FESTIVAL of Thrift organisers have confirmed the sustainable living event is to move from Kirkleatham, Redcar to a new home in Billingham next year.

Organisers said it was “time to move on” with the festival, which has been in Redcar since 2016 after originally starting in Darlington ten years ago.

The decision, however, provoked criticism of its current host, Redcar and Cleveland Council, with Alec Brown, the leader of the Labour group on the local authority, describing it as a “huge loss for the borough” and stating independents who form one half of a coalition with  the Liberal Democrats were “culpable”.

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There had been unhappiness among some at the council about continued financial support for the festival and what was received in return, as well as the council missing out on car parking revenue and providing staff on weekends to assist with the clean-up operation.

The Northern Echo:

Last October a motion – backed by among others council leader Mary Lanigan, an independent – was narrowly passed at the council despite opposition from the Lib Dems and Labour seeking that no further financial grants be provided for the festival without a full analysis of the costs and benefits.

Redcar and Cleveland Council, which gave organisers free use of the land and grounds surrounding the Kirkleatham Museum, had committed £70,000 towards this year’s event on September 24 and 25 along with support in future years and previously described the festival as “vitally important”.

Last year’s festival attracted 50,000 visitors with economic analysis carried out on behalf of the council suggesting that up to £2m was spent by them, while Councillor Louise Westbury, the Lib Dem cabinet member for climate change and culture stated there was a near 2000% return on the local authority’s investment from the positive financial impact.

Cllr Brown told the Local Democracy Reporting Service the move to Billingham in 2023, the exact details of which have yet to be confirmed, was a huge loss for Redcar and Cleveland and a step backwards for the borough.

He said: “Not only as a local councillor, but as a father, I spent many happy hours at the Festival of Thrift with my daughter, we built a den and did pottery.

“It is a unique offer which comes from many years of organising an event of that ilk and one that won’t be matched here again.

“Over the two days each year you only had to walk around to see the thousands of people there having fun, which had a knock-on effect on the local economy from the local stall holders and those travelling into Redcar once they’d been to the festival.”

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He added: “Without knowing 100% an environment of making the organisers feel unwelcome has probably contributed to the decision to relocate.”

Referring to the October motion, Cllr Brown claimed the ruling administration should have already done diligence on the festival.

He said: “After three years of being in power they should have already known the answers to what the motion was seeking, it’s quite scary that they didn’t.

“I know the motion did make the organisers feel unwelcome.

“The independent group supported it as a whole and they are culpable.”

Councillor Charles Brady, who represents the Kirkleatham ward for Labour, added: “I and many other residents will be bitterly disappointed by the news that the Festival of Thrift are pulling their event.

“I know there are differing views among the coalition partners about the Festival of Thrift.

“Sadly, it has been the case of certain councillors creating a hostile environment and now another event has been pulled from our town.

“I hope that in the not-too-distant future, attitudes change, and we can work together to showcase the best of the borough and do better for our residents to attract tourists from out of the area.”

The Northern Echo:

Cllr Westbury said: “The Festival of Thrift has been a fantastic addition to the events calendar in Redcar and Cleveland over the past seven years, providing residents and visitors with the opportunity to celebrate sustainability.

“We are fully supportive of the festival and had confirmed support this year and for a further three years for the period of 2023 to 2026. 

“However, we appreciate that the festival was always designed to be an event that moved around and whilst we are disappointed it will be leaving us after this years’ event, we are pleased that it will be staying in the Tees Valley and taking up its new home for the next three years in Billingham.

“The Kirkleatham site has provided a stunning backdrop for the festival and I am sure that the thousands of visitors to the festival have fond memories of past events, and discovering how they can make small changes in their lives that will add up to a big difference for the future of our planet.”

Emma Whitenstall Festival of Thrift’s executive director said: “Festival of Thrift is dedicated to shining a light on the Tees Valley, celebrating the area’s individuality and the strength of its people and the best way to do that is to move around the area and showcase the communities from within.  

“Redcar is in a great place with the Town Deal and plans for a new cultural hub and we feel the time is right to move on to another location. 

“The move to Billingham is in line with Stockton Council’s borough-wide events programme and a direct response to consultation carried out with residents in recent years.  

“The seven years we have spent in Redcar have been utterly magical and we will be very sad to leave Kirkleatham but we are extremely confident that we are leaving Redcar in a better place than when we arrived. 

“There is no other place that we would rather celebrate our tenth celebration and we look forward to welcoming everyone in September as we come together and share achievable and creative ways to make the shift to thrift.”

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It’s unclear what financial commitment Stockton Council has given to the festival, but when the festival moved from Darlington to Redcar and Cleveland, it was said the latter paid twice as much to secure it.

Festival of Thrift was co-founded by internationally-renowned designer Wayne Hemingway OBE, his wife Geradine, also an OBE, and John Orchard, chief executive officer of Lingfield Point, a business park in Darlington which grew out of a former wool factory and which held the first ever festival.

It has won national awards and also received financial backing from the Arts Council England and the Tees Valley Combined Authority.

The theme for this year’s tenth anniversary festival is ‘Our Common Wealth’ aligning with the 2022 Commonwealth Games, but also exploring in more depth what our own common wealth is.  

A fashion show ECOuture will also feature this year with a range of sustainable fashion outfits created by some of the UK’s up and coming young designers.  

To find out more about Festival of Thrift visit www.festivalofthrift.co.uk 


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