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.
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.
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
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.
- Hannah Mackie – back from strawberry fair. full of the cream of society: drunk, violent t***ts
- Emma (aged 14) – LOL strawberry fair was HILARIOUS becki got so drunk :L your name is eeeema and your hananananna :L oh dear
- Sophie Pettit – Oh and not venturing into Cambridge just yet until the Strawberry “drunk people on drugs fest” fair as finished.
- Will Adam – Strawberry Fair in Cambridge, city full of threatening people. Never been so relieved to get into John Lewis!
Twitterers Who Loved Strawberry Fair
- eliced – Super fab day, strawberry fair with zak & Beckslicious,drumming
- lacontessaclub – Just got back from strawberry fair. Quite an adventure. Made lots of new friends. As you do…
- sarahiscoolFTW – thinks strawberry fair was awesome today!
- PlanetNishy – Had a lovely evening at the Strawberry fair and now has a butterfly painted on her face <3
- norathesplorer – Went to the famous Strawberry Fair – lots of ethnic food, teenagers, alcohol and wacky outfits.
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.