Blackheath’s festival organisers speak out

Blackheath could get its own music festival in September if these three men get their way.

Tom Wates, Terry Felgate and Alex Wicks want to stage On Blackheath over the weekend of 10/11 September. Lewisham Council gave them permission last October – but the Blackheath Society is challenging the decision through the courts. Magistrates in Bromley will decide next month. Earlier this week, I spoke to the trio about their plans for the heath.

“If everyone spends £20, that’s £1m into the local area in two days – and that doesn’t happen very often.” For local businessmen Tom Wates and Alex Wicks, putting on a festival on Blackheath has been a long-held dream. “Everyone in Lewisham was really for it,” says Tom, who adds he spent two years talking to the council about holding a festival. “It’s something everyone thought was missing from the area, and they were pleased an outsider had come in with the idea.”

Their plan is for a two separate days of music on the area of Blackheath between the Territorial Army base at Holly Hedge House and Shooters Hill Road, with 25,000 people each day getting to see two stages of music. Hare & Billet Road would be closed for the weekend, and the TA building would be used for logistics to save space. Tom used to teach at Colfe’s school in Lee and now runs a business in Chislehurst designing school interiors and seating. Alex was brought up in Lewisham and works in sports event marketing. The third member of the team was introduced to them by a mutual friend – Greenwich-based Terry Felgate, who lives just off the heath, was involved in putting on Blur’s Hyde Park reunion shows and started out booking gigs at Goldsmiths College in the 1980s.

Together, they’re convinced On Blackheath will be something south-east London can be proud of.

“We’ve always seen the heath as an opportunity,” says Terry. “We want to establish a successful event that will benefit this area, and I think we can. Those events exist in parks elsewhere in London, like Clapham Common and Victoria Park. It’d be nice to have an event here, and the audience is here.”

But what kind of audience are they going for?

“Look at Latitude in Suffolk, that’s very much the sort of theme we’re looking at,” says Terry. “Left-field artists – things like Elbow, Mumford & Sons, Florence and the Machine – and then acts that are coming through – Noah and the Whale, Foals – that 6 Music side of things.”

“We wanted to back that up with a wider experience so it doesn’t feel like a mini-version of some other event, quite often you’ll go to festival and it’s the same food as the others. What we’d like to do is bring in as much from Greenwich and Blackheath as we can, so we’d have, say, beer from Meantime brewery.”

The festival won a licence from Lewisham in October, with the backing of four out of six members of a planning licensing board. “We were thrilled,” recalls Tom. “It was a fascinating hearing, very thorough, and there’s a 28 day period after that where objectors can appeal. The Blackheath Society appealed on the last day of those four weeks. But we have to crack on and organise it, so if the hearing goes in our favour, all we have to do is push the button.”

The resulting bad feeling has left the trio feeling a bit sheepish about the tongue-in-cheek name of their company – NIMBY Events – but Tom wants locals to hear their case.

“The first thing I’d like to say to them is ‘give us a chance’. We’re getting arguments that there’ll be hoodies coming up from Deptford or people will be leaving excrement in gardens.

“A lawyer at the hearing, who’s 50-odd, said every time he goes to a gig he wants to piss in someone’s garden afterwards. Well, clearly he doesn’t do that, and we think people of the age we want to attract are a little bit more mature. There’s lots of serious arguments about health and safety, but we’ve surrounded ourselves with experts in security and sound to answer their questions and more at every single point.”

If it gets the green light, On Blackheath won’t be the first big gathering on that part of the heath, as Tom recalls.

“Sometimes we hear, ‘they’re not going to be like those nice people from the climate camp.’ That was an illegal event, but now it’s ‘what a nice thing that was for the area’, because it helped local business and was good for the area.

“This is something that is legal, and we’re doing everything to ensure it’s a safe event that people can be proud of, and will be on the calendar like the fireworks which people look forward to every year.”

Terry continues: “I’d ask people not to be scaremongered – I hear people are saying it’ll be like Glastonbury on our doorstep. Well, Glastonbury’s 200,000 people camping over five days.

“There seems to be a misconception of what this is about – it’ll be two separate events with no camping. These events run in other areas – like Clapham Common has the Ben and Jerry’s event – and there’s no issue with people trying to camp. There’ll be a maximum of 25k each day, and having spoken to all those involved, including the police, they don’t see an issue with that.

“These fears that there’ll be riots and it’ll be out of control are unsubstantiated. A mystery’s been blown up – ‘who are these people?’ – well, just ask us.”

