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C Venues loses home amid row over Edinburgh Fringe working conditions

The Royal Mile during the 2018 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Photo: Shutterstock
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Edinburgh Fringe venue operator C Venues has had the tenancy of its main site on Chambers Street revoked by the building’s owner, the University of Edinburgh.

The move comes during a period of intense criticism over employment practices at C Venues – one of the fringe’s major players – with activists accusing it of exploiting staff working at its venues during the festival.

Adam House, owned by the University of Edinburgh and the largest of C Venues sites in recent years, will now be run by rival fringe company Gilded Balloon during the festival.

The university is a major landlord for the fringe and the move to revoke C Venues’ tenancy follows an annual audit of its tenants’ employment practices after last summer’s festival.

A spokesman for the university told The Stage its 2018 audit comprised a broad sweep of all its tenants, including fringe operator Gilded Balloon, the Pleasance, Assembly and Underbelly as well as the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society.

He said: “We are aware that Festival Fringe venues employ a variety of employment practices. As part of our yearly review of tenants, venues and operating models we consider, among other things, the employment practices of our tenants.

“After the last festival, and in light of our yearly review, it was decided not to renew the relationship with one client.

“We are comfortable that our continuing Festival Fringe tenants satisfy our aspirations with regards to terms and conditions around volunteers and employment.”

Some Edinburgh Fringe venues no better than sweatshops, report claims

C Venues has operated at the fringe since 1992, when it first opened in Overseas House on Princes Street. It was informed of the university’s decision in December 2018, but it is has only now been made public after The Scotsman revealed the decision.

Since the decision was made, the operator has come under further public scrutiny for its use of volunteers in a report published last month from workers’ rights campaign group Fair Fringe.

It accused the company of engaging workers as volunteers and offering them just £200 to work the whole festival, amid other criticisms around accommodation and working conditions.

Following the termination of its tenancy of Adam House, C Venues will continue to have a presence at the fringe with four venues in the Old Town, New Town and Southside.

A spokesman for C Venues said it was “saddened” to be leaving Adam House after 19 years.

He added: “We are and always have been a volunteer-focused organisation. We believe there is a need for space where people considering a career in the arts can learn and develop their craft in the middle of a busy arts festival, and where performing companies are able to try out new work and take artistic risks.

“There are many venues on the fringe with a similar ethos. The vast majority of professionally managed Edinburgh Fringe venues have been established with similar aims, and not, as suggested, to exploit volunteer team members, performing companies and artists.

“Our festival volunteers have chosen to participate in the fringe for the benefit this brings them and our venues would not be there without our volunteers.”

Katy Koren, co-artistic director of Gilded Balloon, told The Stage she would not be commenting on the move at present, but she and co-director Karen Koren have issued a statement to potential companies. It said they were “thrilled” to be taking on Adam House for 2019.

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