Concerns raised over accommodation for Billingham International Folklore Festival performers

Armenian dancers perform during at Billingham Folk Festival
Armenian dancers perform during at Billingham Folk Festival

A festival which hosts acts from all over the globe has been criticised for the accommodation it offered to its performers.

Billingham International Folklore Festival (BIFF) has been held in the town since 1965 – with more than 20,000 international artists from almost a 100 countries coming to Teesside.

But troubles with the event infrastructure sparked Stockton councillors to hold a review into trying to improve its lot and find “longer term solutions” for the event.

The council finished its review into BIFF last year, but members of Stockton place select committee have kept tabs on its findings since.

Coun Bill Woodhead paid tribute to veteran organiser Joe Maloney who died late last year, saying: “He put his heart and soul into it.”

But the councillor said he didn’t think the accommodation offered to performers was very good on the back of visits to the site.

Coun Woodhead added: “I thought they were awful (cabins).

“They were cabins – the sort of things they put freight containers on.

“It was those and inside it was sectioned off with a clothes line and just a curtain.

“They were cold – I didn’t think they were habitable – for a human being anyway.”

Stockton Council provides the festival with £60,000 every year with money topped up from Arts Council England, Billingham Town Council and a raft of other sponsors.

BIFF has used a variety of school buildings and temporary structures to house their artists in recent years.

But the authority review found changes to the ownership of the former Campus School sports block, in Marsh House Avenue, changed how much space festival organisers had to house acts.

The probe urged organisers to consider using either John Whitehead Park or the former college site on Sidlaw Road to put performers up for the week – if funding was available.

However, officers told committee members the authority didn’t have much power to influence the event.

Olga Maloney, the festival’s artistic director, said Stockton Council organised the festival village and cabins last year.

She added: “We are extremely grateful for all the continued support from the council – accommodation in cabins at the festival village in 2018 was quite adequate – better than in previous years, as all the cabins were very clean and fit for sleeping accommodation.

“We received no complaints from the groups.”

BIFF is the largest traditional international dance and music festival in the UK.

In 1970 it became one of eight founder members of the International Council of Organisations of Folklore Festivals and Folk Art (CIOFF).

It is due to take place from August 10 to August 18 this year.

Alex Metcalfe, Local Democracy Reporting Service