Greenwich Council did object to the event – the borough boundary lies a few feet to the north of the proposed festival site – although Tom feels that was because “Lewisham didn’t ask them their opinions”.

“The Blackheath Society have called up Greenwich’s policies on holding events, and they’re different from Lewisham’s,” he adds. “But they’re different councils, and we’re on Lewisham’s side of the heath. But we’re keeping out of all that, we’re doing what we’re asked to do and leaving the boroughs to it.”

Festival-goers will be encouraged to leave their cars at home, and Terry hopes On Blackheath will help change the perception that it is set in a hard-to-reach area. “It’s not. It always surprises people it’s 7 minutes from London Bridge. There’s so many ways of getting here now. I think the O2’s changed that. The site’s a 10 minute walk from Lewisham and Greenwich stations. People will be encouraged to come there, not via Blackheath station.”

But before any festival goer marches up Lewisham Hill, the trio will have to prove their case in a two-day hearing at Bromley Magistrates court from 3 March. In the meantime, a debate still rages about the festival. Whatever the decision, the huge costs of the appeal – with the Blackheath Society appealling for money through its members – mean the debate may well go on for a long time while afterwards.

Anybody who wants updates on the plans for On Blackheath can sign up via


  1. How much actually goes into the local economy with festivals like these though? Unless people go to the pub or for food offsite beforehand, most of the money tends to go straight into beer tents and burger stalls as people confine themselves to the site for the day.

    That’s an astonishingly dull, worthy selection of bands, but feels very Blackheath somehow.

  2. Personally, I am totally uninterested in the event as it just isn’t the sort of thing that excites me.

    However, I am increasingly irked by people who want to complain and block short term events that last just a few days per year.

    I wouldn’t particularly want a music concert on my doorstep, but it would only be for a couple of days – so I would just close the windows and accept it as an interesting (if irritating) diversion from the mundanity of life.

    I am quite literally blocked into my flat for most of the London Marathon as the roads are blocked off and there is no escape from the music and disturbance – but it’s only one day a year so I don’t protest and whine about it.

    We need diversions in life to keep it interesting. Even a bad trip on the train gives us something to talk about at work.

    Dear NIMBYS, please save your protests for long term changes that make a real difference to your life, and look on the 2-day concerts as a way of renewing your appreciation of the area after the mess is cleaned up.

  3. The Little London Fields festival was good and the sort of event that would be great for Blackheath as people can move in and out but I think the presence of a dance tent on the heath might be considered over the line for the council. Anyway it looks like NIMBY Events are going for something a bit more ambitious. Booking bands that people have heard of for one.

  4. The Blackheath and Greenwich societies are a disgrace. The amount of influence that they appear to wield is totally out of proportion to the size of their memberships. The appear to be retired baby boomers on a mission to maintain their privileges at the expense of the rest of us.

  5. Ah… what can we do about our Amenity Societies? They are fine with having our market ripped out of the heart of Greenwich, complete plastic roof and new granite floor, and a hotel that looms over the surrounding buildings. But Florence and the Machine represent the end of life as we know it.

    You couldn’t make it up.

  6. So gets this right. Greenwich Council think it is right to object to a two day festival (being held in Lewisham), but they thought it totally inappropriate to comment about Newham Council’s planning application to increase flights from London City Airport by 50 per cent, despite the fact that these flights will seriously impact on many Greenwich residents on a permanent basis.

    Crikey, they really do have the right priorities – not.

  7. Well said, IanVisits.

    As if all the absurd apocalyptic complaints about the Olympics weren’t bad enough!

  8. The Blackheath Society would complain if Wat Tyler wanted to hold a family barbecue on the heath. They have been trying for 50 years (or more) to get the transport cafe demolished, wonderfully without success.

  9. If Florence performs outdoors won’t there be some sort of Health & Safety issue with regard to her conflicting with the Woolwich Ferry foghorn?
    In all seriousness this sounds interesting. Going to be an eyesore for a few days though as I’d imagine they’re going to want to put up some fairly tall and sturdy fencing to keep the freeloaders out.

  10. I think it sounds great. I’d love to be able to go to an event like this right on my doorstep. Although – and this is a big although – they need to aim a little more left of left field with the music… you don’t need book acts as corporate and dull as Florence and Mumford to get 25,000 punters along to something like this in London. They need to hire someone who knows something about music…

  11. To be fair on the organisers, the organisers were talking about *examples* rather than actual or potential bookings. Although if Bumfluff & Sons were to turn up on the heath…

  12. As I am (albeit newly) a local resident I feel perfectly within my rights to say that this sounds fantastic.

    People also seem to forget that local councils get a sizable amount of cash for allowing these festivals and that can be spent on maintaining services that might otherwise be lost.

