Are Christian festivalgoers 'throttling' Keswick? Convention organisers say it's good for business

The Keswick Convention is one of the oldest Christian festivals in the UK. However, it's having to fight back against accusations that the influx of thousands of Christian holidaymakers during the peak summer season is stifling trade for local businesses.

Local newspaper, the Keswick Reminder, reports on a feud between business owners and the event's organisers with the headline 'We don't want you here for half our summer holidays.'

Now iNews is also looking into the stand-off with claims the three-week-long camp is 'throttling' local businesses. 

The row originated with a proposed change in dates for 2018 pushing the start of the three week festival back from July 15 to July 21 to coincide with school holidays. Keswick Convention says the change is in response to educational authorities moving their dates and if it did not make the shift, families would be barred from coming to weeks one and two.

But some business owners claim their summer takings drop by up to 90 per cent while the Convention is on, with evangelical festivalgoers leaving pubs empty in the evenings to go to Bible studies and worship sessions. 

Keswick ConventionThe Keswick Convention was guarded by armed police this year.

An online petition signed by more than 1,800 people says: 'Keswick is the adventure capital of England and it is essentially closing its doors to the outside world while the convention is happening.'

The Keswick Convention has been part of the town annual calendar from 142 years – longer even than the local paper, in print since 1896.

Jutta Devenish, spokeswoman for Keswick Ministries, the operational arm of the Convention, says they are holding a roundtable discussion with business leaders in September to hear their views and wanted to keep relationships with the area good.

'As Christians we have to be good neighbours,' she told Christian Today.

'I think there is a lot of communication that has to happen between the two groups.'

She added: 'We are willing to have these conversations constructively. It is just a question of whether anyone in the town is willing to have them.'

But local business owners do not seem convinced.

'It shouldn't be allowed,' says Garry Price, the general manager of the Kings Arms Hotel in the market square, according to iNews.

'This is a nice tourist town where families come to enjoy the scenery, but they can't visit because everywhere is booked up for the convention.

'The conventioneers take up the accommodation and the parking spaces, but they don't spend their money in town. We've even had people on the street telling everyone they are sinners.

'It's getting on people's nerves. You just can't hear yourself think when the convention is in town.'

Keswick ConventionKeswick Ministries has plans to have a permanent base in the town's old pencil factory.

The Keswick Tourism Association is listening to the complaints and says it will work with the council for a solution and local mayor, Susan Leighton, has called a town hall meeting to hear residents' views. 

Moving the gathering to a quieter time of year such as February has been suggested by business owners.

But Devenish is adamant the festival is good for the town.

She said the event brings £2.5m to the town each year and £250,000 is spent on accommodation for volunteers and staff and pointed out the programme is empty in the afternoon so festivalgoers can explore the local area. The change in date next year is to fit in with school holiday dates around the UK.