Edinburgh Mela festival cancelled due to lack of funding

Des Bravehearts perfoming. Picture; Phil WIlkinson

Des Bravehearts perfoming. Picture; Phil WIlkinson

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Organisers of one of Edinburgh’s flagship festivals say they are the victims of “deliberate sabotage” after being forced to cancel just weeks before it was due to be staged.

The Edinburgh Mela, Scotland’s biggest multi-cultural festival, has been scrapped in the wake of bitter behind-the-scenes wrangling, a police investigation and the withdrawal of all of its public funding in recent months.

The Edinburgh Mela Festival. Picture; Phil Wilkinson

The Edinburgh Mela Festival. Picture; Phil Wilkinson

Its under-fire board, whichhas been accused of a “reckless disregard” for the organisation’s own rules, has abandoned plans to stage a scaled-down event weeks after it emerged it had lost more than £350,000 worth of backing.

It has blamed “funding reasons beyond the control of the Mela board” for the eleventh-hour decision to pull the plug on the event, which traditionally attracts more than 25,000 people to Leith Links at the end of August.

The cancellation of the Mela - due to celebrate its 21st anniversary - has cast a shadow over the 70th Edinburgh Festival season, which is up and running, with the city’s jazz and blues festival in full swing.

The board of the event, which was plunged into crisis by the resignation of director Chris Purnell in March, had been planning on staging a scaled-down event, against the advice of Edinburgh City Council, one of three funders to withdraw support.

Its statement on the cancellation revealed plans were already being drawn up for some form of event in the autumn, ahead of a planned return for the Mela in 2017.

Mr Purnell’s resignation letter warned the event was being “destroyed from within” and taken to the “brink of catastrophe” by its board, some of whom have served for up to 20 years, claiming it was “motivated by self-interest.”

Police Scotland have since launched an investigation into “claims relating to financial irregularities” involving an individual linked to the Mela, but have refused to identify them. The Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator has refused to say whether there is an ongoing inquiry into the Mela.

The Scottish Government and Creative Scotland have both refused to plough any funding into this year’s event despite months of talks to try to head off the crisis.

Shami Khan, chair of the Mela board, said: “The council basically wants the whole board to leave so that it can bring in a new director and a new board and introduce a new constitution.

“But this would mean the council effectively taking over the Mela. We are a community organisation and the Mela has to stay within the local community. It would not be the Mela in the council’s hands. There’s no way that’s going to happen. This whole thing has been deliberate sabotage of the Mela by the council. We’ve been victimised by them.”

Recent correspondence to the Mela board from the council, seen by The Scotsman, states: “The council believes the Mela does not have effective governance, leadership or capacity in place. We’ve seen no evidence of clear and realistic plans for the stabilisation and reform of the organisation, nor the collective will to address the serious weaknesses which currently exist.”

Earlier this month the Mela claimed it had been subjected to “unjustified criticisms” from both the city council and Creative Scotland, and warned both bodies would be responsible “if the Mela dies in 2016 and does not return.”

This story has been amended to clarify that the police investigation relates to a person linked to the Mela, and that the Scottish Charity Regulator will not comment.

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