Charity pulls plug on controversial Edinburgh Fringe operator in wake of pay protests

One of Scotland’s most historic charities has pulled the plug on a controversial Edinburgh Festival Fringe operator after facing demands from campaigners against the exploitation of workers at the event.

The Royal Society of 
Edinburgh has shelved plans to lease out its New Town home to C Venues after being targeted by Fair Fringe activists over the company’s “terrible working practices.”

The society, which dates back to 1783, has instead decided to stage its own programme of events during the Fringe. However it has cited questions that have been raised about the use of volunteers at the Fringe, amid claims unfair and unsafe working conditions are “so common they are now accepted as the status quo”.

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The charity, which has been at its George Street home since 1909, also said it would be “thoroughly” reviewing how it got involved with the Fringe in future.

Fair Fringe activists have targeted the operator over 'terrible working practices'. Picture: PA
Fair Fringe activists have targeted the operator over 'terrible working practices'. Picture: PA

The Royal Society’s decision has emerged two months after a damning dossier accused C Venues bosses of imposing draconian conditions on staff and justifying paying them as little as £200 for the whole festival by describing them as “volunteers.” Edinburgh University has previously bowed to pressure by stripping C Venue of the right to use Adam House in the Old Town.

A Royal Society spokeswoman said: “As part of developing its own public engagement programme, we will be piloting and running its own series of public events during the 2019 Fringe and will not be an official venue.

“We’re aware questions have been raised about the use of volunteers at the Fringe. We wish to consider these 
questions thoroughly as part of a wider review of how we engage with the Fringe in future years including the scope for running our ow shows.”

A spokeswoman for the Fair Fringe campaign said: “We’re thrilled to see three organisations take a stand against C Venues’ abuse of volunteering and abysmal treatment of staff by refusing to rent to them.

“Organisations across the city have a responsibility to ensure people who rent their buildings are treating staff fairly and paying proper wages. We hope other venues take note and see that the days where you can continually exploit workers and get away with it are well and truly past.”

A spokesman for C Venues said: “We are saddened that the Royal Society of Edinburgh have decided not to host a Fringe venue this year.

“We understand it would like to take time to decide how best to engage with the Fringe, and we respect this, but we are disappointed in their timing, only a few weeks before the programme deadline. Planning and programming a venue takes the greater part of a year.

“For a landlord to withdraw a venue this close to the Fringe causes considerable disruption to performing companies and artists. We’re committed to remaining at the forefront of the Fringe, as a home for the best, brightest and most challenging independent performance, visual and literary work.”