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Cheltenham Literature Festival loses major sponsor

The Cheltenham Literature Festival and Baillie Gifford have been forced to cut ties after one of the UK's largest asset managers met with a wave of boycotts over its investments in fossil fuels and firms operating in Israel.

A statement on the festival's website said it was "saddened" to announce that Baillie Gifford had decided to end their partnership with Cheltenham Literature Festival.

The company has already ended its long-running sponsorship of the Hay Festival and the Edinburgh Book Festival.

The statement said: "Culture and literature are by their nature engaged in the world beyond them. It is not possible - we should not aim - to isolate one from the other. Recent intense discussion of the ways in which literature festivals and their methods of funding interact with and impact upon that outside world has been a salutary reminder of our interconnectedness.

"Many have in the past weeks noted that contemporary literature festivals rely on a mix of funding which includes a significant sum generated through corporate sponsorship. These funds ensure that wide access to a diverse culture remains something we can offer to all. Without it, there would be no free events, ticket prices would increase, schools programmes would reduce in scope; some festivals would close.

"These are high stakes. But the stakes in the world outside are even higher, and there are few easy answers. At Cheltenham Festivals, we have taken decisive action in recent years to help end the climate emergency, changing the fields we use, developing and sharing sustainability strategies and toolkits, and using our platform to advocate for change. We are all on a journey. Change can take time, and proceed through stages. This can be frustrating; we share a sense of urgency.

"It is in this context that we seek corporate sponsorship. It may be that the balance of public and private funding might be different, but the former is presently of limited availability. Literature festivals are engines of change, cauldrons of ideas, and we are passionately committed to offering ourselves as a centre of a forward-thinking culture. To do so, we must fund our work, and ensure it is as inclusive and accessible as possible. In so doing, we aim to exert positive influence on all, and make a constructive impact on the world beyond our festival.

"It is therefore with sadness that we announce the withdrawal of a major sponsor, Baillie Gifford. We have been grateful for the funding they have provided and have turned it to positive ends: to increasing access to, and representation within, the very public debates that can affect lasting change.

"We would not have chosen to find ourselves in this position. We believe that change is only possible if we as a culture make it together. Engagement with festivals like ours - by readers, writers, policymakers and indeed by sponsors - is a crucial means of making progress. We ask that all of us - writers, audiences, investors, book-workers - consider these questions in the round, and work together to achieve our shared goals.

"We support an end to fossil fuel usage, and an end to human rights abuses of all kinds. Every year for 80 years, we have platformed the most prominent writers and thinkers in the world, and championed progress. We will continue to do so, although like all literature festivals we operate within a straitened financial context.

"We passionately believe that books and ideas are crucial for all - and we are working towards a future in which funding for them is both sustainable and plentiful. We invite everyone to join that wider conversation about how we achieve the future health of the world of books ... and, most importantly and pressingly, also of the world beyond."

The 2024 Cheltenham Literature Festival takes place from October 4 to 13.

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