Cheltenham Literature Festival ‘not going anywhere’ despite funding blow

By Jon Smith, BBC Radio Gloucestershire • Sarah Turnnidge, BBC News, West of England

grey placeholderCheltenham Literature Festival Nicola Tuxworth, in focus, smiling to someone off camera, wearing a beige jumper and a pink lanyard, with dusty blonde hair and glasses on top of her head, surrounded by people out of focusCheltenham Literature Festival

Nicola Tuxworth said Cheltenham Literature Festival’s free family events would continue

Cheltenham Literature Festival is “not planning to go anywhere” after an investment firm withdrew its funding, a senior member of its team has said.

Baillie Gifford has ended sponsorship deals with a number of book festivals, including Hay Festival and the Edinburgh International Book Festival following controversy over links to fossil fuel firms and Israel.

Nicola Tuxworth, head of programming at Cheltenham Literature Festival, said: “We’ve been at the heart of this community for 75 years. We will be keeping going with our free programme.”

Baillie Gifford said is not a “significant fossil fuel investor” and have called claims raised by campaign group Fossil Free Books “seriously misleading”.

grey placeholderCheltenham Literature Festival A circus performer wearing long patchwork trousers, on stilts, on an abnormally large red bicycle that has a horn on its basket, surrounded by families and trees, on a park pathwayCheltenham Literature Festival

Cheltenham is one of nine literary festivals calling for support after the sudden loss of funding

Cheltenham is one of nine literary festivals calling on supporters for “increased support” amid the sudden loss of funding.

As a group, the nine festivals said their collective efforts had sold £1.5m of books, engaged 64,000 schoolchildren in free activities, offered 99,000 free or subsidised events and reached audiences across all 121 postcodes of the UK.

Baillie Gifford’s sponsorship funded activities and events for children and families such as author reading sessions and stilt-walkers.

Ms Tuxworth said the loss of investment was a blow as the festival was still recovering from Covid and securing funding from various sources was getting harder.

She added that the festival is committed to all its activities for its 75th anniversary 2024 event taking place in October.

“Last year we had 12,000 schoolchildren on site and we’re certainly looking at similar numbers again this year, probably more, which I think shows you how important it is that the festival carries on and they can access these top authors who can inspire children for the rest of their lives.

“Building the site costs about £1.2m and that’s before anyone has even booked a ticket or set foot in any of our venues, and 25% of our events are free.”

grey placeholderCheltenham Literature Festival A person sat at a table doing a book signing in a bookshop with long brown hair and a flowy red top on making a funny face at a smiling child holding two booksCheltenham Literature Festival

The 75th Cheltenham Literature Festival is being held from 4-13 October

Children’s author John Dougherty, who is set to hold a poetry event for 60 schoolchildren at this year’s festival, said outreach events were a “tremendous part of what any good literature festival would do”.

“When a kid sees an actual flesh and blood person there and realises ‘this is just a flesh and blood person, and yet they’re talking about the books they’ve written’, for a lot of kids that’s the moment at which they go ‘that could be me, I could do that.”

“I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say this sort of thing can help social mobility,” added the author from Stroud.

grey placeholderCheltenham Literature Festival A small table in a Waterstones bookshop stacked with books and a person holding a phone and a bag, standing at the tableCheltenham Literature Festival

Funding from Baillie Gifford supported Cheltenham’s entire free family programme

‘Inaccurate and misleading’

A spokesperson for Baillie Gifford said suggestions that it is a “large investor” in fossil fuels and Israel “is seriously misleading”.

They explained how the company is a “large investor” in several multinational technology companies, including Amazon and Meta, which, in the context of their overall business, have “tiny” commercial dealing with Israel.

They also went on to clarify it is also a “minor shareholder” in companies such as Airbnb, which have been identified as having “problematic operations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories”.

“These operations are small in the context of their overall business,” they said.

The company said activists were “painting an inaccurate picture and attempting to mislead the public”.

They added: “Only 2% of our clients’ money is invested in companies with some business related to fossil fuels.

“We are a private business managing other people’s money, not our own. Our clients set the parameters and determine what to exclude or divest.”

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