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Reform Magazine | June 26, 2022

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Do stay for tea and coffee: ‘Will this summer see the much fêted return of the fête?’

Do  stay for tea and coffee: ‘Will this summer see the much fêted return of the fête?’

Paul Kerensa enjoys the return of the village fête

I wonder if your neck of the woods will be returning to outdoor gatherings of old this summer? No, not that old. Not druids at henges or ye ancient maypole.

I mean 2019’s summer schedule. When every other weekend brought a church fête, a car boot sale or a dog show. When classic cars rubbed metaphorical shoulders with overpriced ice cream vans. Tombola drums were spun and coconuts were likely nailed down. I wonder if this summer will see the much fêted return of the fête?

The last few years have seen many events vanish, but for some reason I’ve particularly noticed the absence of the classic British fête. 2020’s summer couldn’t risk bringing too many people together. That year, there was no fête accompli.

Last year brought a few events back, though not as many as usual, and with a few changes. Masks and hand gel were common sights. I saw that one village fête advertised itself as ‘for villagers only’ – no incomers were welcome here.

Our own church’s ‘Summer Fête’ became an ‘Autumn Fayre’ that year, after a several month postponement. (I don’t know why a change of season turns a ‘fête’ into a ‘fayre’. I think in spring it becomes a ‘fair’. No wonder Europeans think us Brits are odd.) The strawberry stall was gone with apple-bobbing taking its place, although I’m not sure how Covid-secure that could have been, unless everyone wins the first apple they touch.

So will 2022’s summer be a chance to fill the diaries again with these seasonal excitements? I’m not sure it entirely will be.

It’s trickier to return after a gap. For some, this pause may become a stop, purely because the annual momentum may not be there for everyone. Previous organisers may have moved on. The paperwork may be a barrier for some. The cost of living crisis may make us ask: Will people show?

But I think in a world of pricey festivals and pricier theme parks, the classic British fête can offer something more affordable. Keep it small, and a few pounds entrance fee could give locals a chance for a mingle and a meander, a pootle to the Punch and Judy and a browse of the bric-a-brac. Bigger summer dos are fine, but the commercial traders can up the price of things (those burgers are how much?) as well as deplete the local input (Marjorie’s handmade loganberry jam is far more affordable).

Clearly I’m a fuddy-duddy who wishes he lived in the village of Dibley in the county of Midsomer, but there is a vital aspect in all this. I think the need to gather and connect, especially after a time when we haven’t been able to, is pretty crucial.

They make memories but they also make connections, and if the event is local and community-based, we may plant conversational seeds that grow through the year. At last year’s rescheduled Summer/Autumn Fête/Fayre, we met some neighbours who’ve lived metres from us for years, but we only properly talked to them across a secondhand book stand. Now we’re on nodding terms. Who knows, a chat over a hook-a-duck this summer, and we might graduate to cheery comments about the weather.

Want some community outreach this summer? Then reach outside. Don’t be shy like the coconuts, be hooked like the ducks. Roll up, roll up – tombola tickets here…

Paul Kerensa is the author of books including So a Comedian Walks into a Church and Noah’s Car Park Ark. He is on tour recreating the first BBC broadcast (paulkerensa.com/tour)

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This article was published in the June 2022 edition of Reform

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