MATTHEW HANCOCK: The delights of a summer fete

Column by Matthew Hancock MP
Column by Matthew Hancock MP
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There are many reasons I love being MP for West Suffolk, but having the excuse to attend as many local summer fetes as possible is definitely one of them. Out of nostalgia, entering a snapshot of my childhood, or as a brilliant distraction for three small children, little beats a summer fete in the countryside.

A week ago, I visited two fantastic events: the Great Wratting village fete in Thurlow and Mildenhall & the Rows Branch Summer BBQ. And just on Sunday, I was treated to the magnificent movement and music group led by Betty Mclatchy at the Meadowlark fete in Kedington.

We don’t always experience the ‘summer’ in summer fetes in England, but these last three occasions all took place under bright sunshine.

Surprised by the weather and heading straight to the home-made cakes stand, it got me thinking: what is the archetypical English summer fete? What makes us continue the tradition of celebrating the warm season in this particular fashion?

It must be that fetes embody some of the very best of British culture. The opportunity to delight in the great outdoors can be few and far between during a hectic working week. Fetes, come rain or shine, have crowds of people gathered together, far away from the mundane routines of office life, to celebrate their local communities.

No doubt even my mentioning of the glorious weather last week will be enough to provoke the clouds into action for this weekend’s events. But being British we have learnt to treat that elusive object in the sky as a welcome addition, and by no way guaranteed guest, to a summer party.

There is something undeniably charming about a summer fete. Perhaps it’s its quintessentially British nature or its determined defiance of the pouring rain, but while America have their parades and town fairs, we have kept hold tightly of our long standing tradition of the local summer bash.

And here in West Suffolk there are plenty to choose from: from the dancing men of Moulton on their hobby horses at Moulton Village Fete to Bardwell’s Steam Threshing Day, from the Haverhill Summer Bash, to the brilliant Bardfest, we are never short of an outdoor summer extravaganza.

Whether it’s the spin of the tombola, a deceptively strong glass of Pimms or the alluring competition at the coconut shy, there is something for everyone. We indulge ourselves in ice-cream, toffee apples and the inevitable pleasures of slightly overcooked barbecue treats. We meet new people and old friends.

Last weekend, I was coerced into competing in the tug of war at Great Wratting. It was a great way to bring everyone together, young and old, in one single event and it reminded me exactly why I love the countryside. Worlds away from congested roads and stuffy underground stations, the spectacle of games and events at a fete harnesses summer charm like no other.

What makes fetes all the more brilliant is that the proceeds usually go towards a local worthy cause. They can often be the most important event in a fund-raiser’s calendar. Haverhill Summer Bash on Sunday will welcome local groups to raise funds for their own organisation. Great Wratting fete, the weekend before last, raised money for St Mary’s Church in the village.

I admire the sheer volume of volunteers giving up their time to help run the fetes across West Suffolk. These events would not work without them; they act as a vital connection between people and a valuable link between local families.

To escape from the pandemonium of parliament into the rural delight of a local fete is summer bliss beyond compare. Our weather may look pretty flimsy compared to the rest of the world, but we certainly know how to celebrate it nonetheless. Fund-raiser, fair, feast, festival – call it what you will – you cannot beat a traditional English village fete. And whoever said the British complain about their summer?