'Olympic Village' idea to ease Fringe accommodation crisis is worth exploring - Brian Ferguson

It seems a lot longer than four weeks ago that Edinburgh’s festivals drew to a close after their 75th anniversary season.

There were understandable feelings of relief from many of those involved in the festivals that they had managed to come back in familiar form in the face of a huge number of challenges.

At my last count, their overall audience was in excess of 2.8 million, despite rail and refuse collection strikes, lingering concerns over Covid and daily headlines about soaring household bills.

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The one other headache which caused sleepless nights for many was the prospect of the Queen passing away in August, which would have had huge implications for the festivals had it happened a few weeks earlier.

Fringe venue operator Gilded Balloon has suggested that Edinburgh creates the equivalent of an 'Olympic Village' for artists and performers.
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A return to normality for the arts and entertainment world over the last week, after yet more cancellations and postponements, has also seen debates resume over the future of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

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Most of those I speak to on a regular basis agree on the number one challenge facing the Fringe – the escalating accommodation costs faced by artists and audiences.

Proposed solutions put forward by some venues - particularly offering landlords a Fringe exemption from new rules on student housing and Airbnb-style short-term lets - have prompted an understandable backlash over concerns they may hamper efforts to tackle a year-round shortage of affordable accommodation in the city.

It has become glaringly obvious that radical and innovative accommodation solutions will be needed for the Fringe to remain affordable for artists and audiences – in a city growing in popularity as a tourism destination.

But I was also taken by Gilded Balloon's suggestion that Edinburgh’s universities help create the equivalent of an “Olympic Village” offering either free or cut-price accommodation in their buildings.

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While it is unlikely to be a “silver bullet” solution on its own, it is worthy of exploration with the universities, whose interests will be best served by a Fringe which is as diverse and accessible as possible.

The ongoing deployment of a cruise liner to accommodate Ukrainian refugees for several months should certainly prompt discussions about whether similar ventures could help Fringe performers in future. That is perhaps more realistic than the prospect of Edinburgh being served by radically improved and reliable late-night transport services, especially out of the city.

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