Showmen from Hunstanton and the world over have had a bumpy ride
Life is a rollercoaster and during the pandemic showmen from Hunstanton and across the globe did not fare well.
World Funfair month starts in September to highlight the showmen community that brings travelling fairgrounds and permanent fairs to the UK and across the world.
In West Norfolk, the fairground community, Rainbow Park in Hunstanton and the Mart in Lynn, are very much part of the fabric of local life but during the pandemic showmen seemed to fall through the net when it came to being officially recognised, particularly in pay terms.
Future 4Fairgrounds has been set up by owner of family business Rainbow Park, Colleen Roper. Founded in September 2020 by six lady showmen, as a result of the issues they were facing due to the impact of the pandemic it represents the travelling fairground community across the UK. World Funfair month aims to encourage people across the globe to visit their local fair.
News last week that the Nottingham Goose Fair has been cancelled has handed another blow to the showmen community.
Colleen said: "We found out yesterday that Nottingham Goose fair is cancelled (the same day we found out Hull was confirmed as going ahead!) and we are truly devastated by Nottingham City Councils decision and confused by the continued inconsistency we see.
"Nottingham has cited the uncertainties around Covid as the reason for the cancellation. However, like all other places in the UK Nottingham is fully open as a city.
"All businesses including shops, bars and theatres are back to normal without restrictions in line with government guidance.
"The university students will be returning to Nottingham in September too without restrictions imposed on them.
"The football grounds and cricket grounds are open as normal. The Motorpoint Arena is open for business. So why is our business different?
"I don’t see why our business should be treated any differently. And if covid was such a problem in the city of Nottingham why are they not having a localised lockdown now?
"There are hundreds of showmen families that go to Goose Fair they are all affected by this decision. It is very worrying for the continuation of our family business and for the future of our children within this way of life.
Colleen explained the thinking behind the Fun Fair Month.
She said: “We are trying to raise awareness of our industry, more importantly our community, to connect with authorities, schools and libraries and Future4fairgrounds is the first ever initiative.”
In the UK there are more than 20,000 showpeople according to the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain, founded under another name in 1889 in the face of attempts to restrict their itinerant way of life.
Many travelling fairgrounds were not able to open as a result of the issues of the pandemic but other entertainment outlets that were allowed to open, the same rules didn’t apply to some showmen and fairgrounds and its workers.
Colleen said: “Continuing in to 2021, travelling fairgrounds were not given the go ahead and not allowed to open. Despite being Covid-19 safe, many local authorities didn’t want the fairground in their town. There was an inconsistency about the information put out there so we, six lady showmen set up Future4fairgrounds.”
The showmen community is distinct from Romany gypsies and Irish travellers, but have faced many overlapping prejudices and inequalities.
This perception is something that Colleen Roper is determined to change and the issue that the showmen faced has gone all the way to be debated at Westminster, when two members of Future4fairgrounds met with Government minister Michael Gove to discuss the issues showmen were facing during the pandemic.
Colleen said: “The fairground industry has brought fun and enjoyment for hundreds of years, charter fairs that visit Hull and Loughborough for example, our own Lynn Mart is a 725 year-old fair. It should be celebrated as a gift to the people of the towns they visit.
“People should take care of showmen and celebrate the amazing things it gives to the community.”
There is a pre-conceived idea of showmen and the community, quite rightly during the pandemic where there seemed to be inconsistent rules, felt forgotten and misjudged.
Showmen are local business people providing a service to the town they live in.
Charter fairs and travelling fairs are not all owned by one person, it can be made up of stalls and kiosks owned by small family businesses.
It is not a always a big corporate business and the showmen are often local to the community they are travelling around.
Colleen said: “Future4fairgrounds asked Michael Gove, why are we being treated differently?
“We hope things are changing as many of the fairgrounds were hanging in the balance with postponements of reopening it was disheartening because there was no reasoning behind it.”
With World Funfair month this September, Future4fairgrounds and a book published called The Show Must Go On which will be distributed to schools will soon put a spotlight on the unfair treatment of the fairground communuty, and hopes to educate about their traditions and ways of life.
Colleen said: “The book portrays our community positively without misconception or prejudice. Our family go back eight generations within the industry and Rainbow Park in Hunstanton is a permanent site.
“Our children are involved and we always as a family take them to fairs like Nottingham Goose fair to continue our traditional way of life.”