Why axe could fall on free tickets for schools and children at Edinburgh Festival Fringe amid finance woes

Company is major backer of ‘Fringe Days Out’ scheme

Free Edinburgh Festival Fringe tickets for dozens of schools, community groups and charities would be at risk if Baillie Gifford's sponsorship of the event were to be ended.

The Edinburgh-based company is one of two major supporters of the flagship Fringe Days Out initiative, which gives several thousand residents free access to more than 3,000 shows every year.

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It helps ensure the Fringe is accessible to single parents, isolated elderly people, disabled people, ethnic minority communities, refugees and asylum seekers in the city.

The Fringe Days Out project will involve 37 schools, groups and charities this year. Picture: Lesley MartinThe Fringe Days Out project will involve 37 schools, groups and charities this year. Picture: Lesley Martin
The Fringe Days Out project will involve 37 schools, groups and charities this year. Picture: Lesley Martin

Baillie Gifford has paid for a major expansion of the scheme over the past two years, paying for around £10,000 worth of free tickets, helping to increase the number of groups involved to 37 – the highest since the initiative was launched in 2017, to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the Fringe. More than 16,000 free visits to the Fringe have been laid on since then thanks to the provision of vouchers for shows and free Lothian bus tickets.

Funding for the initiative also pays for a full-time member of staff at the Fringe Society to arrange the various trips and help them navigate the festival.

The Fringe Society confirmed it had received £40,000 from Baillie Gifford this year, with the company’s funding also supporting a new project to bring “a taste of the festival” to communities outwith the city centre.

Bailie Gifford’s backing of arts events and organisations has been under growing scrutiny since climate activists pulled out of an event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival last summer following reports of the company’s links with the fossil fuel industry. The literary event announced last month that it was parting company with the firm after it was threatened with boycotts and disruption by climate activists.

Vintage Vibes is among the charities involved in the Fringe Days Out initiative run by the Fringe Society.Vintage Vibes is among the charities involved in the Fringe Days Out initiative run by the Fringe Society.
Vintage Vibes is among the charities involved in the Fringe Days Out initiative run by the Fringe Society.

Fringe Society chief executive Shona McCarthy told The Scotsman the Fringe Society’s board had voted to retain Baillie Gifford as an official sponsor for 2024 of its outreach work in more than 30 local communities across the city.

However, the decision is being kept under review given the reasons given by the book festival for its decision.

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Groups involved in the Fringe Days Out programme in previous years include the Citadel Youth Centre and Multi Cultural Family Base in Leith, the Dads Rock support group in Gorgie, Sikh Sanjog, which provides support for women in the Sikh community, Vintage Vibes, which helps tackles isolation and loneliness to people who are over 60 across the city, and the Broomhouse Hub community centre.

Others joining this year include the Leith-based youth theatre company Strange Town, the Valley Park Community Centre in Burdiehouse, The Ripple Project, which tackles poverty and inequality in Restalrig, Lochend and Craigentinny, and Edinburgh Cares, which supports care-experienced students, estranged students and student carers at Edinburgh University.

The Ripple Project charity, which tackles poverty and inequality in Restalrig, Lochend and Craigentinny in Edinburgh, has been involved with the Fringe Days Out initiative.The Ripple Project charity, which tackles poverty and inequality in Restalrig, Lochend and Craigentinny in Edinburgh, has been involved with the Fringe Days Out initiative.
The Ripple Project charity, which tackles poverty and inequality in Restalrig, Lochend and Craigentinny in Edinburgh, has been involved with the Fringe Days Out initiative.

Ms McCarthy said: “Baillie Gifford specifically supports a really important aspect of our outreach work, which provides access to the festival to local residents who would otherwise face barriers. We’ve been enormously grateful for that support.”

The Fringe Society has used a postcode analysis of its ticket sales in Edinburgh to target areas with the lowest levels of participation in the event. Its website states: “The Fringe Days Out scheme is specifically designed for people who are at risk of social exclusion.

"We work with a broad range of individuals and groups, including young people, single parents, isolated elderly, disabled people, global majority communities, refugees, asylum seekers, LGBT people and many more. The charities are trusted partners in their local communities who have built long-lasting relationships with their service users. By working in partnership with these charities, we’re able to reach a broad cross-section of communities in Edinburgh.”

Lyndsey Jackson, deputy chief executive of the Fringe Society, said: “Fringe Days Out is a real privilege to deliver and a joy to relaunch for 2024. It is vitally important to the Fringe Society to ensure Edinburgh’s communities get to enjoy the Fringe, seeing work that they want to see.

The Citadel Youth Centre in Leith has been involved in the Fringe Days Out scheme in recent years. Picture: Greg MacveanThe Citadel Youth Centre in Leith has been involved in the Fringe Days Out scheme in recent years. Picture: Greg Macvean
The Citadel Youth Centre in Leith has been involved in the Fringe Days Out scheme in recent years. Picture: Greg Macvean

"We've focused on breaking down the barriers for residents and communities to attend. Fringe Days Out is a wonderful example of how collaboration, co-design and community can come together to celebrate this amazing festival with the many communities of Edinburgh.”

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Edinburgh’s Lord Provost Robert Aldridge, who was appointed an official ambassador for the Fringe earlier this year, said: “It’s really important that all our residents and communities are able to enjoy our festivals regardless of their economic background.”

A spokeswoman for the Fringe Society said: "As a corporate donor, Baillie Gifford have worked with the Fringe Society since 2022, to support the delivery of community, education and access work across the Fringe.

"Initially supporting the Fringe Days Out programme, they now support the delivery of valued projects across nearly 40 local charities, community groups and schools.

"Our initiatives aim to foster cultural engagement between Edinburgh's residents and the Fringe, and we achieve this by broadening participants understanding of the performing arts, facilitating cultural excursions into the city centre, and encouraging them to engage in culture within their local communities.

"These projects are delivered through funding from Baillie Gifford and grant support from PLACE funding (via the City of Edinburgh Council and Creative Scotland).

"However, to embed and ensure their long-term success, we need additional funding. With PLACE funding coming to an end in 2024, if we didn't have Baillie Gifford's ongoing support, these important projects may be at risk.

"Baillie Gifford's past support, in conjunction with funding from PLACE, has allowed us to initiate the integration of these activities into our core programmes."

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