Tuesday, 1 December 2020 Contact us

Update on postponement of Oxford Literary Festival

Update on postponement of Oxford Literary Festival

Dear friend

Thank you for your understanding, patience and support as we adapt to the impact of coronavirus and the postponement of our March and April events.

I have seen all your messages since I made my statement on postponement last week. I would like to set out very openly the difficult financial context in which we are now operating. With your kind support, we can survive and bring you a programme later this year or next year.

Most festival costs are incurred in the year running up to the festival. In common with many small arts and culture organisations we have never been able to afford cancellation insurance. Pandemic cover was hardly available.

The festival has sometimes made a surplus, but this has been offset by many years when we just broke even or made a loss.

We have been sustained by a small number of generous supporters, who have made long-term interest-free loans. We have no endowment and we are the only one of the big four UK literary festivals (the others are Hay, Edinburgh and Cheltenham) to receive no public funding.

Until early last week, only seven events had been cancelled and all ticket buyers affected had been reimbursed. Reimbursement continued until Friday 13 March.

Official advice was to proceed as normal. Speakers had re-confirmed their intention of coming, and it looked as though the festival just might be able to take place.

However, as the week progressed, it became clear that festival venues were likely to be closed to public events, speakers from overseas and many from the UK would not be able to travel, and the government was likely to ban large-scale public events.

In common with many arts and commercial organisations in the UK, the festival was caught in a perfect financial storm.

We had sold tickets worth £170,000 and were expecting to see a further £100,000 in sales between mid-March and the end of the festival.

We are now faced with a debt to ticket holders of £170,000 and no prospect of being able to refund it.

The stark alternatives are to:

  • go into immediate liquidation and no-one will receive any refunds

  • try to keep the festival going, recognising that we are in no position to offer refunds

    We are determined to make every effort over the coming months to stage a series of events in late 2020 and early 2021 if the public health and financial circumstances allow it. A 2021 festival could be held in early autumn of next year. We hope to soon have news of a new date in the autumn for one of this year’s big Sheldonian events.

    We would be grateful for any festival-goers who felt able to consider their tickets as a donation to the future of the festival. We are extremely grateful to those of you who have already confirmed gifts. We are also looking at how we might credit ticketholders for future events.

    It will take us time to work through all the options, which could include launching a fundraising appeal. Please appreciate that we cannot give any further assurances for now. I believe we can mount a full programme in future with your support, patience and understanding.

    We have been extremely moved by the extraordinary number of proposed and former writers and speakers who have already pledged their support for the festival.

    In the coming weeks, we will be talking to our long-standing sponsors, donors and partners about the situation. I will report back to you at regular intervals.

    Sally Dunsmore
    Festival director

  • FT Weekend Title partner BBC World Service International radio partner Oxford Martin School Festival ideas partner Bodleian Libraries Festival cultural partner University of Oxford New College Jewish Book Week Partner of Jewish programme Italian Embassy Supporter of Italian programme Irish Embassy, London Supporters of the Irish programme MIT Press MIT Press. Sponsors of the programme of American literature and culture The Dorchester Hotels Collection Festival London hotel partner Blackwell’s Festival on-site and online bookseller Princeton University Press British Academy Festival academic partner Ian and Carol Sellars Emily Rose and James Marrow Lady Hatch Patron donor for the programme of Irish literature and culture George Warren Mary and Cecil Quillen Worcester College Worcester College Lincoln College Lincoln College St Hilda’s College 11th St Hilda's day at the festival St Cross College St Cross College: Festival college partner. All facilities generously donated to the festival The Feathers Hotel Woodstock Macdonald Bear Hotel Woodstock Critchleys HM Government of Gibraltar Festival green room sponsor Felicity Bryan Associates Conference Oxford Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies University of Oxford Alumni Office Alumni Office Said Business School Bear Ram Elk Festival Digital Strategy & Web Design BBC Radio Oxford Local radio partner The Oxford Times Regional media partner Oxford Brookes University Oxford University Images Oxford University Images The Sheldonian Theatre Floris of London City Audio Visual Schoolreaders The Litmus Partnership K T Bruce Photography K T Bruce Photography OX magazine History of War All About History Glyndebourne Chamberlain Evans Estate agents Ironbridge Gorge Museums Foodbuy Chêne Bleu Frescobaldi Toscana Wines of Tuscany Symington Wines of the Douro Valley Sloane Club Steer Oxford Botanic Garden Cinnamon Kitchen Compassion in World Farming The Wild Geese Nicholas Hunter Ltd

    FT Weekend Oxford Literary Festival sponsors, donors & partners

    FT Weekend Title partner BBC World Service International radio partner Oxford Martin School Festival ideas partner Bodleian Libraries Festival cultural partner University of Oxford New College Jewish Book Week Partner of Jewish programme Italian Embassy Supporter of Italian programme Irish Embassy, London Supporters of the Irish programme MIT Press MIT Press. Sponsors of the programme of American literature and culture The Dorchester Hotels Collection Festival London hotel partner Blackwell’s Festival on-site and online bookseller Princeton University Press British Academy Festival academic partner Ian and Carol Sellars Emily Rose and James Marrow Lady Hatch Patron donor for the programme of Irish literature and culture George Warren Mary and Cecil Quillen Worcester College Worcester College Lincoln College Lincoln College St Hilda’s College 11th St Hilda's day at the festival St Cross College St Cross College: Festival college partner. All facilities generously donated to the festival The Feathers Hotel Woodstock Macdonald Bear Hotel Woodstock Critchleys HM Government of Gibraltar Festival green room sponsor Felicity Bryan Associates Conference Oxford Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies University of Oxford Alumni Office Alumni Office Said Business School Bear Ram Elk Festival Digital Strategy & Web Design BBC Radio Oxford Local radio partner The Oxford Times Regional media partner Oxford Brookes University Oxford University Images Oxford University Images The Sheldonian Theatre Floris of London City Audio Visual Schoolreaders The Litmus Partnership K T Bruce Photography K T Bruce Photography OX magazine History of War All About History Glyndebourne Chamberlain Evans Estate agents Ironbridge Gorge Museums Foodbuy Chêne Bleu Frescobaldi Toscana Wines of Tuscany Symington Wines of the Douro Valley Sloane Club Steer Oxford Botanic Garden Cinnamon Kitchen Compassion in World Farming The Wild Geese Nicholas Hunter Ltd