Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Strawberry Fair axed by police

It might be unfair to suggest that Cambridgeshire Police deliberately decided to appeal against a licence granted to the Strawberry Fair in order to leave organisers no choice but to abandon this year's event, but they do seem to have been insanely fixated on stopping it happening.

There's a statement from the organisers:

We have been grateful for the many messages of support for the Fair - it is very heart-warming to realise how many people appreciate and enjoy the hard work that goes into the Fair year after year.

We would like to give a little more detail about our decision, and in particular why we felt it was impossible to fight the appeal and continue to organise an event for this June.

At the licence hearing that the police spent a great deal of time and money attempting to get the fair closed down, employing a London-based law firm and barrister to present the evidence they had gathered at significant cost to the tax payer.

Strawberry Fair is almost entirely reliant on income from traders. With no event there is no income and the battle through the magistrates court is going to cost us dearly so we are appealing to the people of Cambridge to come along to our fund raising events, for example the Band Competition final on Thursday 15 April at the Junction (more to be announced soon) and possibly to donate a few pounds via our website.

As a voluntary group we don't have access to the kinds of legal resource or the public finance used by Cambridgeshire Police in their objections to the license. It is going to be an very tough task for us to prepare for the appeal hearing both in time and money, we hope that the people of Cambridge will support us in our mission to secure the fair for 2011 and onwards and give generously whilst not doing anything to exasperate the situation unnecessarily and damage the future of the fair. We would also welcome people to come up with their own fund raising ideas, please contact us if you want to get involved. community@strawberry-fair.org.uk

At last years fair, Cambridgeshire Police invested a significant amount of time and money into information gathering activity at the Fair. Despite several written and verbal requests from the Committee, they declined to share important information they had gathered other than the overall assessment they published in the press. It appears to the committee, therefore, that the purpose of that information gathering activity was not to help improve the event, or assist our planning processes, but specifically to object to a license for the Fair.

In spite of this lack of information the committee had implemented a raft of changes that were widely accepted to be moving the fair in a good direction. We have regular meetings with the council, residents groups and police and we have made massive changes to the event in recent years in response to the concerns raised. We feel it would be more productive for the police to raise any specific concerns they have with us about the event at these meetings rather than pursuing it through the courts.

It would have been an impossible task to fight the appeal whilst also being able to maintain the high standards of event planning and management necessary for a successful and safe Strawberry Fair. We are surprised that the Police had not realised what the effect of their decision to appeal would be. The timetable for the appeal process is well known, and will take us to within weeks of the Fair. They are also fully aware that the Fair is a community rather than a commercial event, with all the work carried out by volunteers.

The committee would like to stress that much of the work the police have done with the fair in previous years has been very constructive and helpful and we would very much like to build on this but it is hard to see the constructive input from this year?s objection to our licence and the appeal against a decision by publicly elected officials.

It's only fair that anyone should have the right to appeal against a decision they disagree with, but it seems unfair that Strawberry Fair should win a licence, only to not be able to use the event because an outstanding appeal made further investment unsafe.

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