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Summer festival launch.   Picture: Photo: Max Crawford
Summer festival launch. Photo: Max Crawford

Free street galas and festivals are back

Q & A with arts director Brendon McIlroy

Halo Arts director Brendon Mcilroy talks about his work and the programme of free summer events his company has announced for the streets of the West End over May and June. Main photo: Max Crawford

What do you have planned this summer?

In June, Halo Arts has lined up a programme of free, accessible community events across the West End, comprising gala days, street festivals and even things like an outdoor ceilidh and a one-man pop-up Shakespeare! The events will be open to all, free to participate and the focus is on providing some much-needed merriment and opportunities for communities to come together again after a challenging few years.


Are events back to normal after the lockdowns?

We're not quite there yet, but from an events perspective I think it’s safe to say we can continue as normal in confidence. The events are all outdoor and we have extensively risk-assessed each activity to ensure all guidelines and advice are being followed. The last time Summer events were able to go ahead without significant restrictions was in 2019, so it's been a long time since people have been able to confidently and safely go to things!

Family fun on Vinicombe Street
Family fun on Vinicombe Street

What’s your background in events?

I've been working in events and production for the last 19 years. I was West End Festival's senior event manager for 14 years and I've worked on events such as Edinburgh Fringe, South Side Festival and Pride Glasgow, as well as countless community events and productions.

How are you helping people faced with a rising cost in living?

Our Summer events are free to all, and always will be. The West End is definitely becoming a place where everything comes at a cost and with the cost of living going through the roof lately, people don't have a spare £100 kicking around to take their families out for the day. We're of the belief that events and experiences shouldn't all come at a cost and we want to ensure what we do is open to all from across the city.


What are the challenges you face getting funds for what you want to do?

These events have been made possible thanks to the support of Glasgow City Council, but besides the local authority providing support, accessing funds for community events has definitely been a challenge. With everything going on in the world, events and entertainment are pretty low down on the priority list for things to fund. However, people underestimate the importance of these things for mental health and wellbeing.

Free entertainment on the streets.
Free entertainment on the streets.

Why don’t we have street parades and parties anymore?

It’s all to do with funding and changes to policies unfortunately. Back in the days of the West End Festival, there would be significant amounts of funding and sponsorship available and the festival would benefit from things like free road closures. In recent years, the funding was ceased and the road closure charges were no longer waived. On top of this - in order to deliver events in any park such as Kelvingrove - an environmental levy now needs to be paid per attendee.


What makes a successful family event in the West End, do you think?

It’s all about the people. At the events we delivered cautiously last year, such as the Mansfield Park Street Festival and Vinicombe Street Gala, it worked in spite of the restrictions because there was a sense that people really embraced and appreciated the rare opportunity to come together. At the events we delivered in June last year there was a bit of a magic in the air. They were just what people needed.

All you need to know. Update: QMD festival is now postponed to September 25.
All you need to know. Update: QMD festival is now postponed to September 25.

Can you say much about plans for other things happening later in the year?

We're not just stopping after the summer that's for sure. Halo Arts is currently working on a fairly large-scale community event which, funding permitting, will go ahead in September. Then there's the annual St Andrew's Day Torchlight Parade in November. On top of this, our education and outreach team will be expanding our programme of youth theatres and arts academies as well as developing our annual Christmas Panto. No rest for the wicked as they say!


NOTE: Queen Margaret Drive Festival has been put back to September 25.

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