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Allegations of discriminatory practices ignite calls for the festival to adopt new principles to tackle inequalities. 

a crowd gathers at Edinburgh Fringe Festival
Edinburgh Fringe must change its practices to improve inclusivity, recent reports say


Volunteering opportunities at Edinburgh Fringe Festival have been condemned for leaning into “ableism, ageism and discrimination of those with care responsibilities”.

Venue operator C venues said it seeks to create an accessible, inclusive environment where diversity is celebrated after it was criticised for advertising unpaid volunteer roles lasting up to 46 days with shifts up to 13 hours long.

The fallout follows two recent reports calling on the festival and Edinburgh’s wider cultural sector to adopt inclusivity measures.


Edinburgh-based artist and postgraduate researcher Rosie Aspinall Priest, who called out the job ad on Twitter, said their inbox has since been filled with volunteers’ accounts of dangerous working conditions, bullying, sexual assaults, and being so hungry they fainted on shift.

C venues would benefit from more than £4,000 free labour for every volunteer working ten-hour days throughout the festival, Aspinall Priest added.

C venues says volunteers typically work eight to 10 hours a day, six days a week, although some shifts may require up to 13 hour days.

Volunteers are housed together, typically in accommodation without WiFi, and receive basic food packages including bread, cereal, tinned tomatoes and pasta.

“There is absolutely zero accountability for venues who are hosting performances,” Aspinall Priest said.

The allegations against C venues come a year after it received funding from The Fringe Society to support creatives from underrepresented, minority or disadvantaged backgrounds to bring artistic work to the Fringe.

The producer lost two venues at the festival in 2019 following accusations of exploitation.

A C venues spokesperson told ArtsProfessional it aims to create a caring and supporting environment and prevent discrimination, harassment and bullying.

It said applications from everyone who wants to be involved are welcomed and that there are opportunities for those who can only work shorter dates or part time. 

Volunteer guidance

The Fringe Society strongly encourages its venues to adhere to its best practice guidance for volunteering at the festival, a spokesperson said.

Venues that indicate they are following the guidance are listed on the Fringe’s website. C venues was not included in the 2021 list.

The festival said it takes the issues raised incredibly seriously but did not respond to ArtsProfessional’s question on whether it plans to address low or unpaid roles in the future.

Figures from 2016 show about 10% of the 6,000 jobs advertised at the festival that year were unpaid volunteer roles. 55% of remunerated roles were paid below the living wage.

Aspinall Priest said if C venues cannot afford to pay its volunteers, it shouldn’t be at the festival. 

“Organisations that maintain inequalities and poverty through these kind of practices need to be shamed, shunned and shut down.”

New principals

Edinburgh Fringe may need structural changes to improve diversity and accessibility. 

A report from the Future Fringe calls the festival’s growth mindset into question, saying the emphasis “exacerbates already existing issues in the Fringe ecology”.

Concerns were raised over the festival's open access policy creating an uncontrolled ‘pay to perform landscape,' - making it more financially difficult for some performers to take part - and a lack of clarity over who should leads efforts to improve the festival, due to The Fringe Society historically removing itself from any decision making.

A new set of standards or guidelines, decided collaboratively between venues, participants and stakeholders, is recommended to ensure fairer practices.

A second report, Future Culture Edinburgh, said the city’s cultural sector must chart a more equitable, diverse, accessible and sustainable future.

Culture Collective Creative Lead Morvern Cunningham, one of the report’s authors, said contributors considered a series of rules or principles for the Fringe.

“Although the notion felt initially counterintuitive to some, to others it was seen as vital that some kind of agreed principles or charter of values be agreed by all Fringe stakeholders, in order to redress current recognised imbalances.”