Leek Arts Festival has been called off for the first time in its 44-year history.

The Festival, which has been running annually since 1977, was due to go ahead from mid-April to early June with a programme of more than 40 events including top international names and contributions from local artists and community groups.

But organisers of the 2020 Festival have now confirmed that it would not be going ahead following government advice for people to avoid social contact at gatherings including pubs, clubs and theatres because of the current coronavirus crisis.

Leek Arts Festival spokesman Phil Edmeades said: “With great sadness and after a lot of soul-searching the festival committee has taken the decision to cancel this year’s programme.

“The government advice for people to avoid contact means we can’t risk exposing people to the potential of being infected by coronavirus at one of our events.

“It also means that many regular festival supporters will be reluctant to buy advance tickets for our major events and we simply can’t operate without some certainty that if we did go ahead we would have an audience.

“Pressing ahead would leave us exposed to the risk of paying out thousands of pounds in fees to artists, with no guarantee that ticket sales would be sufficient to meet that cost.”

Phil added that the announcement that Leek’s Foxlowe Arts centre would now be closed until at least the middle of April – and possibly beyond - had also been a factor in the festival committee’s decision to cancel LAF 2020.

He said: “All our biggest events including Eddi Reader, Fairport Convention, Ian McMillan and Boothby Graffoe, would have been staged at the Foxlowe. With no guarantee that the venue would be available to use we feel we had no choice but to cancel all those events.”

Anyone who has bought tickets online for Leek Arts Festival committee events will receive an automatic refund within the next few days.

People who have bought physical tickets from either the Foxlowe or Leek Tourist Information Centre should return to the seller for their refund.

Phil said: “Unfortunately, as the Foxlowe is now closed until at least April 17 people are going to have to be patient if that’s where they purchased their event tickets. That’s regrettable but, in the circumstances, we hope people will understand.

“Leek Arts Festival will be back, bigger and better, in 2021. Many of the major artists who were due to perform this time have committed to coming to us next year instead and we are already looking forward to putting the 2021 festival programme together.

“Leek Arts Festival has happened every year from 1977 until now and we are determined that this year will simply be a small blip in our proud record of celebrating artistic talent.”

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