Firstly, and most importantly, all of us at HIF hope that you and your loved ones are well.

We are writing in the midst of the biggest pandemic in modern history with twofold purpose; to let you know how the team at HIF can help you over the coming weeks, and to share our story of how this has affected us as an arts charity.

From age old storytelling traditions across the world, to folk songs and cave paintings, it’s clear to see that as humans we have always relied on the arts to make sense of life’s constant changes. This is especially true in challenging times such as those we see today. Our current challenges will surely pass. We will need the arts long after the COVID-19 pandemic has become just another story we tell.

The Coronavirus outbreak will be proving a lonely and difficult time for many of us, whether or not we have symptoms. We want to do everything we can to support our audience and our town as we all deal with something that’s never happened before.

The arts can be a balm in troubling times; bringing calm, community and support when it’s most needed. Our message to you is that we are still here (albeit in arts-based isolation). If you need support, whether that be someone to talk to, need some food/medicine picking up, some books to read, or help if you’re having to self-isolate, please don’t hesitate to contact us – we are here for you and will keep our phone lines open for as long as we can. Call us on 01423 562303.

Over the coming weeks we’ll be rolling out several exciting online programmes on our website and across social media. We’re looking at streamed performances, audio listen-alongs for literary and crime writing events from our archive, behind-the-scenes content, book-based lesson ideas for children, activities for little ones, and lots more to keep you entertained.

For now, our reality at HIF is that in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of our forthcoming events over March and April have been cancelled.

As an arts charity, it’s incredibly hard for us to close, and extraordinary circumstances such as this pandemic have serious financial consequences for us. The delivery of our Festivals and livelihood of our employees are reliant on the income we raise from ticket sales and sponsorship. Without our events there is no ticket income, and this puts us, along with many other festivals who work to very tight budgets, in a grave situation. We will now be ever more reliant on donations and the generosity of our audiences as we endeavour to safeguard the survival of HIF.

To further explain, HIF, along with other cultural organisations, relies on a mixture of ticket and sponsorship income, alongside the generous philanthropy of donors and funders, and for many years we have been grateful for that incredible support enabling us to become part of the cultural fabric of Harrogate.

What makes us unique as an arts charity is that we have no confirmed year to year funding from Arts Council; no guaranteed financial cushion. This means that our reliance on the income we gain through selling tickets (48% of our income against a national average of 25% of income) and sponsorship (23% of our income against national average of 4.4% of income) is significantly higher than other arts organisations. In times of calm we must raise more money than other arts organisations simply to exist and deliver our work, which in reality means that we are more at risk during this crisis.

A particular worry is that our main season, therefore our main income generating time, is between now and mid-July, right in the centre of the pandemic spike. In short, this challenging time of uncertainty and closures comes at the exact point and over the three months where we raise the funds to deliver 12 months of work. The unfolding crisis is therefore taking an unprecedented toll on our resources and is impacting our ability to continue serving the community; indeed, its continuation threatens our very existence.

The funds we raise each year through you, our kind supporters, and audiences, allow HIF to create a wide range of year-round events festivals for the town and wider district, including 72,000 visits to free to access events and 33,000 tickets sold creating over 100,000 personal live arts experience. Garnering along the way national press coverage celebrating our fabulous town worth millions. Most importantly, it allows us to create an arts and cultural offer that is fun, vibrant, and life changing, whether you’re a young parent or a young at heart octogenarian.

We recognise that this time of uncertainty affects everybody differently, but if you are in a position to help us remain a vital part of the community and continue to change lives with our work, we would be enormously grateful. We are working on ways for HIF to survive the financial impact and will of course be contacting our supporters and sponsors and audiences, along with looking to government for support. However, there are still many unknowns, which is why we are asking for help now. If you are in a position to and would like to support us, please do donate here.

When this crisis subsides, we are going to need culture more than ever to lift the spirits, bring joy, revive the community and to look forward to the future, and we thank you for your support.

Our story at HIF is part of Harrogate’s story; the story of music, literature and arts; of world class events; of the young mum who just needed someone to believe in her; and perhaps, our story plays a place in your story with memories, experience and moments that bind us together. We hope that this crisis will be just a chapter in our story and with your help look to safeguard the future of HIF so we can continue to play our part locally, nationally and internationally.

We know that we are by far not alone, with other arts organisations, small businesses, and even the regions newspaper struggling during these times, and we hope that out of this uncertain time a stronger community can blossom.

Whatever your response, we send all our best wishes for the coming weeks. Thank you for your support of Harrogate International Festivals during these challenging and unprecedented times.

With very best wishes,

The Festivals Team