Activist pressure ends partnership between Cheltenham Festivals and one of its biggest sponsors

Cheltenham Festivals will no longer be receiving funding from a major corporate sponsor after eight years amid pressure from activists, with the co-CEO revealing the organisers of world-famous Cheltenham Literature Festival are 'left seriously worried for the future'.

By Chloe Gorman  |  Published
One of Cheltenham Festivals' major corporate sponsors is withdrawing its funding for Cheltenham Literature Festival in 2024 amid pressure from activitsts.

Cheltenham Festivals has revealed that it is 'seriously worried for the future' as one of its major sponsors withdraws its funding for Cheltenham Literature Festival after eight years of supporting the event.

Investment management firm, Baillie Gifford, has been a major sponsor for many literary festivals, including Cheltenham Literature Festival, Hay Festival, Edinburgh International Book Festival and Borders Book Festival, but has withdrawn its financial support amid recent criticism from groups like Fossil Free Books, which has been campaigning against the investment company for its links to the fossil fuel industry and companies involved in the Israeli occupation of Palestine. 

In an open letter to the firm, over 800 members of the literary community — including authors, poets, editors, publishers and illustrators — called on Baillie Gifford to 'divest from the fossil fuel industry and from companies that profit from Israeli apartheid, occupation and genocide'. 

In a statement on its website, Cheltenham Festivals 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...

'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 eighty 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.'

Cheltenham Festivals' co-CEO, Ali Mawle, added: 'We are concerned that Baillie Gifford feel they can no longer support Cheltenham Literature Festival. They have invested in the arts for more than ten years and we had hoped for them to continue to do so. Understandably, they have felt unable to continue our partnership but this was not our choice.

'Loss of funding in this way leaves festivals like ours at risk. The situation in which funders and festivals have found themselves seriously troubles us. We exist to promote open discussion, and as such hope that the activists involved join an open dialogue whereby we can all move forward together.

'We are left seriously worried for the future both of literature festivals in general and equitable access to the arts in particular, which funding like Baillie Gifford’s has enabled us to provide.'

While it hasn't commented on its relationship with Cheltenham Literature Festival, Baillie Gifford did release a statement about its decision to withdraw funding for Edinburgh International Book Festival.

Within this statement, partner, Nick Thomas, said: 'The activists’ anonymous campaign of coercion and misinformation has put intolerable pressure on authors and the festival community. We step back with the hope that the festival will thrive this year and into the future. We hold the activists squarely responsible for the inhibiting effect their action will have on funding for the arts in this country.

'Baillie Gifford is a long-term investor with high ethical standards and a complete focus on doing what is right by our clients. The assertion that we have significant amounts of money in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is offensively misleading. Baillie Gifford is a large investor in several multinational technology companies, including Amazon, NVIDIA, and Meta.

'Demanding divestment from these global companies, used by millions of people around the world, is unreasonable and serves no purpose. Much as it would be unreasonable to demand authors boycott Instagram or stop selling books on Amazon.

'Nor is Baillie Gifford a significant fossil fuel investor. Only two per cent of our clients’ money is invested in companies with some business related to fossil fuels. We invest far more in companies helping drive the transition to clean energy. We remain committed to contributing positively to our community through philanthropic support.'

While the loss will no doubt be felt by Cheltenham Literature Festival this year, the withdrawal of Baillie Gifford's sponsorship presents an opportunity for another business to step in and support the much-loved and well-respected event. 

For more information about corporate sponsorship of Cheltenham Festivals, visit

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