Opinion | Stop knocking Boardmasters - it's changed Cornwall for the better

Boardmasters Friday pictures - courtesy of Brian Robinson Photography
-Credit: (Image: Brian Robinson Photography)

If some are to be believed, Boardmasters - the titan of Cornish music festivals - is the cause of at least five days of pure hell in the Newquay area. It's fair to say, the event, which started with a few thousand people in a field in 2005, has come in for a bit of stick recently.

Now with a capacity of 58,000, the festival on a clifftop at Watergate Bay, is one of the biggest music events in the country and a rite of passage for many a teenager in Britain. However, with any event of that size there comes grumbles in the surrounding area.

Already this year, the company behind Boardmasters, Vision Nine, has applied to increase its capacity (accepting 58,000 rather than its preferred 66,000 by 2026) and grow the size of the site and improve public access (which was approved last week by Cornwall Council). The latter came in for criticism from parish councils and neighbouring businesses, including the Watergate Bay Hotel, largely due to the impact on the coastal B3276 road, which will be closed from 10am through to 3am for the five days of the event, which runs from August 7 to 11. Vision Nine has put in place a list of factors to ease any problems.

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A festival on such a scale is bound to face unknown quantities when the weather turns bad (its cancellation in 2019) or too hot (there were problems with a lack of water and overflowing toilets in 2022 which were soon sorted), but Boardmasters has always been quick to work with the local community - and on-site - to mitigate and eradicate any concerns.

As someone who has attended almost every festival since James Blunt headlined in 2005 - can you imagine him playing it now?! - I have never seen anything that has caused concern. Yes, there may be a bit of a queue at a bar, some icky toilets and the odd slumped teenager (there is enough welfare and medical provision to look after our excitable little darlings), but nothing that has ever suggested the festival has got too big or chaotic.

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My only real bugbear was last year when leaving one of the car parks following the last notes of Florence and the Machine's Sunday headline set led to an interminable wait with no information for several hours. With a car full of tired and emotional teenagers. However, all the signs are that with traffic and layout changes this year, that won't happen again ... and the road through Porth won't become a traffic jam either.

I'm sure having the festival on your doorstep is irritating - maybe I'd become a Nimby too if I lived in, say, Trevelgue, but it's just a few days out of the year. A few days which, in 2022, generated approximately £39.9 million in total revenue for the local and wider economy of Cornwall.

Let's not forget that Boardmasters doesn't just pitch up, take all our beer money and disappear again. In 2017, The Boardmasters Foundation was established, raising over £436,000 for local charities and community groups.

In 2023, the Foundation raised £115,492 (a ten per cent increase on 2022) awarded to 38 groups, including nine local primary and secondary schools, Newquay railway station toilets, Newquay Surf Life Saving Club, The Wave Project, Cornwall Food Action, Black Voices Cornwall, Schools Consent Project, Porth Residents Association, Concrete Waves, WGB Lifesaving Club, Safe Spaces Newquay and many more.

Since 1981, way before the music element was introduced, Boardmasters has leaned into the expertise of locals to ensure the safe delivery of both the surf competition at Fistral and, now, the Main Arena at Watergate Bay. Cornish companies which have benefited include Coast 2 Coast, SW1, Impact, Delta Group, The Event Depot, Blue Sky, XL Crew, Audio Source, Millstone Sound, Tru Cru, Mass Affect, Liteworx AV, Mission Code and Sky Bar.

Most importantly and the reason everyone goes - the music. Boardmasters has changed the cultural landscape in Cornwall. I'm in my 50s now, ancient, but remember a horrendous lack of anything happening in the Duchy in my teenage years. Yes, young music lovers had the Cornwall Coliseum (that's a whole other story) but little else. It was bloody boring but the Cornish youth are spoiled now.

In the wake of Boardmasters, we have seen the growth of a whole range of festivals - from The Great Estate to Tunes In The Dunes - making Cornwall one of the best-served counties in the whole country for big music events. It's been revolutionary.

Now I'm old, my kids go to Boardmasters (and I embarrass them by going too) and never once have I been concerned about their welfare. In fact, I encourage them to go - what a way to celebrate after doing your A-levels and the like. Just ignore any dodgy pills matey from Manchester might be selling in the campsite.... (that whole drugs thing is well covered by onsite police and safeguarding too).

Last year Boardmasters made a choice to be proactive in stamping out anti-social behaviour at a societal level, engaging with schools and parents to address the topic of consent, realities of festival life and delving into conversations parents could be having with their children before they attend the festival. Onsite safeguarding includes all the major emergency services and 24-hour event control, security, welfare, medical, Oxfam stewards, rape and sexual assault services and info points.

With everyone from Chase & Status, Sam Fender, Stormzy to English Teacher, Sprints and Newdad playing this year, I say bring it on and long live Boardmasters. Cornwall would be a lot less interesting without it.