Harriot Lane Fox is part of the team that answers emails to the Chelsea Fringe inbox – she gives friendly advice on how to take part in the festival. Here she tells us more about what being a green-fingered impresario involves.
What kind of projects is the Fringe looking for? The Chelsea Fringe manifesto, if that doesn’t sound too up-the-revolution, is fantastically inclusive. We celebrate anything to do with gardens and gardening as long as it’s legal. The basic ingredient is plants but that could be growing them – in allotments, on roundabouts, behind private front doors, up posh hotel walls; turning them into art or high fashion, serenading them, writing odes, telling stories, putting them on the menu and even into cocktail shakers. In fact, it’s probably easier to say what we’re not looking for (that would be burger vans; thanks for getting in touch but we’re not that kind of festival!).
What makes a good Fringe project? The best ones really engage their audiences, non-gardeners as well as the green-fingered. For instance, in 2014 we had a new medicinal garden where visitors could learn how to brew up potions, a celebration of sci-fi author John Wyndham with a triffid-making workshop, and a mobile ice-cream machine using community-grown plants to create crazy flavours. I know that if I get a tingle from the first email enquiry, so will our visitors when they read the listing.
The other ingredient is more practical. While we can help projects discover their inner Fringe-y-ness, in the end they have to be well organised and self-propelled.
What happens once my project is approved? We don’t have paid staff (or an office). Instead the Fringe operates a kind of buddy system. Once we think your project is suitable, we hook you up with a volunteer coordinator, someone based nearby if possible, to help you sign up. You will need to have all the listing nitty gritty finalised first, and a picture ready, because what you put into the form is what goes online; “TBA” is not OK.
Early-birding is worth it, if you can. Registration gives projects access to tips on marketing and using social media, and our PR person will include you in the Fringe publicity campaign, bolstering your own. Our media partner BBC Radio London will begin previewing the festival once registration starts.
We usually have two public meetings. The first, sometime in February/March, is a chance to pick the brains of fellow Fringers (Fringies? Fringe-istas?), both co-ordinators and veteran project organisers. The second in May is when you will meet up again to collect seeds and maps. Both dates to be confirmed.
Is it possible to set up a project outside London? Absolutely. The Chelsea Fringe has gone viral. We generally say you need five or six events in one place to qualify as a satellite fringe, and last year we added Henley-on-Thames, Milan, Melbourne and Nagoya (Japan), to Ljubljana, Brighton, Bristol, Kent and Vienna. There are also lone events and other projects only exist online.
Is there any funding or sponsorship available? Not unless you raise it yourself. To say we operate on a shoestring is to flatter the Fringe bank balance. That’s why we have so many different registration rates, to enable lone artists and garden designers, underfunded community groups and primary schools, and every size of charity to take part. This is a grass-roots festival.
Interested in taking part? Email firstname.lastname@example.org