People of Edinburgh: we need your help to save our city’s Samhuinn Fire Festival.
The City of Edinburgh Council are considering making changes to the rules around processions in public spaces. If passed, these changes would likely mean our beloved Samhuinn event could not continue in its current form.
We – the Beltane Fire Society – are sending in a formal response to the council consultation on the changes soon (they have specifically asked us to, which is nice). But to really make sure we’re heard, we need as many of you as possible to respond to the council consultation on these changes and let them know why we don’t want them to put the future of our event – and other types of processions like protest marches – at risk.
How the proposed changes affect us
As a society that holds fire festivals, we’re used to operating under lots of restrictions, and our relationship with the Council has been really positive for the past few years. We know we need to do everything we can to keep people safe and respect local residents and the community.
Many parts of the proposed changes are reasonable – we’re happy for a code of conduct for events to exist, for example. But there are some elements being proposed that we really need to challenge to keep our event alive. These include:
- A ban on music in processions after 6pm, with extension to 8pm only in exceptional, currently unspecified circumstances, and no scope for music at all beyond that time;
- Avoiding processions in the city centre – particularly those involving the High Street/Royal Mile (where Samhuinn is usually held);
- A new requirement of a minimum of 12 weeks’ notice for any procession that involves road closures (currently only a week is fine);
- A shift away from processions to static events, meaning more need for expensive public entertainment licenses (encouraging only fee-charging, corporate events to happen in the city centre);
- A clear prioritisation of the needs of businesses and bureaucracy over the benefits culture and community celebrations and protests; and
- Restrictions on the formation of processions, including that participants must walk in rows of no less than four and no more than four people side-by-side.
Although exemptions are possible in ‘limited circumstances’ what these are and how they would be judged isn’t clear.
Our Beltane event (30 April) happens on Calton Hill rather than on the city streets and so isn’t affected by the proposed changes. But as Samhuinn (31 October) is essentially a public procession, if these changes were to come into effect we would face the very real possibility of having to hold Samhuinn outside the city centre, during the day, or without drums. And that wouldn’t really be Samhuinn at all.
What is Samhuinn, and why save it?
Samhuinn Fire Festival is a free event run by the volunteers of the Beltane Fire Society on 31 October each year, in the heart of Edinburgh. It’s a modern re-imagining of an ancient Celtic festival marking the end of Summer and the birth of Winter, and usually takes place on the High Street / Royal Mile or elsewhere in the city centre, like the Grassmarket or the Mound – which we firmly see as event spaces for the use of the community and people of Edinburgh.
In 2017 Scotland is celebrating the year of History, Heritage, and Archaeology. If Scotland truly values cultural heritage, we cannot place even greater burdens on the groups that create and hold it. We bring communities together, keep cultural heritage alive, share skills, celebrate the arts and creativity, and breathe life and soul into our city’s streets.
And these changes, of course, are not only going to affect us. They are going to result in other grassroots, charitable and small organisations being unable to organise parades, processions or protest marches, as a result of onerous notice periods and unnecessary bureaucracy.
Fundamentally, we believe these plans are inconsistent with the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression for all of the people of Edinburgh.
What can you do?
We know none of us like jumping through bureaucratic hoops. But please: if you want Samhuinn to continue in Edinburgh, jump through this one. We need to act fast. Reply to the council consultation online and have your say, by 31 March.
Head to the council consultation website, and answer the questions they ask – and encourage everyone you know to do the same. It’ll take a wee while (up to 20 minutes), so get comfy and take a look at our suggested points you might like to include in your answers (you can download in Word format or PDF). Feel free to copy and paste where you want, and add in your own views. We figure they’re most likely to respond to clear, constructive and respectful responses from people who live in Edinburgh and want to see the proposals altered to be workable for everyone.
You might also like to contact your local councillor or candidates for the upcoming council elections. Or invite your friends to respond to the consultation too, or invite any organisations you know who might be affected by the changes to move fast and respond to the consultation as well.
And contact us with any comments or suggestions you have on how we can influence the decisions on this, by emailing chair [at] beltane [dot] org.
Thank you for your help. Hopefully together we can save our Samhuinn.
Photo of Samhuinn Fire Festival 2016 by Dan Mosley.
Featured image by Raini Scott for Beltane Fire Society.