2009 Strawberry Fair

These Three Children Appeared to be Enjoying Strawberry Fair Immensely

These Three Children Appeared to be Enjoying the 2009 Strawberry Fair Immensely

Cambridge’s Strawberry Fair was held on Midsummer Common on Saturday the 6th of June 2009. I was present at a number of times during the day of the fair and on the day before. Cambridge-News billboards and the newspaper’s front page on the day proclaimed that the city was bracing itsself for Strawberry Fair. The event appeared to me to pass off much more peacefully than it has done in recent years; from my perspective there appeared to be much less impact on the surrounding residential areas this year.

My impression is that the fair has turned a corner. I think the city council’s arts and entertainments team ought to continue to work very closely with the fair organisers for next year, starting now, to ensure that the culture of the fair continues to change in a positive direction. I think it is through a change in the culture, and a change in what’s on offer at the event that it will improve. There are many many fabulous aspects of the fair, including the green area with its crazy plant stall, the future stage run largely by local young people and excellent beer straight from the barrel to mention just a tiny fraction of them.

The event still attracted a large number of people who got very drunk or drugged up giving it an unpleasant undertone. While there was a strong smell of cannabis in many areas of Midsummer Common there, unlike previous years I did not witness any overt drug dealing. However a significant level of underage drinking was evident. The fair is a free, open, “unfenced” event and the alcohol which was being drunk had clearly been brought onto the site rather than being bought on it. There were quite a few people of all ages who had had far too much to drink, some of whom were vomiting, these numbers increased towards the end of the afternoon and into the evening. For some reason the event also attracts lots of people with dogs; the majority of which were scraggly.

The shift from away from a culture of drugs, excessive drinking and unpleasantness to locally focused creative, community relaxation, entertainment and performance still has a way to go.

The weather day of the fair was mediocre and changeable. This might well have slightly reduced the numbers of people attending and contributed to some going home early.

Assessing Progress

Fence Erected to Prevent Drug Dealing, Urination, and Defecation in Residential Streets and Gardens in the Brunswick Area.

Fence Erected to Prevent Drug Dealing, Urination, and Defecation in Residential Streets and Gardens in the Brunswick Area

The city council had placed a series of conditions on the fair. The assessment of if these have been met was originally to have been made during a July meeting of the City Council’s Community Services Scrutiny Committee, however no meeting of that committee is now scheduled for July. At the West Central Area Committee on the 30th of April 2009 it was suggested that this assessment will now be made on the 8th of October 2009, as there was felt to be insufficient time to prepare a report for the Community Services Scrutiny Committee meeting on the 25th of June 2009.

I would expect the steps taken by the fair organisers, the police and the city council to tackle underage drinking to come under particular scrutiny, however I do not think things were anything like bad enough to contemplate not permitting the fair to occur in 2010, should it continue to tackle the problems it faces. That said, I think similar conditions ought be in-place for next year and close co-operation between local residents, the police, the council and the fair organisers needs to continue.


This year the fair appeared to be providing plenty of toilets, especially urinals and these were generally well placed ensuring that people leaving the main areas heading towards the edges of the common passed a toilet of some description. The only area people were not using the facilities provided appeared to me to be around the Fort St. George and Midsummer House.

The Friends of Midsummer Common led by Dick Baxter persuaded the council and fair organisers a fence between the Brunswick residents’ homes and the fair was required. This was in place and appeared to me to be very successful, with the Brunswick residential streets remaining quiet during the fair.


I thought the policing of the event appeared appropriate. The police helicopter was on the site for many hours but generally stayed high and circled out of the way so was not the low overbearing presence as it has been in the past. On the evening before PCSOs and fair stewards gathered obstructing the cycle path under Elizabeth Way bridge, perhaps to intimidate / discourage those looking to enter the site to camp. A police officer and city council enforcement officer also moved on those who had set up tents on Stourbridge common.

