City leader calls for Edinburgh festivals to start in July

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Image caption, Crowds are gathering around street performers on the Royal Mile

There should be a radical shake-up of Edinburgh's festivals to make them more family-friendly, it has been claimed.

The city's culture chief is leading calls for the Edinburgh International Festival and the Fringe to be held earlier in the summer.

Speaking to The Scotsman, Donald Wilson suggested the festivals should fully coincide with Scottish school holidays.

But organisers of the Fringe said moving the dates could prevent children attending with their schools.

Mr Wilson also called for shows and performances to be held in venues beyond the city centre.

The move could broaden and deepen the festivals' appeal among city residents, the City of Edinburgh Council's culture convenor added.

His comments come as festival season gets under way in Edinburgh, with thousands of visitors expected to descend on the city during August.

Children in the capital are due to return to school for the autumn term in less than two weeks.

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Image caption, The festival season is getting in full swing in Scotland's capital
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Image caption, A scene from the show Peer Gynt was also performed on the Royal Mile

Mr Wilson told the newspaper that the prospect of changing the dates of the festival was "definitely worth looking at".

"If we're talking about increasing participation in the festivals, to have the holidays coincide with them would actually increase that sense of ownership of them," he said.

"It's not just families who would find it easier. I think teachers and school staff would as well.

"I've had a lot of letters about this over the last few years saying it would be better for the Festival to be aligned with the school holidays.

"We have to look at widening things out geographically but it is also about deepening their appeal.

"We have events and festivals that are primarily of interest to visitors to the city but we have to make sure we're paying enough attention to the citizens of Edinburgh.

"We need to make sure we have the breadth of appeal that takes into account participation as well as performance.

"We need to make sure festivals and events are something people feel proud of."

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Image caption, The National Theatre of China are among performers in Edinburgh this summer

His comments echo those of MP Tommy Sheppard, a former director of the Fringe Society and founder of The Stand comedy club.

Speaking at the Fringe Society two years ago, he said there was a marked drop in audiences after the school holidays.

"I just don't see any downside to a change of dates," he said. "I just think nobody has thought about it."

Shona McCarthy, the chief executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, said some children visit the festivals with schools and community groups.

"The Fringe dates have been the same since the mid-1990s, each year ending on the August Monday bank holiday," she said.

"Dates are set in consultation with the participants, venues and promoters that make the festival happen every year and this will continue to be the case.

"While many children are introduced to the arts through their parents and families, we shouldn't assume that all children access the arts this way.

"Schools and community groups also play a key role in making that introduction and moving the dates to be exclusively within the school holidays could potentially limit access to the Fringe for some children."

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Image caption, Festival organisers say children come to events in Edinburgh with schools, as well as with their parents

A spokeswoman for the International Festival said: 'We are completely committed to ensuring that our local young people are able to derive maximum benefit from having the International Festival on their doorstep, and this an important discussion to have.

"Around 60% of the International Festival's ticket buyers live in Edinburgh and the Lothians and our year round programme of work in Edinburgh's schools reaches thousands of young people every year.

"We are always looking to extend our reach and believe that dates which straddle both the school holidays - when parents can bring their children to events - and term time, which enables us to reach local young people through their schools, offer the best route to doing that."