The Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, the charity established by artists to act as the custodian of the Fringe, launched its Review of the Year 2019 last night. The review reflects on last year’s Fringe and the year-round achievements of the Society, as well as reporting on organisation-wide ambitions, innovations and developments.

Read the Fringe Society's review of the year 2019

At the 2019 Fringe, venues across Edinburgh hosted a diverse selection of work from across Scotland, the UK, mainland Europe and the rest of the world. In total, over 30,000 artists put on 3,841 shows in 323 venues, with a record 856,541 tickets issued to audience members living in Edinburgh.

Shona McCarthy, Chief Executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, said:

‘We’re so proud to be the Fringe that calls Edinburgh home, and I’m delighted that the people of the city continue to hold the spirit of the Fringe in their hearts. As a charity that exists to support the artists and audiences that make the Fringe each year, it’s encouraging that 740 shows from Edinburgh appeared on stage in 2019, and a record 850,000 tickets were issued to city residents. 

‘The Fringe is for everyone, and we’re committed to finding a balance between deepening our local roots and celebrating our position as the greatest celebration of arts and culture on the planet. We want to deepen existing audiences’ engagement with the festival while being sensitive to the pressures Edinburgh faces as a popular tourist destination – what we refer to as “one more show, not two more feet”.

‘Access will also remain a priority for us over the next few years. 2019 was positive on this front in many ways, from our British Sign Language interpretation on the High Street to our Venue Access Awards. But there’s always more to be done, and we will continue to work hard to break down barriers to participation and attendance.’

Community engagement

One of our key focuses in 2019 was strengthening our links to communities across Edinburgh. Fringe Days Out, the project designed to reach areas of the city that have not traditionally engaged with the Fringe, ran for its third year to great success. Working with 32 community groups and charities, including Citadel Youth Centre, LGBT Youth Scotland, Sikh Sanjog and Gig Buddies, we distributed Fringe vouchers and bus tickets to groups at risk of social isolation – from single parents to disabled audiences, elderly people and ethnic minorities. Since its launch in 2017, Fringe Days Out has enabled 9,000 visits to the Fringe and, by 2022, we aim to increase the programme’s annual value to £100,000. Alongside this, over a quarter of shows at the 2019 Fringe donated tickets to children and young people in and around the care system in Edinburgh.


We aim to give every primary schoolchild in Edinburgh the opportunity to meaningfully engage with the Fringe. In 2019, we launched pilot projects with six Edinburgh primary schools in the Liberton and Gracemount areas. In 2020, we’ll be working with 14 primary schools, including in the Currie and Firhill areas, with additional plans to develop a bespoke programme of work with additional support needs (ASN) schools. 

Ross Hunter, Head Teacher at Gracemount High School, said:

‘There’s no better feeling than seeing our pupils and staff coming to and leaving school having experienced these shows and events and having their lives changed. 
‘Our young people face harsh realities every day, harsher than perhaps what some of you may be able to imagine. What we do through this project is tap into their imagination, build their confidence and for many make the seemingly impossible, possible.’

We also developed the Teachers’ Theatre Club – a collaboration with the Edinburgh International Children’s Festival. This programme gave educators from across Edinburgh the opportunity to see and engage with a range of live performances in order to develop their critical thinking skills, discuss work with their students, and inspire them to do the same.

Widening access and participation

In 2019, 39 venues participated in our Venue Access Awards, which encourage Fringe venues to improve accessibility and access information, and 61% of Fringe shows were in a wheelchair accessible space. 

We produced more than 50 British Sign Language-interpreted video flyers for shows that incorporated BSL, and improved access information across and the Fringe app. Nearly 12,000 customers used our access bookings service – which provides information and ticketing assistance to customers with access requirements – up 20% on 2018. We’ve committed to introducing online booking for all access customers by 2021.

In 2019, we worked closely with COMMON – a leading national arts organisation focused on achieving greater socio-economic diversity – to support working-class creatives to overcome barriers to performing and participating on the Fringe. We formed a partnership with Parents in the Performing Arts to ensure carers and parents can flourish in the performing arts before, during and after the Fringe, and we worked with Jessica Brough to provide significant support to Fringe of Colour. In 2019, seven venues and 19 shows provided free tickets for young people of colour (aged 30 and younger) throughout the festival period. In 2020, we will be working with Jess and Fringe of Colour again – donating ticket vouchers and supporting the booking process. 


In response to the growing climate crisis, and with Edinburgh striving to be a carbon neutral city by 2030, we’ve focused on how to be sustainable while retaining an international outlook. 

We’ve reduced the print run of the Fringe programme from 395,000 in 2017 to 350,000 in 2019, and plan to reduce it further in the future, while investing in digital alternatives. We’ve used technology to engage with artists around the world and reduce the need for travel, developing our online FringeCasts, a series of livestreamed advice sessions for prospective Fringe artists.

We also take a lead role in informing, influencing and encouraging venues to reduce their carbon footprint, offering sustainability guidance available for venues and artists, and leading on initiatives such as our prop ‘swap shop’, digital flyering and championing the conversation on sustainability.

Ongoing work

Also featured in the review is the ongoing work we do to support artists and participants, with the Fringe remaining a global marketplace for talent, and the Arts Industry Office working with 1,600 accreditees in 2019.

Working with student accommodation providers, we looked at tackling rising accommodation costs for participants, providing more than 5,600 affordable bed nights. We also worked with an artist-only accommodation provider – Theatre Digs Booker – encouraging Edinburgh residents to host a Fringe artist at a reasonable rate.

Professor Sir Timothy O’Shea, Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society Chair, said:

‘2019 was a great year for the Fringe Society and its staff, who work hard to make the Fringe the best possible experience for all. 

‘I’m especially delighted to see important strides being made in access, community and sustainability, such as our dedicated access booking service, our amazing Fringe Days Out programme and the free services on offer to help participants reduce waste.

‘Although I am stepping down as chair in August, I have no doubt that the Society, under the excellent leadership of Shona McCarthy, the senior management team and the board, will make 2020 another year of creativity, imagination and, crucially, progress.’

Read the Fringe Society's review of the year 2019

Header image: Ross Hunter speaking at the Review of the Year 2019 launch