UK Police Officers Wearing Orange Epaulets. Members of an Evidence Gathering Team

UK Police Officers Wearing Orange Epaulets. Members of an Evidence Gathering Team

On the day of the fair the event was largely “policed” internally by the fair’s stewards. At least four police officers wearing bright orange shoulder epaulets. Some of these had the letters EGT on them, standing for Evidence Gathering Team. “Evidence Gathering” was written on the officers’ uniform and some of them were carrying video cameras.

There was no apparent trail of destruction between the fair and the station, with only a couple of smashed glass bottles on the route (and a few on the other side of the river) being the only debris from the dispersal of the crowd as the event drew to a close.

I would suggest that in future the Cam Conservators ought pay particular attention to fair-goer’s use of the river.

Paying for the Policing

It has been reported that this year, for the first time, the fair organisers have been asked to contribute to the costs of policing. They have been charged £1,500 this year but worry it could rise astronomically to the sorts of sums charged to football clubs for their policing in the future. If the event itsself is appropriately stewarded (as it appeared to be this year) and considering the fact it is a free, un-gated fair open to all I do no not think the police ought be charging for their services. I think this event is quite different from the kinds of event at which the police do charge for their services.

Twitters on the Drugs, Drink and Atmosphere

The sonic Manipulator Gave an Amazing Performance at Strawberry Fair

The Sonic Manipulator Gave an Amazing Performance at Strawberry Fair

At about five o’clock on the afternoon Cambridge researcher Alison Macleod used Twitter to write:

Crusty invasion. Essential accessories: open can of Special Brew and dog on string. Still, the local police love it, they get to use their special powers. Armoured police carriers, helicopters, drug-sniffing dogs. Awesome.

Others commenting:

Twitterers Who Loved Strawberry Fair

A Large Rabbit?

A Large Rabbit?

Midsummer Fair

The Midsummer Fair, a separate and quite different event, is this year to be held on the 24 – 29 June 2009. This involves a fun fair, and a large gathering of travellers. This event can make the common a no-go area for locals for its duration and again involves a large police presence. Based on my experience of the policing in previous years I have been calling (via the North Area Committee, and Cambridgeshire Police’s surveys of local residents following the 2008 events) for the policing operation to begin as soon as travellers arrive on the common, not when the event itsself begins.

See Also

12 responses to “2009 Strawberry Fair”

  1. Yesterday was the first time I’ve been to Strawberry fair, and I found that whilst the majority were hippies/locals minding their own business, there was that minority who seemed to make the whole of Cambridge a bit hostile.
    Don’t get me wrong, there’s probably nothing better than drinking outside in a field watching bands and people watching – at the start it almost had a mini-glastonbury vibe – but after a couple of hours there, the place seemed to be full of aggressive drunks walking around being idiots. The people on pills didn’t bother me, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with smoking weed – these people were all pretty chill. It’s the overtly pissed ones that were the problem…
    I don’t think I’ve ever been more glad to leave Cambridge. I got there at around 2:30, if I go there next year I’ll just go for the morning.

  2. Had a great day and a friend who’d never been really enjoyed herself. The ‘wacky plant stalls’ being a favorite!

    But by the time we left – 4pm – it was way too crowded and there was a bit of obvious drunkenness.

    The crowd seemed very diverse and it would be a real shame for a lot of other residents if controlling it ended up ruining it for everybody.

  3. Thats a very good description of the Strawberry Fair I think.
    It was exceptionally good. The fenced off areas gave a very nice outline to the Fair and with the Arts and Kids areas backing onto those areas stopped problems that I know have been there before.
    But this just transferred the ‘problem’ to the other side nearer the bridge. I left at 5 and it was getting VERY busy, congested and people who were lairy and already well gone. The clouds of different odours were very prevalent over that side as were the increasing numbers of obviously young kids (yes I’m sure 13 year olds are were well represented) with the booze and drugs. And either Cambridge has a hell of a lot more young chavs than I normally see or there was a chav conference on. (IE young, crap clothes, caps, rollup’s, loads of booze)

    The police were generally on the edges of the Common and down by Jesus College, they should have be more mobile, they would have easily found so much to confiscate, which I think is their responsibility.

