Fears for future of Portsmouth’s beer festival as event postponed

HAPPIER TIMES Shep Woolley at last year's beer festival
HAPPIER TIMES Shep Woolley at last year's beer festival
Portsmouth & Southsea railway station by Andy Cooper

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THE FUTURE of Portsmouth’s annual beer festival is under threat after this year’s event was postponed for being a financial risk.

Portsmouth Cultural Trust, which took over the running of the city’s Guildhall on April 1, has decided to axe this year’s real ale celebration, which was due to take place in mid-August.

But organiser Shep Woolley fears this could lead to the event going the same way as the Southsea Show, which was cancelled in 2006.

The trust had said it would honour any bookings made at the venue before it took over.

But in an email to Mr Woolley, Claire Looney, the culture transition project manager, said: ‘Clearly the beer festival is organised in a very different way from all the other events and activities in the building.

‘We have decided that instead of rushing to get everything in place for an event in 2011 we would like postpone this year to work on something – potentially larger – for 2012.

‘I do understand that there is a risk in losing momentum with the beer audience but feel that this will allow us time to explore all options fully.’

However Mr Woolley feels that if the festival is cancelled this year it will prove catastrophic.

He said: ‘When I first heard that a cultural trust was taking over the Guildhall I was concerned that the beer festival would go the way of the Southsea Show, but I was told it would keep all the events on.

‘There are people who rely on that weekend. We have a lot of suppliers and organisations involved. I’ve had to tell them at short notice now that they’re not wanted, which hasn’t gone down well.

‘It’s something that people have had in their calendars as a regular fixture, and if we break that chain, they’re going to go elsewhere. It’s very sad. Very disappointing.’

Up to 3,000 real ale fans come to the event, which has been running for more than 30 years. And although its profits dropped from £8,000 in 2009 to £3,800 last year, it also helps raise thousands for various local charities.

‘Altogether we’ve raised about £20,000 in the last seven years for various causes and we’ve never had any trouble,’ said Mr Woolley.

‘We’ve turned Portsmouth beer festival into a nationally-recognised event. People come from all over for it.’

Council leader Gerald Vernon Jackson, who is also on the board of trustees, said: ‘I will work with the beer festival organisers and the Guildhall trust to try to make the festival happen. If there is a worry about financial certainty, then maybe we can do something to help.’