The stage is set. This weekend, 35,000 people are expected to descend on the Hillsborough Park for the three-day highlight of Sheffield’s pop music scene.
But this year also sees the return of a controversial ‘no re-entry’ policy – any ticket holders who leave the venue will not be allowed back in.
Although organisers say a customer service tent will hear all appeals for re-entry on a “common sense” basis, for so many this will mean no freedom of movement.
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Anyone hoping to leave to sort out childcare, or go home for lunch, or take part in the city centre’s fantastic free Fringe offerings will think twice.
There is no freedom to see a band in the morning, nip home and return for the headliners.
There’s no option to go out to a favourite cafe for a minute’s peace.
Now, on the streets of Hillsborough, like farmers praying for rain, local cafes and stores wait anxiously to see what kind of weekend they are in for.
“Last year we stocked up so much,” said Kate Walton, co-manager of Molly’s Cafe & Deli in Middlewood Road.
“We looked at the 35,000 coming and figured we would get a percentage of that.”
It should have been an easy thing.
Molly’s, and the dozens of other businesses on Middlewood Road, are almost directly outside the festival’s main entrance.
"It was dead,” said Kate.
“We had one maybe-normal day, and other than that it was flat.
“For such a small business like we are, the dips in money like that can put people under.”
And sadly, every business The Star spoke to in Hillsborough felt the same.
Last year’s no re-entry policy was a measure to contain the spread of Covid-19. Tramlines 2021 was one of the Government’s flagship pilot events to test if could be restrictions could be lifted.
Hillsborough councillor George Lindars-Hammond called the stance “frustrating but understandable”.
The councillor has been much more critical of this years reasoning.
Tramlines’ organisers have cited that ‘no re-entry’ helps issues with “site management”, and was supported by the city council’s Safety Advisory Group.
"It cuts across the interests of businesses, and a wide cross section of residents who attend the festival are really, really unhappy about it,” said Councillor Lindars-Hammond.
“I say this as a friend of Tramlines and not as an opponent – for a lot of reasons it’s turned much less into a community accessible event and fast towards a festival that is in Hillsborough, but not part of Hillsborough.
“People are really really positive about Tramlines. But a policy like this has a chance to sever the connection with the local community.”
And on Middlewood Road, that sentiment is on business owners’ lips.
“Don’t even get me started,” Jane Dyson, manager of Jam’s Cafe, told The Star.
“This was supposed to be for the community. It was sold to us on the idea that businesses could make lots of money.
“It will take all our business. We would have been really busy. We are talking thousands of pounds lost, and every year it is getting less and less.”
“Tramlines not only affects us for the weekend, but for the whole of the set up,” continued Kate at Molly’s Cafe.
“The whole month of the festival affects us, with traffic enforcement in place and no parking. For two weeks now it has been so flat.
“I think they are missing a trick. We go all over the country, and we see what festivals can be and it comes so far from the mark. This festival could’ve been so much more.”
“As a ticket holder, the thought of being imprisoned all day completely freaks me out,” said Lizzie Drennan, a member of staff at The Delightful Touch cafe.
“I’ve been in Sheffield for 24 years. Tramlines has always been a free festival and it should have stayed that way.”
The upset in the community is palpable.
Several business expressed their frustration that Tramlines’ founding mission statement was that customers could ride the city’s trams to every end of town and see what was on offer.
This year’s Fringe at Tramlines offering is one of the most vibrant its ever had.
Devonshire Green and the Peace Gardens will both buzzing with live music and culture.
Parties and independent events are being held by bars, pubs and club venues up and down the city.
Even simple searches online will uncover the wealth of talent on show through Beerlines, Clamlines, The Fringe and in dozens of pubs.
One member of staff at the newly opened Depot Bakery, set in Hillsborough Park itself, called Fringe “the best bit” of the weekend.
The cafe’s manager, Steph Veall, said: “As a ticketholder, I’m very excited. But I also don’t know who it’s going to go.
"The cafe might get some people on their way in the morning. We might even get people who think they can catch some of the music from here.
“I can understand that businesses inside want a monopoly on the trade, but I imagine it will be quite expensive.”
Tramlines’ organisers say the decision was made after the city council’s Safety Advisory Group “confirmed significant additional benefits” to the policy.
Tramlines organisers say anyone who needs to leave the festival due to a change of plans or an emergency should speak to staff at their Customer Service tent, located next to Medics and Welfare.
Parents, families and those have medical needs have raised their concerns with how this will work on the day. But that remains to be seen.
In the meantime, the businesses of Middlewood Road want to make the most of it.
One side effect of last year’s no-entry policy even the cafes’ regular customers did not come out as they assumed it would be too busy.
This year, they are appealing for anyone not headed inside Tramlines’ fences to pay them a visit in any way they can.
“I’m don’t want to sound like I’m against Tramlines,” continued Kate, at Molly’s. “But I’m very disappointed in them.
"On the day we’re going to have a DJ and drinks on sale.
“We want to create a party for those who are not going. We know our customer base and we know who will be coming.”