Council leader praises 'positive meeting' with folk festival as route of this year's Morris and molly procession through Ely is agreed

PUBLISHED: 10:37 03 July 2019

Procession of Morris and molly dancers through Ely has traditionally heralded the start of the Ely Folk Festival.  Picture; DAVID KENWRIGHT/ELY FOLK FESTIVAL FACEBOOK

Procession of Morris and molly dancers through Ely has traditionally heralded the start of the Ely Folk Festival. Picture; DAVID KENWRIGHT/ELY FOLK FESTIVAL FACEBOOK

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Organisers of Ely Folk Festival and East Cambridgeshire District Council pledged closer working ties after settling on the route for this year's traditional Morris and molly procession.

Procession of Morris and molly dancers through Ely has traditionally heralded the start of the Ely Folk Festival.Picture; DAVID KENWRIGHT/ELY FOLK FESTIVAL FACEBOOKProcession of Morris and molly dancers through Ely has traditionally heralded the start of the Ely Folk Festival.Picture; DAVID KENWRIGHT/ELY FOLK FESTIVAL FACEBOOK

"I am personally upset that the district council has been portrayed as having 'banned' the Morris and molly dancers' procession and want to reassure people that this didn't happen," said council leader Anna Bailey.

"As with so many issues in life, I am certain that communications could have been better, but of course the district council welcomes the tradition that the procession has become."

Cllr Bailey said: "We had such a positive meeting with the organisers of Ely Folk Festival and as they themselves have said, once face to face discussion starts, all the obstacles to finding a solution tend to disappear.

"We have agreed that we will all get round the positivity table earlier on in the future."

Procession of Morris and molly dancers through Ely has traditionally heralded the start of the Ely Folk Festival.  Picture; DAVID KENWRIGHT/ELY FOLK FESTIVAL FACEBOOKProcession of Morris and molly dancers through Ely has traditionally heralded the start of the Ely Folk Festival. Picture; DAVID KENWRIGHT/ELY FOLK FESTIVAL FACEBOOK

Andy Wall, chairman of the folk festival, said: "The media coverage definitely helped in raising awareness of Ely Folk Festival's Morris and molly procession and getting us a meeting with the people at ECDC involved in this.

"Not only have we (the festival and ECDC, including Ely Markets) managed to keep the procession on its traditional route but we have managed to establish all the missing lines of communication to ensure that this doesn't happen again in the future.

"However, I have been deeply saddened by the hate and anger in some, albeit relatively few, posts."

He added: "These are not helpful and are hurtful to representatives and employees trying to do their jobs, even if they see their responsibilities differently from what we'd like.

"Please let up now and leave them to work with us to make this year's procession the best ever."

On Tuesday it was revealed that the council had done a U-turn today and agreed that the procession through Ely can go ahead as part of this year's folk festival.

Talks between East Cambs Council and folk festival organisers reached agreement after what a joint statement described as a "very successful meeting".

Ely Markets - a wholly owned subsidiary of the council - appears to have thrown in the towel after folk festival feared cancellation of this year's procession through the market.

Their capitulation followed an extraordinary 36 hours since the Ely Standard revealed details of threat to this year's procession.

"We are pleased to confirm that all concerns have been addressed and a managed procession will take place using the traditional route in harmony with the farmer's market and craft market," said the statement.

"The festival is steeped in history and the procession is a central part of the event.

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"By working together, we have been able to reach a positive outcome with which all parties are satisfied."

The statement concluded: "We look forward to a well-managed, safe, fun-filled weekend for all to enjoy and this continues in the future."

Earlier festival chairman Andy Wall hit out at the "faceless bureaucrats" he claimed had made the decision and then refused to discuss it with him.

The 34th annual festival takes place from July 12-14 but the threat to the traditional parade of Morris and molly dancers angered organisers.

"In past years we have discussed the parade with the safety advisory group," said Mr Wall.

"And, as a courtesy, we have advised the council's licensing officer of the route when applying for permission for the various dance sides to collect for our chosen charity when performing displays in the city after the procession."

But this year, he said, they were advised by the licensing officer that they must seek permission from the Ely Markets organisation.

"When we did we were met with a flat refusal because they had received complaints from their customers (traders)," he said.

"We were told that we must come up with an alternative route before they would even consider having a meeting with us to discuss the situation."

Mr Wall said they had since offered three alternative routes which had been rejected out of hand "and so far three requests for a face to face meeting have been totally ignored or refused".

He said: "The layout of the market has not changed, there is no less room for the dancing than there has been in previous years, and all the traders we have spoken to along with the 'on the day' market manager have been very supportive of the Morris procession.

"All recognise that it brings a large number of visitors to Ely specifically for the procession and the subsequent dance displays, not just those who come to the festival."

A diverse range of local businesses and community groups joined the escalating campaign spearheaded by the Ely Standard.

A group of 25 traders and community leaders joined the chorus of disapproval in a letter to John Hill, the council's chief executive.

They said the procession was "a well-loved local spectacle, taking place every year for over two decades.

"It has become as much of a feature as the Eel Parade, the Potato Race and the Kings School Hoop Trundle. It is woven into the very fabric of our vibrant and eclectic city's rich tapestry. The refusal to grant permission is short sighted and far from constructive."

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