Four years ago a small team of committed individuals, who at the time each operated venues in Greater Manchester, came together and set up The Greater Manchester Fringe Festival.
Beforehand, a number of bars and restaurants, large and small, provided spaces for live performance on an occasional basis with no real strategy of grouping them in anyway.
The Kings Arms, Taurus Bar and The Lass O’Gowrie, trail-blazed the initiative and invited a number of other businesses to join them in the newly named Greater Manchester Fringe Festival. In the end, some 12 venues joined and programmed approximately 30 separate performances encompassing theatre, music and poetry.
The inaugural event was totally self funding by applying a modest, nominal charge of just £10 to be involved, as well as an initial grant of £1,000 from the Manchester Council’s Leader’s Budget. A site and social media quickly followed and was shared to as many groups, venues and artists as possible, with the result that very quickly the festival had a ‘look’, a programme and now a burgeoning following.
PR expert Debbie Manley was engaged to organise opening and closing events and well known names such as Arthur Bostrom, Shobna Gulati and Justin Moorhouse became patrons. Photographer Shay Rowan also supported everything that required imagery.
“Thinking back, I have no idea how we managed to not only create the festival, but to programme it and then spread the word to thousands of people, all despite running our own businesses at the same time,” says co-founder Iain Scott. “We couldn’t afford marketing companies or media specialists, but we were able to produce a modest brochure and with Debbie’s help, also able to feature across a wide range of publications, both online and print.”
Fellow co-founders Zena Barrie, Lisa Connor and Gareth Kavanagh worked relentlessly in those early days to ‘cover all the bases’ ensuring that Manchester’s newest festival became firmly established in a busy, annual calendar across Manchester and Salford. As a result of all this hard work, year two doubled in size, again despite limited funding, with more venues coming on board and a building groundswell of the region’s artists, established and otherwise.
The momentum continued in year three and this year’s fourth festival is the largest yet. New support from Salford City Council, Crabbies and Manchester Car People has provided much needed funding, allowing this now ‘hungry baby’ to invest in key areas of promotion.
Scott says: “Our fourth festival has attracted some 30 venues across Greater Manchester and the programme now exceeds 100 productions and is still growing. It’s a great example of how a small, determined and committed team can create something creative from scratch, with no funds, limited time and not only help it survive, but to grow and flourish.
“We now have venues in Saddleworth and even a former Miners Club in Moston and are already looking to our fifth festival to expand further.
“With great, venue-driven initiatives like the giant Tim Burgess fringe installed at Albert Square Chop House recently adding another dynamic element, there is no stopping us as we look forward.”
By Helen Nugent
For more information about this year’s festival and details of what’s happening in the month of July visit www.greatermanchesterfringe.co.uk