Sharon Fairweather, organiser of Bury St Edmunds’ famous Christmas Fayre, describes the week leading up to the event.
This is the start our busiest week of the year and all I can think of is ‘this time next week’.
My day starts early and at 6am I am out on Angel Hill (my home for the next week) unlocking the Abbey Gardens for the flooring to be delivered. The gardens are completely different in the dark and as you can imagine it is very, very, cold. So by 7am I am sitting in the office trawling through the emails from stallholders, contractors, stewards, entertainers and most importantly visitors. Next stop is the Abbey gardens to see how the flooring is going and to check that the grotto is going up. All the children walking through the park on their way home from school are really excited to see how it is changing and asking ‘when does it open’.
Tonight is the first of four stewards briefing sessions, tonight’s is in the Athenaeum and it is great to see some familiar faces.
This is the day of deliveries, everything from signs, radios, barriers, tables, decorations, maps, cones and even a Santa suit, two elves costumes and a dozen flutter fetti cannons are delivered. We always try to use local companies and estimate that at least 25 businesses locally benefit from orders relating to the Christmas Fayre. My next job is trying to make sense of my scribbled notes, every night I seem to wake up and remember something, I always write it down but by the time the morning comes the notes don’t always make sense. This one says ‘vouchers’ – wish I could remember what they were for? I expect it will come to me eventually!
One of the most important parts of the Fayre is sorting out the stewards. Unlike many large events we always use local people not agencies and our stewards are either volunteers from West Suffolk College or paid stewards from the local area. We have over 80 people working during the weekend and particularly in the current climate the money earned just before Christmas is a life line for some of them. I am a great believer in customer care and I don’t think you can beat local people with local knowledge who live in and around the town. It is a great experience for the students and many of our stewards come back year upon year. Working out the rota’s is a nightmare but I get great satisfaction with seeing 40 sheets of paper with names , times and venues on completed and pinned to the wall.
Now we have had everything delivered (although we always forget something) we start the build up of the event. The first things to go up are the stages. We have the Greene King stage on Angel Hill and the Music Sales stage in the arc. Over the three days we will have over 50 local bands, schools, choirs and entertainers performing on these and they are very much an important part of the event. One of the comments we frequently get is that our event has a great atmosphere and this is certainly because of our great local talent. After checking the stalls are up at the arc, marking out the pitches in the Abbey Gardens, making sure there are no problems in the apex and Athenaeum and sorting out the control room the time is 5pm and time to put out signs out for no overnight parking on Angel Hill. This time tomorrow the Angel Hill will start to transform.
Today is always a very long day. I am out with my measuring wheel and torch at 5am. I need to mark out the pitches before the marquees arrive and everything needs to be in place before the traders start to arrive at lunchtime. I know off by heart that the Angel Hill measure 57metres from one side to the other and 25 metres from top to bottom. I still measure it though as I always think it will be different this year!
The marquees arrive at 8am and they crack on – we close the Angel Hill and Hatter Street at 9.30am and this is where the work really starts. The fairground arrives and the gallopers and big wheel lorries start to unload, the old fashioned penny arcade in the gardens is new this year and a little bigger than I thought – after some careful manoeuvring and help from our gardening team it seems to be in place.
The stallholders arrive and it is like seeing old friends again. We all shake hands and everyone is optimistic and hoping for a great show. There is lots of talk about the weather and although I haven’t told anyone that I am concerned I have been checking it nearly hourly all week. I check about 4 different websites and always believe the one with the best forecast. Still there is no time to think about that – we have over 300 traders, most of whom are setting up today. The remainder will be on site at 6am tomorrow. It is like a military operation getting the vehicles on site and getting the stalls set up although we always manage it somehow. We finish at about 10pm, I have a quick catch up with Michelle my deputy and we plan our 6am start tomorrow morning!
So here we are again – I have a team of about 6 people to help with the final set up. All vehicles have to be off site by 9am so before we know it we are chasing stall holders to move to the car parks and having a final look around the site. Everything seems fine our stewards arrive and the public begin to wander in. The first coach is due at 10am so the coach team make their way to the coach park. We will have over 200 coaches overall during the weekend . I am busy with several radio interviews so Michelle organises the official opening with the Mayor and Lesley Dolphin from Radio Suffolk. The event opens at 12 noon live on air and so far so good!