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Fringe by the Sea festival plans to return in August ‘21

Rory Steel and Jackie Shuttleworth.

Basement Jaxx, Peat & Diesel, Candi Staton, Janey Godley and Huey Morgan among those lining-up beside a strong community-interest programme

One of Scotland’s most loved arts festivals, East Lothian’s Fringe by the Sea has today (Thursday 18th February) announced preliminary plans for its return this summer with support from partners North Berwick Trust, Belhaven Brewery and DC Thomson Media.

In a dynamic new approach for 2021, the festival will be focusing on a programme that deepens community engagement, aids local economic recovery from the pandemic and ensures performances with live audiences take place in Covid-secure environments. In addition, world class talent from Scotland and beyond will again be heading to North Berwick to put smiles on faces over the ten day multi-arts festival which runs from 6th to 15th August.

The theme of ‘open arms, open spaces, open minds’ will see the festival explore a number of exciting new commission-based projects that will involve diverse groups within our community to create content for the not-for-profit festival – a move that sees a shift from just providing access to creative arts to enabling participation and deeper engagement.

Tying in to Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters, another strand will see the festival shine a spotlight on the county’s rich natural environment.

The John Muir Green, partnered by new sponsor SSE Renewables, will be a focal point for a series of events including:

  • Scottish Seabird Centre sessions
  • East Lothian Countryside Ranger excursions
  • Classroom Envirocrafts

Sustainability and Sensibility: A series of high-profile speakers sharing their experiences and views on what it will take to ensure our planet is fit for future generations.

One of the main changes visitors to Fringe by the Sea will notice is the use of new spaces across the town, with outdoor (mostly covered, sideless marquees and stretch tents) auditoriums enabling social distancing for audiences of up to 500 people – the current guidelines being given by the Scottish Government for event planners.

The support of North Berwick Trust, and others including The Lighthouse and Mactaggart & Mickel, has made this possible and will see spaces in the town utilised in transformative new ways, including:

  • The North Berwick Trust Harbour Home (at the harbour)
  • The Live Session stages (in Lodge Gardens and at the harbour)
  • The SSE Renewables John Muir Green (on Anchor Green)
  • Kids Playroom (at the harbour)
  • The Marine Masterclass Lounge (at the Marine Hotel & Lawn)
  • The Bookshelf (in library car park)

The Harbour Home of the festival will become a focal point for artists and artisans from East Lothian and beyond to showcase their products from delicious street food and quality ales to handcrafted goods and artistic creations, complementing the artist huts already found at the harbour. The area will also feature a stage for visitors to enjoy music from bands, choirs and DJs and an interactive area for youngsters. Like the rest of the festival, the area will be managed in accordance with Covid-19 protocols.

The relaunched Marine Hotel and Lawn, fresh from its major refurbishment will host a series of masterclasses and seminars on food and drink from distillers, chefs and critics during the festival.

In addition to acts rebooked from the cancelled 2020 event including Basement Jaxx, Peat & Diesel, Janey Godley, Candi Staton, The Poozies and the Blues Band, a host of new performers will be announced in the coming weeks and months.

Further to live events, a number of key performances will be made available through webcasting, thanks to the support of our Master Partners, Belhaven Brewery, DC Thomson Media and North Berwick Trust.

Funding and services from Event Scotland, East Lothian Council and other partners including Scottish Seabird Centre, Shaw Marketing, Signman, Scotland Loves Local, The List, East Lothian Courier, Gilsland Park, Citizen Tickets and McInroy & Wood has also been critical to the festival’s return.

We aim to work with many local groups such as NB in Bloom, NB Coastal Area Partnership, East Lothian Library Services, NB Harbour Trust, Edington Cottage Hospital, NB Community Centre and many others throughout the region to make 2021 the best Fringe by the Sea yet.

Commenting on the plans for August, Festival Director Rory Steel, said: “Over the past year, we’ve seen just what a vital contribution communities play in public health and wellbeing. Our intention this year is to celebrate the strength of the East Lothian community, invite others in and create new opportunities for people to connect as well as bring exciting new talent and established names to the region. With the festival bringing £1.5m of economic benefit to East Lothian, we hope to provide a welcome boost as we recover from the pandemic.”

“While these are challenging times for event planners, the team has been keeping a positive mindset and is preparing for a number of eventualities as to exactly how the festival will be delivered. Safety is the primary concern of any event organiser and we will be guided by the latest Scottish and Local Government directives over the coming months. We have been hugely encouraged by the support shown to us by our sponsors and grant funding bodies, with special thanks to Belhaven Brewery, DC Thomson, Event Scotland and North Berwick Trust for their significant commitments.” added Rory.

Paul Bush OBE, VisitScotland’s Director of Events, said: “EventScotland is delighted to be supporting Fringe by the Sea through Scotland’s Events Recovery Fund. Events are a force for good as they sustain livelihoods and bring social and economic change. Through creative thinking and innovation, the event organisers are designing a festival for both artists and the audience to come together in a safe and fun way.”

East Lothian Council Provost John McMillan said: “It’s great news that Fringe by the Sea will be going ahead this year and in a format that will allow this to happen safely. East Lothian Council has supported Fringe by the Sea since its inception and I’m delighted that we are continuing to do so. Events and festivals really help to put East Lothian on the cultural map and are a great draw for both local residents and those coming from further afield. The council’s Economic Development team is working very hard to deliver on recovery planning for the region and having a strong programme of activities and attractions forms a key part of the strategy to help our economy bounce back and support our local businesses and attractions. Fringe by the Sea 2021 will be a great asset to our destination offer and will be a boost to East Lothian and its residents in many ways.”

David Tweedie, Chair of North Berwick Trust, said “We are very pleased once again to support Fringe by the Sea in bringing a first-class arts and cultural festival to North Berwick. Fringe by the Sea has been a highlight of the summer for residents and visitors to our town for over 10 years now, but this year promises to be an extra special event with its focus on community engagement and providing new Covid-secure performance and activity spaces. We wish the festival every success”.

Chair of North Berwick Coastal Area Partnership Hilary Smith said: “Fringe By The Sea 2021 is giving the whole community something really positive to look forward to. The organisers are working hard to plan a festival which delivers the friendly buzz it’s known for in a safe and responsible way, giving audiences confidence to attend. I expect there will be an even greater air of excitement building across the community as August approaches.”

The Fringe by the Sea website ( has undergone a major refresh with more details of this year’s event listed. Further updates will be added regularly as plans evolve, and those wishing to partake – from volunteering to paid jobs and trader pitches to performing – can find out how they can get involved.