Fears for future of Porthcawl’s Elvis Festival
Lewis Smith, Local Democracy Reporter
Future plans to develop the Grand Pavilion in Porthcawl could leave questions over the town’s iconic Elvis festival in the next few years organisers have said, as they prepare for this weekends annual celebrations.
The massive festival, considered by many to be one of the biggest Elvis festivals in the world, currently brings thousands of tourists to Porthcawl every year, with people travelling from miles around to visit the beach, pubs and take in the unique festivities.
However, with funding applications now submitted for renovation work to its home in Porthcawl’s Grand Pavilion, organisers fear it could have a negative impact to the event long term if a replacement venue is not found during this period.
While Bridgend Council has said they would “be seeking to work closely alongside all user groups, including the organisers of the Elvis Festival,” founder Peter Phillips, 64, who started the event in 2004, says he is now eager to make alternative arrangements as soon as possible.
He said: “The Porthcawl Elvis festival started in the pavilion in 2004 when the managers asked me if I had any fresh ideas for shows there.
“I had this idea to do an awards show for Elvis tribute artists, and later spoke to people at the Hi Tide who wanted to make it in to a weekend event, so we set the festival up from there.
“It really took off after that, and although it took a couple of years for other venues in the town to get behind it, within three years it was already the biggest Elvis festival in Europe and a massive success.
“It is now the biggest Elvis festival in the world attracting around 40,000 visitors to the town each year, and bringing in millions of pounds as well. It’s a massive festival that’s known around the world and is important to us as it puts Porthcawl on the map.
“Obviously we’ve known this work has to be done to the pavilion for a long time, and from what we’ve heard it could be closed for around two years in 2024.
“It won’t be a problem if we can make alternative arrangements for the venue, but because the official shows are all held in the pavilion, that technically is the Elvis festival and without it there will definitely be an impact.”
The project to re-develop the Grand Pavilion has been in development since 2016, when Awen Cultural Trust began a study into enhancing the Grade II-listed building.
The main aims of the renewal are to address the condition of the building’s concrete structure, while also improving heritage and library services for residents.
New facilities in the pavilion could also be added to include function spaces on the Esplanade level, along with new rooftop function and café spaces, new studio theatre, and improved facilities including a new changing places facility.
For Peter, who also runs a number of other festivals in places like Benidorm and Ireland, he says while ideas such as a large tent known as a Spiegel-tent are currently being considered to host the festival, they would require support from the local authority if they are to go ahead.
He added: “I think the festival is at a bit of a crossroads because if the pavilion can’t open for a couple of years then we need to find an alternative. It would have a huge effect on the festival in that you wouldn’t have the official shows, and in five years time there may not be an Elvis Festival in Porthcawl as a result.
“With the support of the council the pavilion closing isn’t a huge problem, but without that support it could just wither and go backwards in the next few years, and that would be very sad. It will be a great festival this year the same as it always is, and next year as well, but we do need to look forward.
“One plan would be to build a temporary venue in the form of a large Spiegel-tent to put the official shows in for one or two years, but as I said that would require support from the council to get a site for it.
“We have also been trying to expand the festival over the last few years with plans for an alcohol free family zone, which would make it a much more family friendly event, along with plans for an event called Elvis Pride which would use the Elvis event to celebrate our diversity.
“There’s a huge future for this if we keep growing, so hopefully in two years time we’ll have a big tent to put the shows in, a massive family zone, Elvis pride established, and we’ll continue to get bigger and better.”
Ken Bonham, 67, volunteers at the festival and says it is incredibly important to the town.
He said: “The Elvis Festival brings a massive buzz top Porthcawl every year though the risk is if we lose the main venue then it could suffer. We would have to address that temporary closure of the pavilion and we have to find a new home during that time.
“In the future we also need to keep developing what we have adding in things like the family zone which would make the festival accessible to even more people including families and those with disabilities. It’s such a great event for the area and we all want to see it continue to thrive and bring people to the town.”
A council spokesperson said they would continue to work with users of the pavilion.
They said: “Ambitious plans are under development to enhance the facilities available at the Grand Pavilion, increase the venue’s use by the local community and further secure its future.
“While these plans remain at an early stage, both Awen Cultural Trust and Bridgend County Borough Council will be seeking to work closely alongside all user groups, including the organisers of the Elvis Festival, as part of their ongoing development.”
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