the mantle of that support since Arun’s abject withdrawal from anything to do with events in the Town, has to take on board other pressing issues around events, the main one surely being using these as springboards to help the local economy, attract visitors who spend in our local shops and venues.

Over more than two decades the Town Council has indeed invested, the Labour contributed idea of Town Force has ensured excellent support and thousands of pounds have been invested in grants and that support.

The problem is that we have seen a decline in the impact (we avoid the word ‘success’) and this year saw that process further along the line with low audience turn-outs for Birdman and Rox. On the Sunday afternoon at Rox (one stage only and half a dozen stalls) maybe 300 people, and Birdman on the Saturday afternoon with the Air Display, not much over 500. When one recalls the heydays, of thousands, we have to query what next?

The organisers of both need to take this on board. Yes, Arun’s pull-out from Birdman doomed it years back, and the expense of Rox is well-understood. There is a lot of competition for meaningful sponsorship.

It’s long been a moan of traders away from the seafront that both events hardly impacted on them or even negatively. Yes, Shane at The Pier Hotel (formerly Cheers, well recommended by the way) can say he had a terrific result but walking along the Prom on Saturday one did not especially notice more people taking the stroll, when in past years the whole Prom would have been packed. Yes, it was busy but no more than a normal fine-weather weekend in August. That is not what it’s about, the idea is to draw more people into the Town. The old scenario of a l-o-n-g- traffic crawl in Longford Road did not happen.

Nor could one say that there was a huge increase in visitors in The Precinct and The High Street and one would like to know what stats the Town Centre Manager can produce as the inflow and outflow.

On ROX, a key event indeed, what can we say about the venue in Hotham Park? Well, Wrong Wrong Wrong. This was and should be a major seafront free festival, we have gone the wrong way by killing that siting. It was fine on The Prom and fine in the Royal Norfolk. One asks, what about the space in front of Butlins, also? Yes, we want to ameliorate noise to the best extent re impact on residents, but, hey, this is a SEA FRONT in a SEASIDE TOWN!

One certainty is that, with both events being where they should be, then the impact on the retail offer should be fully worked out. For example, as people stream down the Precinct, they need to be encouraged to slow down, browse, BUY, loiter. Then on your way to the entertainment. So, re those old charity shops, they slow the pace of the welcome visitor. It seems also a no-brainer to have a quality market in the Precinct for the same purpose and what on earth was that large space, the Place St Maur, doing EMPTY???? Events, stalls, sales, my goodness, missed opportunity and narrow tramline thinking!

Now, our Town Council’s role …. It is asked to stump up cash and support, as it should, but a proper Town Leisure Strategy would, re Events, cover/consider Best Value. This does not appear to be high on the priority list but it needs to come first. There will be arguments pro and con, but The Herald asks, would it not be better/more effective to designate, say, a two/four week period in late July/August as ‘festival/fun’ where the seafront and town centre are geared up with that aim.

So if the Town Council and various organisers worked together, we might see such a process say start with

  • Carnival
  • then ROX over a week with weekend stages, music/comedy in clubs, pubs, precinct, park
  • then a seafront fun event (maybe son of Birdman, for surely it has reached its sell-by, my son’s comment sticks with me, a free pass to Dignitas(! lol)
  • end up with Illuminations Gala
  • somewhere in all this, Proms in the Park, Folk Festival.

These are the weeks that count for this Town in terms of bulk of visitors.

What one would wish heartily to see is the sudden rush to Bogstalgia, “oh we always do this” “remember how it used to be” and its embodiment in the strapline used by the Town Council “Back to the best of Bognor”. Back???!!! Surely, better to say “Taking the Best of Bognor Forwards”, and The Herald freely offers that idea ….

The concentration into that period would enable the coordinated PROMOTION of the Festival and Fun Season so grieviously lacking in the currently competing-for-funds scramble by the various organisations. The coordinated use of funds by the Town Council and a coordination committee representing: Town Council, organisers, Town Centre Manager, Cinema (film component to The Festival?), Alex Theatre, traders etc.

Things cannot be justified to carry on as usual, the Town is seriously misfiring on its events, that decline has to stop along with Bogstalgia.

Oh, by the way, we need a Festival Radio Bognor in that period! A wonderful venture long-absent, that is taking the Best forward.