It is comforting to learn that others are publicly mourning the passing of 45 continuous years of Salisbury Festival: as we have come to know it. As a founder of the Festival in 1972 and of Salisbury Arts Centre in 1974, as well as being a director of Salisbury Playhouse for 14 years while the fundraising and construction of the present building was being undertaken, I am perhaps in a unique position to comment on the requirement of Arts Council England that the three organisations should merge, as a condition of them retaining their grants for the next four years.

Whilst there are obvious merits in uniting the administration and marketing of the three organisations and the lack of major sponsors, the squeeze on public funds and changing audience patterns may be compelling financial reasons for their merger, the key issue is in their future artistic direction, because each of them has a very distinct culture and objective. The early indications that the Festival and Arts Centre were merely to be subsumed by the Playhouse did nothing to assuage the fears of their supporters that their long established cultures would be, to all intents and purposes, obliterated. I understand there is to be a new over-arching Arts Trust to cover all three organisations, but its composition and to whom it is accountable are not yet clear.

However, the fact that redundancy notices had to be issued to the entire Festival staff, just before the start of this last Festival, thereby wiping out years of knowledge and experience at a stroke, does not augur well for the future. Despite that morale destroyer, every single one of those staff members continue to work their socks off for the Festival. These people are real troupers, personifying the passion and commitment to the Festival which is clearly shared by so many.

Salisbury Festival’s primary objective to provide two cultural weeks of the highest international quality, bringing performers to South Wiltshire who otherwise would never be seen here, has been achieved with astonishing success. The roll call of musicians, actors, cabaret, circus and street performers, as well as orchestras and theatre companies that have entertained and excited the people of this area is legendary and many of the more spectacular performances, in the Market Square and elsewhere, have been entirely free to the public. In recent years that has been broadened to include the participation of local people, from all walks of life, and Salisbury Live is another initiative that has grown out of the Festival.

We are told that Salisbury Festival will re-emerge in 2019, but the big questions are: in what form and who will provide the vision, inspiration and drive demonstrated by the likes of Richard Gregson-Williams, Helen Marriage and latterly Toby Smith: to name just three notable Festival Directors. Will it become just another low-risk literary festival, or will it continue to reach out to surprise and excite the residents of and visitors to South Wiltshire by inviting outstanding performers from around the world; as well as continuing the involvement of someone like Howard Moody, who has given the last 30 consecutive years to encouraging and educating thousands of local people to make music at Salisbury Festival?

I do not know the answer to the future, but I am sure that there will be a great number of people watching eagerly to see how the ACE grant for the post 2018 Festival is spent and whether the enormous achievements of the past 45 years will continue to be built on, or become just a fading memory. I, for one, obviously hope for the former and that John Glen MP, as the newly appointed Minister for the Arts, will share my aspiration.