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Council defends marketing of Festival of Imagination despite 'poor turnout'

A council has defended its marketing of a 'quality' festival amid criticism and claims of poor turnout.

Adam Purnell, known as the 'Shropshire Lad', cooking food for the last day of the Festival of Imagination in Ironbridge
Adam Purnell, known as the 'Shropshire Lad', cooking food for the last day of the Festival of Imagination in Ironbridge

Ironbridge's Festival of Imagination came to a close on Sunday with Shropshire's celebrity chef Adam Purnell cooking up a storm.

Original plans for Sunday were changed at the last minute amid backlash around 'bonkers' £65-a-head ticket prices for an exclusive tasting menu event.

Instead, tickets were scrapped and Mr Purnell, also known as the 'Shropshire Lad', prepared a packed menu of purchasable soul food including beef chuck rolls and southern-fried seitan sandwiches.

Whilst social media was flooded with praise for the decision to open up Sunday's event for free, the 18-day festival has been dogged by online criticism about the lack of marketing.

One commenter said: "The advertising and social media communications for this event has been awful. It looks absolutely brilliant, so what a shame to not have reached the Telford/Shrewsbury communities to advertise! If this was on in Quarry Park it would have been sold out with the right advertising."

Another said they only found out about the event because of a dog walk: "I went to the comedy night on Wednesday and it was great. The problem, like everyone has said, is lack of advertising. I only found out about it because I was walking my dogs at the park a few weeks ago and I was nosy enough to ask what was going on.

"Such a shame, I felt bad for the performers that they are having to entertain such small audiences."

One commenter said they found out about the local event from an artist's own website: "We went to see Toyah last week, only knew about that from Toyah's website, she was absolutely brilliant but only had an audience of 120 to 150."

Despite the online criticism, Mr Purnell had sold out of most of his food on Sunday within two hours, as people queued for the rare opportunity to try his street food.

He said: "It went really well, it was definitely the right call to change it up. I don't tend to like doing street food because it's quite unpredictable. It would only take it to chuck it down and no one would turn up.

"We'd planned the event a year ago and obviously the climate was very different. The decision really paid off, lots of people turned out and there was a huge queue and everyone seemed to really enjoy it."

Festival organiser Telford & Wrekin Council said it is taking feedback on board, but defended its efforts to promote the festival.

Councillor Carolyn Healy, cabinet member for climate change, green spaces, natural and historic environment and cultural services, said: "Promotion of the event has included news and adverts in local press, posters and fliers being distributed out in the area as well as information banners in the gorge.

"Social media posts have had a reach of just under 400,000 across Telford & Wrekin Council, Telford & Wrekin Culture and Events and Festival of Imagination channels.

"We obviously had a pause on all communication for the festival during the mourning period following the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

"We are taking feedback on board with regards to the reach of the promotion and we will address this for our future planned events.

"We would like to thank all our visitors to the festival as well as the fantastic performers for making this a quality event."

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