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The Deershed Festival has gathered a reputation as one of the country’s warmest and most family-friendly festivals.

Oliver Jones and his partner Kate Webster founded the festival six years ago. Oliver was a recording engineer and web developer and Kate had worked for record companies, moving from Yorkshire to London at the age of 19. They now live back in the village where she was born.

The festival takes place every July at Baldersby Park in Topcliffe, North Yorkshire, on land owned by Kate’s father. The land itself used to be attached to the"big house" next door, which is now a private girls’ school. The house and the land were inevitably separated and Kate’s father uses it as grazing land.

Sowing the seeds

The idea for Deershed, like all good business ideas, in fact, came, says Oliver, from “wanting to showcase and tell people about the things we like.” The pair are both music lovers and, he jokes, “if it had been stamps, we would be telling people about that. It’s an instinct isn’t it?” It was also borne from the idea that lots of music festivals say they are family-friendly but they’re not really. Or if they are, the music takes second fiddle. Says Oliver, “Just because you’re a parent you don’t just want to listen to music you listen to when you were at school. For us, we couldn’t work on a festival full of has-been bands.” It paid off and in 2014 Deershed was awarded the Festival Kidz Gold Award.

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Life is a rollercoaster

It’s fair to say, that music festivals aren’t the easiest things to arrange. Land is the obvious hurdle, though that one wasn’t so tricky this time. Then there’s web presence and the sheer fact, says Oliver, that “nobody takes you seriously when you’re starting out.”

Last year’s Deershed was the hardest so far, says Oliver. “There were water system problems and other things beyond our control.” However, he laughs, “It’s never REALLY rained at Deershed and if we’d had three years of rain we probably wouldn’t be speaking now.”

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Things have ticked along nicely though. Kate is a whizz with accounts and Deershed is budgeted pretty tightly, says Oliver. Contrary to certain Facebook claims, the festival doesn’t make much money at all, though it’s never lost money. “We are making a living from it. Just about,” he says. Getting the right team is crucial and sometimes it’s hard to get enough people knowing enough stuff, Oliver says, “there’s a lot of pressure on the core team.”

Still, the festival sells half its tickets without even announcing the bands so it’s doing something right. The bands though, are the single biggest expense. “We are running out of space,” says Oliver “and people ask how big we want to get but making it bigger isn’t just about selling more tickets. We could book the Manic Street Preachers but it would cost us hundreds of thousands of pounds and would it necessarily give everyone a better weekend?”

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The change from young, fresh festival to larger, weightier monster is a tricky one to navigate. “As the brand has grown, people’s perception of the brand changes,” says Oliver, “They start thinking of us as a big corporate. There’s always a backlash against the Man.”

Despite this, the branding is one of the most striking things about the festival. Merchandise is popular, in fact, says Oliver, “We probably sell more T-shirts than most other festivals”, and the web artwork is achingly cool, commissioned each year on a different theme. This year’s theme is Up In The Air and features nods to rockets, star gazing, aeroplanes, helicopters, weather, broomsticks, birds, balls and balloons

Fight the power

The festival is doing its bit for sustainability, at least in terms of its composting toilets but, laughs Oliver, “This is as much about saving money.” He’s candid about their green credentials: “You’re having a party in a field and everyone has driven there. By far the greenest thing to do is not have a festival at all.” What it really comes down to, he laughs, is not wanting the generator to make a noise in the middle of Johnny Marr’s set.

At the heart of this lovely festival is the idea that it’s all been quite organic. “It’s much easier to do like that,” says Oliver. They’ve never had to go to the bank to borrow money because tiering the ticket sales means there is a surplus to pay for the festival. It’s at the end when it gets interesting: “We pay VAT on all the tickets and claim VAT back on the services and there was a £40,000 swing this year. Until you hit that button on Sage Accounts….”

Motivations

“I get inspired by the raft of things that are available on the internet. Art, music, graphics, design. I can’t say that there’s one thing. Our love is sharing these things we are finding.”

Productivity tool

“As a web developer I have sort of over the years developed a festival management system. You can buy festival management systems but the advantage of this one is that I can programme it up so it’s very tailored to our needs. You start off with three or four people in a room and you have to convey everything to a huge number of other people. It will tell you who needs a radio and who needs a meal on Sunday afternoon. A thousand other details, managing volunteers and programming everything and making sure people are on time. We couldn’t do it all without that now.”

Get in touch - and buy tickets (go on, we have!)

www.Deershedfestival.com

Twitter @Deershed

https://www.facebook.com/DeerShed

 

I really hope you enjoyed Oliver's story, whether you just read it here or listened to the podcast. As always, the story is best told by Oliver himself; so do grab yourself a coffee and have a listen.

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Thanks again to Oliver for sharing his story with us.

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