The recent Southern Reporter article about the Borders Book Festival headlined ‘Event Costing Taxpayer Less’ (October 27) was welcome in that it congratulated the festival on managing well the funding support it receives from Scottish Borders Council, Visit Scotland and Creative Scotland.
These grants are very important and while it is right to comment on their level, the piece did not tell the whole story, or indeed the most striking bit of the story.
The Borders Book Festival is enormously popular both with local people and with visitors.
In 2016 there were 25,377 spectator admissions, a substantial increase on 2015’s 22,300.
More than 100 sessions were staged, another increase, and our Schools Gala Day broke attendance records with 1,920 children from Borders nurseries and primary schools joining in the fun at Harmony Garden.
And a new set of events organized by young Borderers for their peers was premiered. Older spectators flowed in huge numbers through the gates of the gardens to listen to the likes of Frederick Forsyth, Gregor Fisher, Celia Imrie, Evelyn Glennie, Nick Clegg and many others.
Media coverage of the festival was at an all-time high with segments on Radio 4’s Open Book, articles in The Times, BBC New Online, The Herald, The Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday. And the Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction, sponsored by the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch, was given to Simon Mawer at the festival and it has grown into one of Britain’s premiere literary awards. With all its coverage, the book festival carries the name of the Borders far afield.
The events at Harmony Garden are also enriching: they add colour, sparkle and stimulus to the lives of Borderers who come in their thousands to listen to Jim Naughtie report on the US presidential primaries or Mike Rutherford talk about Genesis and his life in music or Sally Magnusson and Kirsty Wark talk about writing and publishing.
The economic impact of the festival is also very substantial as in only four days the total spectator spend is £1,762,696.
This creates and sustains jobs as well as having a year-round impact in raising awareness of what our beautiful region has to offer. Scottish Borders Council contributes £25,000 to the costs of the festival, and we are very grateful for that help, but a return of £1.7m shows that far from being a burden on the taxpayer, the book festival is in fact a huge benefit – in many ways.