Great Yorkshire Fringe is canned – Founder blames poor York city centre management

An event in the White Rose Rotunda at the Great Yorkshire Fringe in 2019. Photographs: YorkMix
7 Jan 2020 @ 6.52 pm
| News

One of York’s most popular entertainment innovations of recent years, the Great Yorkshire Fringe, is not returning.

The ten-day summer festival of comedy, music and family fun has transformed Parliament Street and brought some of the biggest names in stand-up to the city since launching in 2015.


But it has been shelved after the founder became exasperated with the management of York city centre.

Organisers thanked the performers and above all the people of York for their support.

Meanwhile city leaders expressed their dismay at the decision and said they would welcome the chance to meet with the Fringe team to see if it could be resurrected in future years.

Entertainment experience

Something for everyone
The Great Yorkshire Fringe was the brainchild of Martin Witts, a former York St John University drama student who went on to run the Leicester Square Theatre and the Museum Of Comedy in London.

He turned the city centre into an entertainment experience, complete with The White Rose Rotunda – a 1920s Spiegeltent – and The Teapot, a pop-up space holding 150 people.

Big names including Paul Merton, Paul Sinha, Michael Palin and Henning Wehn were brought to the city for the festival.

Over the last five years the Great Yorkshire Fringe has staged 1,200 shows, hosted 9,000 performers and welcomed 110,000 audience members.

Fringe founder Martin Witts
But Martin has decided a lack of city centre support means he cannot bring it back this year. He said:

  • Thank you to all that have been involved in the Fringe over the last five years – it has been a privilege to work with you.

    We will continue to invest in the local cultural scene of York.

    Our experience of sponsoring, curating and managing an event in this small city of ours has led us to the conclusion that until a well managed and efficient city centre management is implemented, that a festival of our size cannot thrive and does not have a place in York.

‘Incredibly supportive’

It brought a buzz to Parliament Street
City leaders were disappointed to hear that the Fringe wasn’t coming back, and insisted they had fully backed the event.

For City of York Council, assistant director for communities and culture Charlie Croft said:

  • We are sorry to hear that the Yorkshire Fringe won’t be returning in 2020.

    Since the organisers first approached us we have been incredibly supportive of the festival, doing everything we can to try and ensure a smooth running of the festival in one of York’s busiest streets and to help make it a commercial success.

    They have been a valuable addition to York’s cultural scene and whilst we are sad they won’t be returning we will continue to work with innovative organisations looking to put on cultural events in our city.

Setting up in the first year of the fringe, 2015

Make It York is in charge of both city centre management and tourist body Visit York. MD Sean Bullick held open the door to the Fringe returning in future.

“The Great Yorkshire Fringe was a valued addition to the city’s diverse events calendar and we are sorry to hear it will not be returning next year,” Sean said, adding:

  • It is disappointing that the organisers feel this way as over the last five years Make it York have offered significant marketing and operational support for this festival.

    However we understand there have been some infrastructure challenges connected to putting on an event of this scale in a city centre space.

‘Five fabulous years’

In a statement the Great Yorkshire Fringe team said they had enjoyed “five fabulous years” in York, praising “a fantastic array of volunteers, festival crew and local venue staff”.

They added:

  • We would like to thank all of the amazing acts who have performed, our food and beverage providers, the staff both from York and London and our loyal team of volunteer staff.

    The biggest thank you of all to our wonderful patrons, York residents and visitors alike who have visited us and the city of York for the last five years, we hope that we have given you some amazing memories.