Whitby Gothic Weekend – Victim of its own success?

Last week, I traveled to West Yorkshire for Whitby Gothic Weekend. This festival, founded by organiser Jo Hampshire, is now in its 21st year and has become one of the biggest events in the Gothic calendar for gig-goers, bands and those involved in the Gothic lifestyle.

However, in recent years, it seems that the festival has become a victim of its own success. Over the last few years, the media has publicised WGW as a weekend for people to dress up in costumes, parade around the town and pose for photographers. This has resulted in the small town being packed with day-trippers, photographers and traffic. While this represents a huge boost in revenue for the townspeople, it has impacted those in the Gothic community in a negative manner.

As Whitby is a small town, there are no big hotels in the area. The picturesque seaside destination offers holiday cottage and b&b accommodation almost exclusively. However, with the huge influx of ‘non-Goths’ booking to stay there, many who come for the music festival at the Spa Pavilion find themselves unable to find anywhere to stay or end up paying exorbitant prices. Many cottage owners cash in by insisting people book for a full week even if they only want to stay for a weekend and this can be costly, resulting in Goths being priced out of the market.

8685771993_314eb9446e_m  Goth or not? Who knows…

(Photo source: Bryan Ledgard)

Another negative is that, over the weekend, the town has become a no-go area for traditional Goths. Last Saturday, the sheer volume of gawkers, day-trippers, dresser-uppers and photographers resulted in the Victorian swing-bridge which spans the harbour having to be closed for safety reasons. Those who do venture down find themselves battling huge crowds, being harassed by photographers or forced into the street by pensioners in enormous crinolines. Most of our black-clad crew now stay on the West Cliff, lying low in the pubs, tea shops and cottages until darkness falls, before venturing forth to the Spa for the evening’s musical event.

So maybe we can be forgiven for feeling a little put-upon. Last weekend, a social media campaign was launched where we tweeted or instagrammed ‘#OurWGW’ when posting on the Whitby Goth Weekend events. These events included the bands and club nights at the spa, the Real Gothic v Whitby Stokomotiv charity football match (Incidentally, we were soundly trounced 8-1!), the Bizzare Bazaar, Restoration and just generally hanging out with friends.

The media must take its share of the blame for this predicament. Focussing on publishing pictures of people in costumes instead of actually covering what’s happening at the festival has turned Whitby into a weekend masquerade. Case in point, last Saturday, one of the organisers got a call from the BBC asking to come down to the Spa to interview him about the festival. This would be have been a great opportunity to get the festival-goers point of view across.  “Will there be people in costumes there?” was the next question. He replied no, explaining that it was a music festival. The BBC never turned up.

However, as Goths, we are used to being marginalised, misinterpreted and misunderstood. Such is our lot in life. Fads come and go, so just maybe, in a few more years, the novelty will wear off and we will get our festival back. In the meantime, we will continue to return to the town we love to enjoy great music, see our favourite bands and party till the small hours. Keep the faith. x

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