    There were loads more loos but I do seriously think that the Strawberry Fair has become too big for Midsummer Common. No pissing on peoples houses instead they were all crossing the road and using the long grass and trees on the edge of Jesus Green. Much better than before yes but still not a great idea or advert for Cambridge.

    I really enjoyed myself but it’s clear that some changes still need to be made. They’ve certainly made enough in my mind so far as to not be worried about there not being a next year.

  4. I enjoyed the fair immensely and I deplore the killjoy attitude which some seem to have about this. I think it is wonderful to have an event with an open and free ethos, that attracts many people, especially young people.

    I accept there are some problems, but it’s clear that these can be managed. Stopping the fair, as some propose, would be a totally disproportionate response, and the loss of one of the most enjoyable days of the year would be a great loss to Cambridge.

    I question whether the use of the police helicopter for most of the afternoon was appropriate. (Though I am pleased that it was higher up – a noticeable improvement.) What exactly was it needed for during that period? Was there some crowd control imperative that it served, that could not be dealt with by a small number of additional officers on the ground, acting in a discreet manner? I think if the police are to complain about the costs of policing the event, then expensive things like the helicopter must be more clearly justified.

  5. Sandwich Board - City Braced for Strawberry Fair

    Further confirmation the alarmist headline prior to the event proved unfounded as Dick Baxter, Chair of the Friends of Midsummer Common, has given a quote to the Cambridge News stating:

    “It went superbly well for us. There were few people coming into the residential area and the traffic was stopped at the main road.

    “We have finally got a tactic that actually works – turn the Brunswick area into a fortress.

    “Other residents have been congratulating the police and we are well-pleased with the outcome.

    “I also went along to the fair and enjoyed it.

  6. The thought that they could erect a fence to prevent “deification” is astounding, although I believe they tried something similar in Berlin just after WWII… 😉

  7. Typo corrected! Brian Johnston alerted me to it hours ago but I only fixed it in the image’s alt text, not the caption.

  8. I’ve read the comments above and a few things come to mind – those attending enjoyed themselves, some attending drank too much but most importantly, and a sad indictment of our society, “We have finally got a tactic that actually works – turn the Brunswick area into a fortress”.

  9. I experienced the police operation at the train station, which involved stopping everyone getting off the trains (whether they were going to the fair or not), forcing us to wait in a queue for about 30 minutes, in order to be sniffed at by a dog. This didn’t seem anything to do with public order or safety (e.g., searching for weapons), and seemed blatantly a fishing expedition for drug possession offences. There was no explanation of what was going on, no indication of what law we were being detained under. It seemed very over the top, with tents set up, and large numbers of police officers standing doing nothing but keeping us in line.

    The irony was that despite the excessive scale, it seems they only had one dog – if only they’d had more dogs rather than police officers, at least they could have done this without keeping us waiting (I have no real objection if a dog sniffs me as I’m walking past off the train – but the police specifically detained us in order to do this, preventing us from leaving the queue, and telling people when they were allowed to move forwards).

    There were undercover plain clothes police as well too (I know, as afterwards I took a photo, and someone then came forward and revealed himself as a police officer, telling me I wasn’t allowed to take a photograph of him, despite it being in a public place).

    Regarding the controversy over charging for the policing, I would be curious to know if the police include this operation in their bill…

    I certainly don’t blame the Strawberry Fair for this hassle, it was the choice of the police. I didn’t attend the fair this year, but I’ve always had fun on previous years that I’ve been there.

  10. If aggressive drunken behaviour is now the main criticism of the Fair, perhaps there should be some comparison with the amount of aggressive drunken behaviour in Cambridge City Centre every Saturday night.

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