  13. I think it will be great for the area. It’s not unprecedented to have gigs on the heath. I remember seeing squeeze back in the 80s. I also agree with the poster who asks why the societies approve of awful planning decisions like turning Greenwich market into a hotel but go into a frenzy at thought of a few people enjoying a festival.

  14. Many thanks for what was an excellent feature on the potential gigs and the local (I never knew that) people behind them. I’ve been a member of The Blackheath Society for a decade and am strongly in favour of a one off trial event going ahead. The Society did not consult or offer a vote to its members before deciding to spend money opposing the idea.

  15. Firstly, the event was not given planning permission. It was granted a licence to serve booze. This is an entirely different process, where objections are far more limited. A planning application would have required far more local consultation and be open to public inquiry rather than a court hearing.

    See the example of the restaurant that was proposed in the middle of Blackheath Village: granted a licence but not a change of use. All very distressing for those who VISIT the village but a sigh of relief for those who live nearby and were already complaining about loud music when the place was illegally operating.

    The same thing is happening over this festival. I suggest people visit the site and see how many homes are close by, because I doubt those professing to “live on the doorstep” come from them. As for IanVisits, I am also directly affected by the fireworks and Marathon but suggest the impact and disruption is far less than a two-day blareathon of amplified music.

    Why, fer gawd’s sake, did the organisers not at least aim for the other side of Goffer’s Road, closer to the site of the fair and circus where the sound will be less intrusive on neighbouring homes?

  16. Dai – when do locals stop being locals and become visitors? The heath’s a five minute cycle from me – which category do I fall in?

  17. As a local resident I am fully behind this great idea. Two nights in the year, with a probable 10pm curfew like on Clapham Common, would be a very welcome cultural addition to the area and a financial boon.

  18. From what I’ve read so far I’m all in favour of this as it sounds great. Hopefully it won’t be a miserable experience for those living closest to it. A few years ago I went along to the Stella Screen festival in Greenwich Park to see Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (there was music too) and while it was pretty magical I did feel for the residents close by. The sound levels / volume was pretty loud as I walked towards the park from Vanbrugh Park.

    The area where it’s proposed to be sited is rather lovely and I often take a walk up there from Lewisham station and across the heath. The last few times I’ve been there (in warmer months) there has often been a bat or two flying around the little forested bit at dusk.

  19. Sounds like a great idea. I’ve had many a converation about why nothing like this ever happens on the heath- seems some people think that the heath permanantly belongs to them just beacause they live near it and that anyone else in the area isn’t entitled to enjoy it for even 2 days a year.

    If they can afford to live over-looking the heath, perhaps they could choose to spend the 2 days of the festival in their country retreats.

    Anyway, any chance locals would get some kind of priority tickets?

  20. Here we go. Only millionaires live close to the Heath. Ever considered that some people have been here for more than five minutes? Thirty-plus years in my case: long before prices became idiotic [I couldn’t afford to move here today]. This attitude reminds me of the time locals got together to complain about boozers rollicking through the village and were told it was our own fault for choosing to live near a pub/bar/club. No comprehension that maybe drinkers did not shout/fight/puke a swathe through the place in the past.

    And Darryl, I’m sure you qualify as a local. But a five-minute cycle implies that your windows are some distance from the noise that will go on for two days. As someone has said, amplified music is a pain. The circus/fair/fireworks organisers realise that and keep it muted. But concerts in Greenwich Park a few years back were torture for those living in nearby streets.

    I’m not trying to be a miseryguts. I had no objection to the climate camp. I go to festivals and enjoy the marathon and fireworks. Nor do I claim more right to the Heath than anyone else. The best way I can illustrate this is to imagine going to a party where, naturally, the drink flows and music blares. Lots of fun: providing you are not a neighbour.

  21. For ‘Blackheath Society’ read ‘Flat Earth Society’

    I live on the Heath and welcome this initiative, some will complain, they can shut their windows or go out for the day.

  22. The event sounds great, really hope it gets off the ground (I mean I hope it happens, not gets cleared off the heath). Dai seems to be the lone voice here in opposition and though you – Dai – seem very reasonable I can’t say that you’ve convinced me. Yes, it may be loud for people nearby – millionaires and non-millionaires alike – but it would be a great event for many thousands more. And for 2 days out of 365.

