The Berwick St John Country Fayre takes place on Friday, Saturday and Sunday this week (14th–16th September) and organisers are promising a packed programme of live music, displays, agricultural events and activities for the entire family.
“There’s a very special atmosphere. I’m told that the show is like some of the steam shows in years gone by,” said show secretary Louise Hall. There are three things that make this event unique and worth making the five-mile trip from Shaftesbury.
Firstly, the volunteer-run fayre is only held every two years. If you miss this weekend’s show, you’ll have to wait until 2020. “By two years, everybody is ready and has great enthusiasm and energy to do it again,” said Louise. Secondly, every single penny raised helps fund the Salisbury District Hospital Stars Appeal.
The third and most incredible fact is that this two-and-a-half day programme is completely free. “We don’t charge to get in,” confirmed Louise. “That’s our main thing that we have never changed. We wouldn’t want to. Everybody who comes in is encouraged to buy a raffle ticket for the Stars Appeal. Most people are very kind and generous and support that.”
Louise says that the fayre raises more for the charity because it’s free to enter. “If you are a family you will know how much you will spend if you go out for the day. Life is not cheap. When people come in and see that the money goes to the hospital they don’t mind spending a couple of pounds on a raffle ticket. Most people will do £2 or £3. Some people do £5 or £10. Because there is no charge we find that people are very generous.”
When you study the fayre’s full and varied programme of events it’s hard to believe that so much is on offer without an entry fee. “We have steam engines, tractors, horses, sheep shearing and wood sawing. There are exhibits of commercial vehicles, classic cars, vintage motorbikes and vintage caravans.”
If you’re a military enthusiast there something for you, too. “We have got a military section with over thirty exhibits and specialist World War I items from Ian Morgan.”
The tractor pulling always proves popular. “It’s a real crowd pleaser. It’s very noisy, very exciting and at night time all of the lights are on. It is something that the children, in particular, love,” Louise said.
During the weekend attendees can enjoy a full programme of music featuring ten performers. There’s quite a variety of genres on offer, including a five piece rock band, a group playing well-known covers and there will be artists offering folk, blues and ska. “The music starts on Friday night at 6pm. We have an expert in music, Pete Robson, who sorts the scheduling of the entertainment. We have all sorts of local talent. It’s just great,” said Louise.
The fayre was established relatively recently, compared to some long-running local events like the Gillingham and Shaftesbury show. “It started in a much smaller way in 1992, because lots of local people seem to have an interest in steam and tractors. It’s now held every other year. We take a year to recover quite honestly. Nobody is paid to do what they do. It requires an incredible amount of work with many volunteers that work tirelessly to make it happen,” Louise offered.
There are only approximately 300 people resident in the village and yet the event attracts over 60 times that population! In 2016 approximately 20,000 children and adults attended the show. As you might imagine, it’s all hands on deck and Louise says many villagers are involved.
“Most people do something. People have got their own exhibits. It could be a tractor or a steam engine. Some of the ladies get very busy baking cakes for the tea tent. It’s very famous for the home-made cakes and there is an incredible array of choice in there. We have people from the village managing the road traffic on the Friday morning and as everybody arrives, at the weekend. It’s a community and team event.”
A committed core of local volunteers drive the event. “There are eight directors, a Chairman, Secretary and thirty people volunteering on what we don’t like to call a committee,” explained Louise. “It’s a team thing. Last weekend and the weekend before we had an incredible amount of helpers who turned out to put the fences up. They helped with the marquees, sorting the pitches for the caravans and most days we had up to fifty people helping. I think everyone feels part of it. We have a fantastic production team. In their spare time they are making pegs for the campsite. It just works because everybody pulls together.”
The event is even more impressive because it is arranged entirely on good will. That applies to both the organisers and exhibitors. “Nobody is paid for their haulage. There’s no show appearance fee. No salaries are paid. Everybody is here because they want to be here. We have support from visitors and exhibitors from across the country – from Yorkshire, Cornwall and even Germany and Belgium,” said Louise.
Many people feel passionately about the Stars Appeal. The charity raises over £1 million every year to enhance patient care at Salisbury District Hospital. They are currently on a drive to generate £1.5 million to purchase a second MRI scanner. Locals know it is important and Louise hopes this weekend’s visitors will dig deep into their pockets.
Louise says last the Fayre raised £35,000 for the charity. “In 2016 we were staggered by the amount of money that we raised. We have always brought in a fair amount of money but it has definitely changed since we became affiliated with the Stars Appeal. The encouragement and support from local businesses, which offer us sponsorship or who lend us equipment, has changed dramatically,” said Louise.
She has been impressed by the appeal’s achievements. “The charity makes such a difference, whether you are a visitor to the hospital, a patient or physician. We have a close liaison with them. The Stars Appeal tent will be full of volunteers from the hospital. A lot of clinicians and physicians are coming out to write the raffle tickets out. Everybody is there to achieve the same thing – to raise money for Salisbury Hospital.”
You can see the full details of the event at BerwickStJohnCountryFayre.co.uk.
“I hope there is something for everybody. Whether it’s in the craft tent, the miniature steam with the tiny little steam engines or the stationary engines. There’s lots of old-fashioned things going on including steam ploughing. When I list the items I just think, ‘oh my goodness, how do we do all that?” said Louise.