Edinburgh Festival Fringe: feel free to join the global party

The Festival Fringe transforms central Edinburgh. Image: David Monteith-HodgeThe Festival Fringe transforms central Edinburgh. Image: David Monteith-Hodge
The Festival Fringe transforms central Edinburgh. Image: David Monteith-Hodge
To ensure as many people as possible enjoy the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the Community Ticketing Initiative (CTI) provides free tickets for those in and around the Scottish capital who may not otherwise have the chance to attend the arts and cultural extravaganza.

CTI is run by the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society in collaboration with the City of Edinburgh Council and EVOC, a Capital-based umbrella organisation for third-sector groups.

Each year, more than 50,000 tickets are donated by Fringe artists, companies, and venues, and distributed via social, family, or youth workers in the council, or local community groups and charities.

Julie Lærkholm, community engagement officer of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, says: “The donation of tickets by artists is a generous way to include the city’s residents. It’s not our festival – they’re not our tickets – but we work to support and distribute the donations from artists, venues and companies.”

One person who has experienced first-hand the joy CTI can bring is Kate, a foster carer in Edinburgh who has been looking after young people, including unaccompanied asylum seekers, since 2018. She fosters through Edinburgh City Council, which initially made her aware of CTI.

Kate says: “I’ve been taking kids and young people along to the Fringe through the CTI for about four years.

“A variety of children come to stay with me, for anything from six months up to two and a half years. A lot of them are teenagers and, with the unaccompanied asylum seekers I look after, some of the time they have been trafficked here. Many of the young people have never experienced anything like the Fringe before.

“Last year, I had a young person from Vietnam living with me. I took her and some of her friends to Fringe shows. They were able to go to dance, music and other events they would never have seen otherwise.

“Even when they move on from staying with me, the young people don’t necessarily have a lot of money and some will still come to shows with me. Once you’ve given them a taste for the Fringe, they definitely want to go again.”

Over the years, Kate estimates she’s taken about 20 young people to Fringe shows through the CTI. The scheme makes it financially feasible for foster carers like her to take groups of children to performances. For many, Kate says, the Fringe becomes a huge part of their summer, even when they move onto the next stage of their lives. “The Fringe becomes an opportunity for us to re-connect and do an activity together,” she explains.

Each year, Kate researches shows she thinks young people will enjoy. For example, for asylum seekers she will often seek out performances such as circus, music, dance and acrobatics where language isn’t a barrier. She says these shows often inspire them and act as a gateway to the wider Fringe.

She adds: “I’m sometimes taking children who have learning difficulties or sensory issues, so it’s also about making sure they are catered for. The Fringe does a great job of that and has really good accessibility. They’ll give you packs which include various sensory tools.

“The first time a young person looks at the Fringe brochure they might feel overwhelmed, so I’ll find shows for them. Then they’ll often tell me which ones they enjoyed and ask me to look for things like that.”

She recommends CTI to others and believes its impact can be life-changing. One care-experienced young person she took to a circus show went to find a class where she could learn some of the activities she saw.

“It equalises opportunities for people who are disadvantaged. It helps build their confidence in being out and about and socialising with others around the city. Going to shows with others can cement friendships which they can use as a foundation to move forward in their relationships,” concludes Kate.