    I say we put our grievances to one side, get behind the event and start the serious campaign of lobbying the organisers not to book Mumford & Sons.

  23. “The best way I can illustrate this is to imagine going to a party where, naturally, the drink flows and music blares. Lots of fun: providing you are not a neighbour.” – Dai Smile (above)
    As someone who lives in a block of flats I totally empathise with the noise/drink objection however I also have to conceded that everyone is entitled to at least one party a year. This appears to be similar event to the Notting Hill Carnival and if the residents in that area can find it within themselves to tolerate an event that BIG and for that long then I don’t see how Blackheath residents have a case regarding an event that will, I’d imagine, be penned in and run over a shorter period.

  24. So “everyone is entitled to one party a year”? Not if that party goes on for two days and creates intolerable noise. Anyone living in a flat has a lease giving tenants a legal right to “freedom from disturbance”. Lewisham Council’s environment department is also under a legal obligation to tackle noisy neighbours.

    And who is to say this is one party a year? If [when]
    this goes ahead, expect a lot more “events” in the scramble for income to compensate for cuts. There will be no legal base for objection because promoters can cite approval of this one. And the 25,000 crowd estimate for subsequent events will surely climb if this is a sell-out.

    Mind you, no-one has yet mentioned the Heath by-laws, which contain quite draconian restrictions. That could be a last line of defence for the Blackheath Society for Millionaires, Crusties and Miseryguts, as any festival requires written permission from the COUNCIL, not just the licencing committee.

  25. Thanks for the article – really interesting to hear from the people behind the event and get an insight into their thinking and what they are planning.

    I do live very close to the proposed area for the festival although I doubt close enough for it to keep me awake at night. I think it sounds like a nice idea – the bands proposed are not entirely my cup of tea, but I’m certainly in favour of anything that brings a bit of extra cash into the area, whether directly into the council’s coffers or to local businesses.

    I know it sounds harsh, but I say buy yourself some earplugs and just bunker down for a couple of days. Blackheath is, after all, a public space and not a private front garden. Those living directly on the heath should feel lucky to have such a wonderful open space on their doorstep and free for their own use for the remaining 363 days of the year!

  26. I’ve been waiting for something like this for years! great news. It will be really good for the local area, there will be a positive impact on local businesses: people buying coffees, snacks, water/soft drinks, sun cream etc en route, a pre-drink in a bar ; and the opportunity for companies such as Boulangerie Jade and Zero Degrees to sell their products at the festival too. It’s something that happens elsewhere in London, in similar ‘neighbourhoods’, very successfully. As there will be no music past 11pm and as there’s no camping there will be no noise overnight, so I think this can only really be positive.

  27. I was thinking that we should all join the BSoc and change them from within. But seeing as though members of the BSoc have confirmed that on this and on the Blackheath Village library closure they appear to have taken the decision without consulting their members or putting it to a vote, I cannot see how they can be considered as representative of anything other than their governing committee by Council planners and as such their objections should be disregarded.
    If you want real disruption, noise, inconvenience and traffic nightmares, wait for 2012…

  28. I think it’s a great idea. The heath is a big, open public space and deserves to be used. But if it comes off, it would be great if local music stood to gain something too. This area has always had a great tradition of bands and musicians, but our local pub venues are all up against it and Blackheath Halls is threatened with a massive grant cut. Give one or two local bands a stage slot, maybe a wider Fringe festival around the event (you could call it Off Blackheath). If a festival like this is seen to support the business and culture of its neighbourhood then I think the neighbourhood will be hugely supportive of the festival…

  29. Regardless of the merits or otherwise of a music festival, one point seems to have been missed. Although several events are held on the heath each year which are large enough to be disruptive to local residents and visitors, everyone happily goes along with them because they are not-for-profit activities of various kinds which appeal to community spirit. The London Marathon, fireworks night, Olympics and climate camp all, one way or another, fall into this category. The only explicitly commercial events – fairs, circuses – are small enough not to cause any disruption.

    The proposed NIMBY festival breaks this well-established pattern, being a large-scale event which will generate road closures, amplified noise and vast crowds but without any of the associated goodwill. It appears to be purely and simply a commercial enterprise. Given this background, surely it is only rational that anyone living close enough to be affected should oppose it? If the festival goes ahead, the organisers, and the kind of million-selling acts they are proposing to host, will simply be profiting at the expense of Blackheath residents.

