Student festival sounds swell

A group of Elgin High students pulled together and made the EHS-tival a hit. Emma Seith reports

The tinnitus had scarcely worn off and there had barely been time to clean the wellies after the Rockness music gig. But hundreds of savvy revellers still turned up for another, very different sort of music festival last month - EHS-tival.

Pronounced "estival", the evening event was organised by young people at 600-pupil Elgin High in Moray, after parents and teachers set them the challenge of revitalising the school's traditional summer fete, which in recent years had failed to pull the crowds.

A working group of about 25 students was set up at the start of the year, tasked with organising the festival with the support of school staff.

Beginning in January students had to work together to plan the event - from designing the logo, and getting local businesses on board, to supplying services and sponsorship, choosing feature bands and selecting the food and drink to be provided.

In maths, S3 students researched various options for the size and layout of the festival, with aspiring architect Angus Lawson, an S6 student, using their measurements to produce a site plan.

About a dozen teachers advised the working group, but it was also given guidance by Lauren Bochel, who delivers event management courses at Moray College, and members of the local Rotaract - young Rotarians - who told students how they had organised a funfair earlier in the year.

Students also received invaluable support in three hour-long sessions from Jim Morris, Moray Council's education support officer for enterprise, coaching and mentoring, who taught them how to stay focused on their goal and not get bogged down in minutiae.

The festival was staged on the school's playing fields, where in typical Scottish style it drizzled throughout the evening. But the rain failed to keep the crowds away or dampen their spirits. There was a continental cafe selling croissants and coffee, run by modern languages teacher Joyce Marriott; a BBQ hosted by local butcher Royan's; home-made ice cream from Rizza's in Huntly; fresh herbs, grown and sold by students in one of the school's S2 electives and the creme de la creme - mocktails, created and served by S3 students at the Shaken not Stirred drinks stall.

Through the Rotaract, students secured a contact for fairground rides, and an open-mic tent boasted a string of home-grown musical talent.

Elgin High includes provision for children with a range of profound and complex learning difficulties in Kestrel House. Polly Cheer, head of Kestrel House, ensured that these children were catered for with a Samba stall, where they played home-made musical instruments to create a lively carnival atmosphere.

S3 student Lauren Henderson had aimed high, inviting singer Emeli Sande to perform. But when she was unable to attend, EHS-tival's headline act became the school's own four-man indie band, The Scenix. Also playing the main stage - in an open-sided lorry - were other bands from Elgin High and Elgin Academy, including rock bands Chasing Tasko, Guys at the Hot Dog Stand, and the Unknown, as well as cover band Fortunate Sun and solo artist - an S5 student - Nicole Stewart, who played guitar and sang.

Band members all wore lanyards proudly proclaiming their status as "artists" and the festival organisers - kitted out in high-visibility vests - were easily identifiable as "crew" thanks to their badges.

Tickets were #163;2 for students and concessions, and #163;3 for adults. The event cost about #163;600 to stage and was funded by donations and students' fundraising.

The biggest expense was the hiring of a sound engineer, which was voted by the school students as the most critical element to guarantee the festival's success.

PT guidance Jenny Hanton said: "Organising this event has taught the pupils to have self-belief, drive and commitment and to keep their goal in sight. They have learned to change people's perceptions of what can and can't be done and to play to their strengths."

The festival made #163;1,600 - three times as much as the traditional school fetes it replaced. The funds will go towards fitting out a new meeting room for students in the school's new building, due for construction next year. But making a profit was not the event's sole purpose.

Working group member Gemma Geddes, who recently joined S6, said: "This was an event to bring the community together and put Elgin High on the map."

Jim Morris evaluated EST-ival as "a huge success", adding: "This is an example of real enterprise, but it's important that the youngsters know what skills they have demonstrated and developed so they can use this event to sell themselves in job interviews. They have honed so many skills - decision making, critical thinking, creative thinking, communication, organisation, management and leadership. It's been a wonderful event."

The school hopes to stage another festival next year, but as the new school building is to be situated on the playing fields, the first challenge will be to find a new venue.


- Make the students feel at the core of the venture - create a buzz and establish a working group.

- Listen to the students - they should know what will appeal to their peers.

- Develop contacts in the school and wider community and don't be afraid to ask for advice - or equipment.

- Use local experts to help make ideas become reality.

- Ask guidance from local coaches to help students work out what they need and how they will achieve it.

- Encourage students to promote their event through local press and businesses.

- Encourage students to be positive - have the courage to try something different and believe in yourselves.

- Maintain communication with partners - parent council, community education and development, and police.

- Be realistic - there will be a lot of ideas and you need to be selective.

Enjoy the experience.

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