Cardiff to host a fence free festival

21 April 2016

Following its recent Council meeting, the Eisteddfod moves forward with its aim of holding the 2018 festival in Cardiff Bay. 

Billed as an Eisteddfod with ‘no fence’, it will be a different experience to the traditional festival held in a field.  Chief Executive, Elfed Roberts, discusses the challenges and opportunities such an Eisteddfod will bring.

“I think the word ‘experiment’ is vitally important when we discuss the proposals for the 2018 Eisteddfod, and personally, I’m excited at the prospect.  The festival was held in Cardiff in 2008, and even then, the Council told us they were keen to invite us to return in 2018, so it’s been on the cards since then.

“But many things have changed since 2008, not least the economy in Wales, and the partnership between the Eisteddfod and the Council will be very different this time.  The economic recession has hit local government across Wales very hard, and we continue to see its effect.

“Much work has also been done on the former site of the Maes in Pontcanna, transforming the land into the capital’s cricket pitches, and making it an unrealistic option for the festival.  Between rent costs and restoring the land at the end of the festival, we could be looking at a bill of £500,000, which we cannot afford.  We looked at many other options across the city, including a city centre festival, but again, the pitfalls outnumbered the positives.

“2008 may be less than ten years ago, but Cardiff has changed immeasurably during this time.  It has become a vibrant and confident capital city.  The Bay has developed as one of the social hubs of the city, and we believe that taking the Eisteddfod to the Bay is an exciting experiment. 

“Yes, there will be a different ‘feel’ to the festival, but we’ll be bringing all the events and activities visitors expect at the Eisteddfod to the Bay, and we believe that the wide and long roads of the Bay lend themselves well to being transformed into a well-equipped and welcoming Maes.  The Bay is almost a village within the city, and this will help us in creating the unique Eisteddfod experience and atmosphere which people love.

“Much has been said about the ‘no fence’ approach, and based on the information we currently have, we believe that this is the most practical option.  Many people live in the Bay, and we believe that erecting a high fence around the area would cause bad feeling and disruption.  But, a ‘fence-free’ festival does not automatically translate into a free Eisteddfod, and although the Maes itself may be free; we are still looking at a number of ticketing option which will be announced in due course.

“We are also looking at land for the caravan and camping sites, which we hope will be in a central location in the city, enabling our visitors to be close to the city centre and the Bay, thus ensuring the economic benefit the festival brings to be shared as widely as possibly across the city.  Our caravanners and campers are very important to us and we will ensure that we provide a safe and accessible site within the city which will appeal to them.

“The Wales Millennium Centre is regarded as one of the best performing venues across the whole of Wales and the UK and has an international reputation.  And they’re extremely keen to host the Pavilion and a number of our other events and activities.  It’s a fantastic opportunity for our competitors, and the response to the concept of competing on the WMC stage has been overwhelmingly positive over the past week. 

“The Eisteddfod is well-known for nurturing the performers of the future.  Hosting the competitions at the WMC will provide competitors and the audience in the hall and at home with an unforgettable experience.  Last time the Eisteddfod came to Cardiff, the WMC was a relatively new venue; by now it is well-established, and we want to make sure that our competitors and audiences have a chance to enjoy performances and competitions on its stage as part of the Eisteddfod in two years time.

“Although we may be saving some money by not building a Pavilion and the other buildings we usually have on the Maes, these savings will need to match any losses we may incur by not charging an entry fee to the Maes and any additional costs, such as security.  This experiment is not about holding an Eisteddfod ‘on the cheap’; it’s about exploring a new concept, using top quality venues and working to attract a new audience to the festival and the Welsh language in Wales’ capital city. 

“Many questions have been raised over the past few weeks.  Where will we put the tradestands?  Will it appeal to families?  The Bay has a long history of hosting a wide range of events and activities.  We will work with the Council and other key partners to make sure that we act on the good practice of some events and avoid the problems others have faced.  There will be ample room for tradestands, and staff are currently working on the first site plan, and we will be able to share more information later in the year hopefully.

“This decision is the culmination of months of preliminary discussions and detailed research, which included discussions with key stakeholders in Cardiff.  Their support for the Eisteddfod to return to the city was unanimous, and it was noted that iconic venues need to have an iconic role.  I believe that taking the festival to the Bay will provide this role.

“We want people to see this experiment as an exciting opportunity to try something different. It’s not the end of the Eisteddfod as we know it.  We’ll be hosting a traditional ‘field’ Eisteddfod in Anglesey in 2017 and in Conwy county in 2019, and the aim is to continue to have a traditional Maes as the Eisteddfod moves forward.  But we would be most unwise not to grasp this opportunity and hold the festival in one of the most iconic parts of our capital and country.

“However, without experimenting and trying out new ideas the Eisteddfod would have remained stagnated, rather than looking to the future.  The bar and the open air stage were experiments in their time as was the Tŷ Gwerin and Caffi Maes B.  It’s difficult to imagine a Maes without these areas now, and we will continue to experiment, evolve and develop over the next few years, making the Eisteddfod a festival worthy of Wales and the Welsh language in the twenty first century.”