On Sunday 4th September, at approximately 5pm, I was the lucky recipient of a bout of applause. Over 80 people showed their appreciation in the usual way for two-and-a-bit days of Gladfest, our now annual fixture where the brightest stars of the literary firmament come to Hawarden. If I do say so myself, that applause was especially well deserved this year. Gladfest has always been good but there was an energy about it this year that really made it one-of-a-kind.
I am not one known for turning down applause, but I would like to spread it about a bit. There are 32 people named on our Gladfest rota. It is a terrifying document. It takes three people four weeks every year to hammer it out, and another two people one week to proof-read. Seven columns take up four full sides of A3, and those whose names are inscribed have to hunt for their names as though searching for exam results. For perspective, those 32 names represent very nearly every single person who works here. People who normally work two mornings a week come in for a full weekend, those who work five days a week work all weekend as well. Increasingly, those who used to work here return from their new jobs where they also work five days a week. Every single one of these people give their all for Gladfest. We all work hard, and for weeks; I am just one of the very lucky ones who get to stand at the front on the day and be visible.
After I had taken my bow I asked the audience to give another round of applause to Peter Francis, the Warden here at Gladstone’s Library. He is the one who Grants Permission. When you are in charge of an institution that requires about a million pounds a year just to keep the doors open and has to earn every one of those pounds with a relatively tiny team, it is no small thing to permit a bunch of those team members to burn through about 2% of that much-needed income to put on a show. Speaking as someone who has spent the past four years submitting increasingly outlandish requests to Peter, I can report that he almost always says yes. The faith he displays is remarkable: the only proposal that’s garnered a flat ‘no’ was could we turn the basement into a Gladfest bar and nightclub, please?
Joking aside, a festival is a significant financial risk for any institution. I had no idea before I started to run one. Peter really is showing faith when he says yes. Professional equipment – staging that is tough enough to cope, audio that works well with hearing loops and the funny acoustics of wooden rooms, all-weather extension leads, marquees that don’t blow over – are eye-wateringly pricey. Almost every expense you can think of comes before the festival itself, and almost every piece of income comes during and after. Travel expenses, books for the bookshop, clipboards, teabags, recycling bins, posh portaloos, hi-vis vests…the Gladstone’s team spend the summer weeks with anxious eyes fixed firmly on the ever-growing list on the ‘debit’ side of the column, praying that the ‘credit’ side will come good. We mustn’t forget that Gladstone’s is a residential library that pays for most things with our residential income. It is an act of utter folly, therefore, to banish the paying residents and fill those rooms with speakers for the festival. Yet somehow it all does come good. Gladfest is the bumblebee of festivals – it works, but how?
Well, we have what must be one of the best festival audiences in the country. You are all fantastic, buying tickets and books, asking questions, drinking tea and eating scones. You applauded us on Sunday, but we’d like to thank you all too, for supporting us as we work to make Gladstone’s a stimulating, engaging, thought-provoking place to be; for its local community as well as its residential one.
Thank-you all, very much, from all of us here.
The Gladfest Team xx
Ps: Some of you mentioned you would like to support the festival going forward. You can do that by clicking here to donate. Or, those of you who might like to formally sponsor the festival can find out more here.
By Festival Director, Louisa Yates