Cambridge’s establishment, including the city council, the Executive Councillor for Arts and Recreation Rodrick Cantrill, and the police have all declared the 2011 Strawberry Fair an unequivocal success and this line appears to have been unquestioningly parroted by the city’s press.
I agree that there were many positive aspects to the way this year’s fair went off. During the day it was clearly a yet another stepwise improvement on recent years. There were far fewer people paralytically drunk by mid-afternoon and there was significantly less overt drug dealing and use within the fair than I have observed before, though these elements were still present. Clearly a lot has worked, for example the presence of security staff in the streets of Brunswick and the fencing has largely removed any problems from that area. I also thought it was excellent that there were very few police within the perimeter of the fair, and the oppressive police operation of two years ago (helicopter low overhead and forward intelligence teams intrusively videoing people) was not repeated.
However I did not see a dramatic shift in the nature of the fair towards a local community event. The much hyped “village green” appeared to be devoid of activity for long periods and the promised grand finale was nothing of the sort. I didn’t see any evidence of the Clown Police either. For the last couple of hours of the event there was no significant activity other than people drinking at the bars.
Many of the problems appear to have occurred towards the end of the day; leaving me to question why the event cannot be brought to a close earlier. If that makes it uneconomic for all of the alcohol vendors to attend then I don’t think that would be a bad thing. I note that the assurance given that traders and stalls would remain to the end (due in part to a ban on driving on the site until the event was over) was not reflected in what happened, with many packing up early, and vehicles driving out well before the end.
I can see how those who visited the event early in the day would, and do, report that all was well (as in previous years). However later in the evening there were many people, including children, drunk and incapable in and around the fair. There was a trail of litter, including broken glass, from the site to the station and a very rowdy stream of people leaving in the evening (I witnessed police dealing with a youth with a very bloody face at the Hills Road / Lensfield Road junction). People were swaying and staggering home in all directions. I saw a lost, lone, drunk teenager wandering under the plane tree avenue on Jesus Green ask for directions to the station, to be told by a couple she was walking in the wrong direction.
It has been suggested that the low police presence within the fair itself is directly related to the low arrest figures (it is also not clear if these include the immediate vicinity of the fair, and the route to the station). The entrance controls did appear to cause a small amount of displacement of drinking and drug taking to the surrounding area.
The morning (and afternoon) after there were many people lying on the nearby green spaces, Stourbridge Common, Ditton Fields, recovering. Cambridgeshire police moved on a group partying from a boat on Ditton Fields.
One of the things which concerned me most was the unclear role of the police in conducting searches at the main entrance to the fair (the police were only searching people at the main entrance). People asked to submit to searches by security staff as a condition of entry could have simply walked away; what the position of those the police decided to search was not at all clear. I sought clarification via Twitter (a request which was retweeted by others) but no response was forthcoming.
Security staff were carrying out “hands up” “pat-down” searches at the side entrances in public, whereas the police were taking people into a private tent at the main entrance for their searches. At the side entrances young single males were those selected for searches of their person, with no female security staff available for long periods (the only people I saw taken away to get searched by the police were also young males).
There were long queues for toilets at times but while there were some defecating and urinating in the surrounding area there didn’t appear to be the numbers of people doing that as in previous years where there have been constant streams.
The police sent an Ecops email following the weekend stating:
Strawberry Fair’s community-based policing operation was a success and has set the tone for future events.
This year’s fair went extremely well and people had clearly listened to the advice we had given around alcohol and drugs.
We escorted about 1500 people from the railway station to the fair and only one person had exceeded the alcohol limit.
I didn’t see any evidence of the police escorting people from the station to the fair (though there were two people who looked like plain clothes police sat in a car on Claradon Street observing the crowds for much of the afternoon). While large numbers of bored looking police were around the city in the morning and early afternoon there were very few to be seen later in the evening. (As an aside – during the morning traffic offences such as cyclists going through red lights were still ignored despite bus loads of police doing nothing observing them, so this is clearly not a matter of manpower and resources, but priorities)
Chief Insp Dave Sargent, who supervised policing of the fair, said it had been “incredibly successful” and “set the tone for future fairs”.
Cllr Rod Cantrill, executive member for arts, sports and public spaces at the city council, congratulated the fair’s committee on a well-run event.
He said: “It’s an important cultural event on the calendar and we are keen to support it, but we also have a responsibility to the local community.
“Our initial response is that it went exceptionally well and we had very few complaints.
Cambridge News Comments
However the Comments on the Cambridge News article published on the day of the fair show a much more mixed picture than the articles themselves and the police comments, some of the more critical responses being:
A commentator, Trevor wrote:
Are you kidding me? Arrests down? I haven’t been to this event before, and I shudder to think what it’s been like in the past. I have never seen so many fights in such a short space of time. There were incidents everywhere, not least a poor young girl getting smashed in the face with a coconut. I queued for the toilet, where there was a fight. I went to get a drink, there was a fight at the bar. It was as if every young, testosterone-fueled young male in the country had come to Cambridge. I was with some foreign friends, and I am embarrassed and ashamed at what they witnessed on Saturday.
Am not anti-plod usually, but I found being corralled into the space and bossed around at the entrances alarming. And I do wish Mr Plod hadn’t just gone home to tot up his tally, afterwards, but had followed the drunks through the city to deter them from their vandalising amusements.
This is rubbish. Only resson why there was less arrests is because there was FAR less police than in previouse years. In actual fact I saw far more trouble this year than i have any other year, big group fights etc
I visited Strawberry Fair with two young children and found the atmosphere very intimidating. I arrived and left before 1pm and am very surprised there were not more arrests later on as there was cannabis being openly smoked everywhere and even by this time there was a large proportion of extremely drunken and rowdy behaviour. I know its free, but the quality of entertainment in the kids field was poor at best. I don’t really see how Strawberry Fair fits in with the ambience of Cambridge and certainly won’t be returning.
Overall I’d say there’s still a lot to be done to really change the tone of the event; I’d really like the direction of progress to continue and for the focus to continue to move away from drugs and alcohol in future years. I think there’s the potential for the fair to be a fantastic day for the city and think the council should continue to support its transformation.
One problem we’ve got though, is councillors like Cllr Ward (Liberal Democrat, Arbury) who repeatedly expresses his support at council meetings for underage drinking on Midsummer Common (both when the fair is in progress and when it’s not). I can see his argument for it perhaps being quite a safe place for young people to go and drink with their friends; but as with so much education’s what’s really needed – encouraging them not to get excessively drunk, and somehow to get them to stick with their friends so we don’t end up with lots of people on their own wondering around disorientated or lying in a stupor on the grass.