  30. I’m sorry but I disagree with your post Gerry. The idea that the Blackheath Society and their supporters (in this issue) are against commercial ventures on the heath UNLESS they are small and tucked away is ridiculous. The fairs/circuses have always struck me as incredibly tacky and totally unsympathetic to the ‘nature’ of Blackheath and yet they are ignored because the don’t make a loud noise and attract that many people. And that seems to be the main argument against the music festival, nothing to do with its commercial nature. As has been mentioned already the visitors will be spending money in Blackheath, the organisers have already suggested using local businesses (such as Meantime) so it’s good for Blackheath and the borough. As for the existing uses you mention, the Marathon (a few hours once a year, other side of the heath), fireworks (2 hours a year, under threat), climate camp (small, may never return), the Olympics (can’t see us winning that again in a hurry so don’t worry). Is there any other public space in London so under-utilised as the heath? I’m a local resident (Charlton), I regularly travel to other parts of London to attend music events, I see no reason why I shouldn’t be able to do the same in my own borough and welcome other people to it, it’s for 2 days, is it really that big a problem? Here’s an idea, how about everyone gives it a chance for one year, see how it goes and if it’s a bad thing then oppose it being an annual event.

    Apologies for the grumpiness, I am hungover.

  31. On the morning of 12 September there will be children making their way – through the debris – to school or nursery, some for the very first time in their lives. If, like mmy 7 and 8 year olds, they live very close to the site and en route to the station they are likely not to have got to sleep until a very late hour on the 10th and the 11th. They may well also have suffered a level of anxiety from drink-fuelled behaviour outside their bedroom windows. The harm to local children will not necessarily be short-lived (do you remember your first few days at secondary school? Not great making friends when you’re shattered with tiredness).

    This festival – planned as it is on a Sunday evening, in term-time – may well make a large amount of profit for the organisers and some for the local traders. It will also cause harm to the children in the immediate area.

    Lewisham Children’s Services and those Councillors who voted for this to take place on a Sunday evening in term time have failed shamefully to represent the interests of children in the area (who after all need someone to speak for them).

    We live bang on the heath 300 metres from the site. We are by no means wealthy. A number of my children’s classmates live in social housing nearby. This is not a class issue as some of these posts suggest – it is a moral one, and I am grateful to the Blackheath Society members for taking action towards the protection of these children and for paying for the appeal.

    If the Councillors, the Council officers and the organisers had consulted with us at any point, the view that two nights of very loud noise and possible (probable?) drunken behaviour late on a Sunday evening right at the beginning of the school year is utter madness and morally untenable may have had more support.

    Why not further from people’s homes, on a Saturday evening in August?

  32. those of you complaining about drunken behaviour would do well to note the people pouring out of some of the local pubs every Friday and Saturday. In my opinion, drinkers at gigs tend to drink to accompany the music rather than get themselves in a state. Ok so it may be noisy for two nights, but the noise level will not be as harmful as letting off thousands of pounds worth of explosives – which has been one of Blackheaths greatest attractions for years. Let the music play.

  33. I agree with Josh. I’m kind of offended by the assumption that music fans tend towards drunken loutishness.

  34. The organisers of the OnBlackheath music festival will be holding a public information evening on Friday 18th March.
    This will give a chance to hear from the team behind the event, as well as an opportunity to ask any questions.

    This meeting will be held at Hollyhedge House (TA Building) on Wat Tyler Road at 7.30pm on Friday 18th March 2011.

    For further information please go to or

  35. Surely musical highlights like Chas & Dave (minus Dave) at Blackheath Halls are enough to sate any musical appetite?

    Seriously, though, surely it can be attempted this year and if it causes problems it won’t happen again without those problems being addressed?

    I think it would be great to have a credible musical event in our part of the world. Why should Hyde Park and Clapham have all the fun?

    I’m not convinced by Abigail’s point of childhood trauma – it all sounds overly dramatic, but she does have a point that perhaps it shouldn’t be in the school year, on a night before school. I think they’ll survive without the need for therapy but the issue of timing is about the only objection I’ve seen that goes beyond just being anti-fun.

  36. […] Blackheath Bluecoat has struggled to make it into the local papers, never mind anywhere else.) 6. Blackheath’s festival organisers speak out (18 February) (Tom, Terry and Alex finally got their festival – but On Blackheath has had to […]

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