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The secret of Latitude's success

PUBLISHED: 09:40 13 July 2010 | UPDATED: 21:54 01 August 2010

Simon Parkin

Latitude has quickly established itself as a festival like no other - where poets and writers are given equal billing to big musical names. SIMON PARKIN looks at the secret of its success.

Latitude has quickly established itself as a festival like no other - where poets and writers are given equal billing to big musical names. SIMON PARKIN looks at the secret of its success.

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When the gates opened on the first ever Latitude Festival it gave “green” revellers a low-key antidote to mega rock gatherings.

With a couple of big names thrown in as headliners, the emphasis was on creating a family-friendly festival featuring a diverse array of art forms - everything from ballet to cabaret to literature - and showcasing up-and-coming talent. That first Latitude drew in 12,000 people.

Since then its doors have been flung even wider open to embrace every style of music and art imaginable, attracting some of the biggest names in comedy, literature and the performing arts and the footfall has this year increased to 35,000.

It has created an experience like no other, making Latitude one of the biggest events on the summer festival calendar, along with mainstays like Glastonbury and Reading. As for the setting, Henham Park Estate, near Southwold, surely rates as one of the most beautiful festival sites in the country.

So what's the secret of its success? The festival has all the right credentials. Firstly, it's run by a hugely experienced team - it's the brainchild of Melvin Benn and Festival Republic, the company which is also behind the Reading and Leeds festivals and takes care of the production side of Glastonbury.

Benn believes Latitude's success lays in its wide-ranging appeal to all ages and tastes. “In the first year we had very small numbers and people didn't know what it was,” he said. “One of the amazing things is that it has grown by word of mouth - people come because one of their friends has recommended it, and that's what really makes it very special.”

He said it was a very “inclusive” festival, in that it was a place where parents could take teenagers as well as toddlers.

Highlighting the vastness of the event's artistic spectrum, he adds: “If Latitude achieves nothing else it can say it achieved Chas 'n' Dave and the poet laureate on the same bill.”

Latitude has particularly managed to tap into a market that was previously not particularly well catered for: families. One of Sharon Reuben's roles is curator of the children's area. “I had to think on my feet the first year,” she says. “I hadn't done a children's area before - none of us had - and it was an unexpected addition. We were used to working on big rock festivals, but I was up for the challenge. I decided on two things - that I wanted to reflect the festival itself and create that same environment of art, theatre, music. And I wanted to make it really stimulating and engage children - there's no need to dumb down for kids. They respond well to being stimulated - you don't get that from a bouncy castle.”

Along with being as diverse as possible and open to families, Latitude also aims to be the greenest. In the past couple of years the organisers, whose quest to be green moves up a notch each year, have increased the number of compostable toilets, while last year for the first time all campsite generators ran on waste vegetable oil biodiesel.

They've also introduced a 20p deposit charged to customers buying bottled water, which will be refunded when they return the bottle for recycling.

Still if what's on offer didn't appeal, no-one would come, so getting the right performers is vital. So for Tania Harrison, who looks after the arts stages, taking in comedy, theatre, dance, poetry and literature and cabaret, the preparations never stop.

“It's a constant 24-7 job. I'm always looking out for interesting and exciting acts,” she says. “I'm constantly seeing films, cabaret shows, comedy and meeting people to find out what can and can't be possible at Latitude, see if it can fit in to the festival.

“I think there's definitely a place for a wide variety of entertainment. People have wide tastes - they like comedy, they like music, they like reading. It's just natural to put them into a field together.”

But sometimes the simplest things capture festival-goers imaginations. The festival's biggest trademark stars has become its coloured sheep. “Latitude really has become a focal point for the summer both locally and nationally,” says Benn. “I think it will be here for many, many years to come.”

t Latitude is held at Henham Park, Suffolk, from July 15-18. For information visit www.latitudefestival.co.uk

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