Jazz nights set to end on a sour note

LEADING LIGHT Abi Todd was named Kent League Player of the Year

One of the biggest social events in the town – Jazz on The Pantiles – is to come to an end unless a sponsor is found within five weeks.

That was the warning from organiser Julian Leefe-Griffiths, who said the popular music festival had been placed in ‘jeopardy’ after their main sponsor pulled out on Thursday.

He said a desperate hunt for a ‘white knight’ sponsor is now underway to plug the £10,000 shortfall in funding.

Last year, Audi Tunbridge Wells was the main sponsor behind the event, which regularly draws up to 70,000 visitors to the historic promenade throughout the summer.

Mr Leefe-Griffiths, whose business interests include the Tunbridge Wells Hotel, said: “Sadly until last week we thought this year’s sponsor was on board.

“It is disappointing and has come very late in the day for them to pull out.

“Unless we find a main sponsor it may be impossible to run the jazz this year as we are not prepared to proceed knowing it is not financially viable.”

It costs an estimated £70,000 to organise the jazz, which this year would have run every Thursday from May 5 until September 29. The jazz has been running for around five years in its current form, when a consortium of Pantiles traders, led by Mr Leefe-Griffiths took over the administration of the event.

Approximately half of the funding is sourced from the retailers, bars and cafes on The Pantiles, with extra money being donated on the night by visitors who are encouraged to drop £2 into a collection bucket.

However, the main sponsor is needed to make up a shortfall, as stricter regulations on the running on the events plus health and safety issues and the need to pay the performers and staff, have led to higher overheads.

Mr Leefe-Griffiths said: “We are in an impossible situation being just six weeks away from the opening evening.

“It is very damaging. Had we known in January we could have planned our budget accordingly.”

These concerns were echoed by one jazz night veteran, Lionel Shell who has been involved, to varying degrees, in both funding and administrating the event since its inception 20 years ago.

Lionel Shell, a familiar face at the popular summer event, described the possibility of it not going ahead this year as a ‘terrible’ for the town.

He said: “Everyone has the will to do it, but unfortunately it all comes down to money and the costs have escalated over recent years.”

Mr Shell explained that when it was first run by the council, jazz evenings cost around £200 a night and 50 people would turn up, but current costs are nearer £3,000 per night.

“For the sponsor to pull out now is a big worry, and there will be a negative impact on The Pantiles economy.

“We are faced with a big problem but I just cannot imagine it not going ahead, but if it doesn’t it will be a terrible shame,” commented Mr Shell.

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