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WHAT DO YOU THINK? Dismay after organisers cancel next year's Lowestoft Airshow

PUBLISHED: 18:09 27 July 2012

The 16th Lowestoft Seafront Air Festival. 2012

B17 Sally B

The 16th Lowestoft Seafront Air Festival. 2012 B17 Sally B

Archant © 2012

THERE was shock and sadness in Lowestoft this week as the organisers of the town's seafront air festival announced that the event would not be taking place next year.

The second day of the 16th Lowestoft Seafront Air Festival 2012.

Picture: James BassThe second day of the 16th Lowestoft Seafront Air Festival 2012. Picture: James Bass

Despite attracting bigger crowds than any event in Suffolk, organisers have been left counting the cost of bad weather and a lower than expected turn-out on the second day of this year’s show.

The news was greeted with dismay by many in the town and by fans of the event across East Anglia.

But the gloomy mood in Lowestoft was tempered by the good news that it had won its bid to become Portas Pilot town – securing £100,000 for improvements to boost its main shopping areas.

Hopeful that the airshow might be salvaged, Waveney District Council leader Colin Law said: “It’s clear sustainable private investment is required and, as a council, we will do all we can to support the organising committee.

The 16th Lowestoft Seafront Air Festival. 2012

The TyphoonThe 16th Lowestoft Seafront Air Festival. 2012 The Typhoon

“The hard work of our economic regeneration team has helped secure investment in the town through the Portas Pilot scheme and we will apply all our know-how to this search for funding. Securing the Portas funding proved that we have something really worth investing in here in Lowestoft and I think the airshow is very much part of that.”

Confirmation that the airshow would not take place in 2013 was announced on Wednesday.

With this year’s event taking place earlier in the year – and over a weekend for the first time – to avoid a clash with the Olympics, 300,000 people attended over the two days, but only £85,000 was collected from visitors.

The organising committee said this was not enough to make the airshow viable next year – leaving them no choice but to cancel the 2013 event. They also admitted it was only because of a small, wet weather “contingency reserve fund” that all the costs for this year’s event could be met. But this left their reserves at rock bottom.

Paul Bayfield  with the Lowestoft Air Festival 2012 programme.   Picture: Nick ButcherPaul Bayfield with the Lowestoft Air Festival 2012 programme. Picture: Nick Butcher

Airshow managing director, Paul Bayfield, said: “It is with much regret and a lot of sadness that I have to report that we do not have sufficient funds to go ahead with an airshow next year. The event has been running for 16 years and has only survived that long because of the wonderful support that has been forthcoming. Unfortunately this year we have become another victim of the vagaries of the British weather.”

Mr Bayfield said he and his fellow volunteer committee members had know that bringing the event forward to June was a gamble, but they were keen to avoid a “fallow year” because “this might have meant losing momentum and more importantly our event-critical pool of volunteers” upon whom they depended.

The decision looks to bring a sad end to the event which began in 1997.

In 2004, a social enterprise company – Lowestoft Sea Front Air Festival Ltd – was set up to take over the two-day show, which had previously been run by Waveney District Council.

The second day of the 16th Lowestoft Seafront Air Festival 2012. Red Arrows

Picture: James BassThe second day of the 16th Lowestoft Seafront Air Festival 2012. Red Arrows Picture: James Bass

Despite the poor weather, this year’s show earned praise for the quality of its flying displays. However, finding the £300,000 money to pay for it has proved increasingly difficult for the organisers.

Prior the event, sponsors, advertisers and traders were urged to support it and a new initiative was launched, offering visitors a free event programme containing redeemable vouchers for a £3 fee.

An airshow spokesman said: “At the end of the first day we were on budget. However, on the Sunday we were victims of the worst of British weather with only around a third of our anticipated visitors attending.”

The final £85,000 collected was not helped by £80 in fake notes and £305 in counterfeit coins which had to be omitted, and the spokesman added: “All in all this has meant that we are not in a good place financially, as we will have insufficient money in the contingency fund to risk going ahead next year.”

Although the organisers are making no plans for a 2013 event, there are still hopes the airshow might be saved.

Mr Bayfield added: “We would still dearly like to think that a benefactor or a generous sponsor or sponsors would come forward –- but we have to be realistic and we need to warn all the loyal supporters of the dire situation.

“We have until the end of September, when bids for RAF aircraft have to be submitted – to find a saviour.

“We have sought additional sponsorship from both national as well as local businesses in the past without success – so reluctantly we have to bow to what seems to be inevitable – that this year’s airshow was the last.”

Airshow director Brian Hunter, who has responsibility for stewarding and volunteer support, said: “Although many members of the public will be saddened by this news, our thoughts must also go to our charitable partners who have, in rain and shine, provided vital help for the airshow.

“We are so proud to have had their commitment to the show over the years, and are pleased that we have managed to cascade back almost £250,000 to their good causes.”

Waveney MP Peter Aldous said he was sad to hear the news and paid tribute to Mr Bayfield and his team for putting on the “greatest show on the east coast”. He said: “I hope this is only an interim measure and that in future years it will come back in a different guise stronger than ever before.”

Mr Law added: “I have enormous sympathy for Paul Bayfield and his team, who all work tirelessly to put on one of the best outdoor events in the country, year after year. However I also know that they would never give up and I share their hope that the airshow can be saved.”

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