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All about Todd in the Hole festival 2019

PUBLISHED: 15:36 15 May 2019

Founders of Todd in the Hole festival David Nye and Mark Watts (photo: Grant McGonagle)

Founders of Todd in the Hole festival David Nye and Mark Watts (photo: Grant McGonagle)

Grant McGonagle

Live music, family fun and great food and drink - we love a summer festival, but what does it take to start one from scratch? The founder of Todd in the Hole gives an insight to an often wacky world

David Nye loves sausages. He's been selling them at festivals for 15 years with his Stevenage-based Great British Sausage Company. He trained as a chef, but realising he could make more money, set up a burger van in Stevenage. He then started selling good quality sausages and began to do the music festival circuit. His experience of these led to a desire to put on a festival of his own.

'I've seen all of them from big to small, from start to finish,' he says. 'There's an element of community about it; everyone has loads of fun. And one of the great things is it's an awesome environment to work in as well.'

The 36-year-old met festival business partner Mark Watts when he moved his business to a unit on Mark's farm, Shangri-la at Todd's Green on the edge of Stevenage. They soon realised they had the same idea.

'He said come and have a look at this field I've got. We both just thought Eureka!' David remembers.

The name of the festival came naturally, combining the hamlet, Todd's Green and David's love of sausages, particularly his grandmother's toad in the hole. Todd in the Hole was born.

The Great British Elvis Off (photo: Grant McGonagle)The Great British Elvis Off (photo: Grant McGonagle)

The festival was scheduled to debut three years ago but its founders decided they weren't ready.

'The challenges are massive,' David explains. 'I've seen how not to do things. You want to start on a good standard, if you don't you are not going to be taken seriously. Everything needs to be professional. I knew we needed a really good security company, good health and safety consultant and really good noise management plan. All these things are fundamental but I've seen other festivals fall down because of this; they were skimping on the wrong areas.

'An essential thing is trying to get an idea on ticket sales. Last year we had nothing to sell; we had never put on a festival so it was just illustrations and ideas. You know it's going to be amazing but how do you tell everyone in Hertfordshire? We've realised that the festival is only on for three days but the rest of the year is marketing.'

A major aim of the festival is to celebrate local, David says. 'We've got so much talent round here. The festival is a gathering for local people to have fun and see each other. You can spend a lot of money on a has-been band or you can spend half that on loads of up-and-coming acts and tribute bands.'

A highlight at last year's inaugural event was the Great British Elvis Off - a light bulb moment David had in the bath. 'Elvis is for everyone and that's what we want.' The Elvis impersonation contest will be back this year.

Family and community are at the heart of the festival and at this summer's event there will be a dedicated children's area surrounded by beautiful woodland.

Todd in the Hole (photo: Grant McGonagle)Todd in the Hole (photo: Grant McGonagle)

'If you keep the kids happy you keep the adults happy,' David says. 'Last year we had camel racing and, for the children, planned pony rides. But as soon as the camels arrived the ponies kicked off, so it put a spanner in the works! The camels are staying at home this year - animals and music don't really go together.'

David describes putting on a festival as both hugely rewarding and an 'absolute nightmare'. 'Things are thrown at you from different directions but you are motivated by creating something great for yourself and the local area. My dad basically said "don't cock up, everyone's watching", and he's right, you can't.'

Misconceptions from the surrounding community were an initial problem, with locals expecting Glastonbury, David recalls. 'One resident put a fence round the whole of his house and then he and his wife ended up coming to the festival each day.

'The only complaint we got last year was when we were doing the noise testing - it's tested at different levels.'

The sound is monitored throughout the festival at the nearest house from 11am to 2am.

So when everything finally came together last year, how did the two founders feel? 'It was very emotional just seeing everyone happy and having fun. People around us were amazing - family and friends came to help. We would have been happy with 4,000 people, we ended up with 6,500.'

Such was the success of the 2018 weekend event that this July the festival has been expanded to three days and boutique camping is offered.

Preparations on what is usually a grazing field begin about two weeks before the festival, with 1.5 kilometres of fencing put up and the erection of a 20 metre main stage. Will they have the dreaded festival toilets? No, they are using the company that do Royal Ascot. New for this year are classic motorbikes, a wheel of death and stunt rider Dougie Lampkin on 'Vincent Sunday' - in celebration of the Vincent motorcycle heritage of Stevenage.

So how do the festival pair get on three years down the line from hatching their plans? 'Mark and I work well together. He's a resourceful farmer, very good with land management. I'm more the festival curator. He helps to put my ideas into reality, that's why the partnership works.

'I think it would be near impossible to do it on your own, you need someone else to bounce your ideas off.

'It's been a big adventure and we are in it together - Todd in the Hole is a bit wacky, eccentric, good old English fun.'

Todd in the Hole takes place on July 19-21 at Todd's Green between Stevenage and Hitchin. There will be a free shuttle bus service from Stevenage train station and car parking adjacent to the festival site. For ticket information, go to toddinthehole.co.uk

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