Monday, 08 August 2022

Future of May fair in doubt after organisers withdraw

THE future of the Henley May fair is in doubt after the organisers pulled out.

Henley Round Table says it can no longer afford to run the event after Henley Town Council decided to withdraw a grant.

The group says it made a loss on this year’s event in Mill Meadows and had decided to pull out “with a heavy heart”.

The fair, which traditionally marks the start of the summer season in the town, began in the Seventies and has been run by the Round Table for about the last 30 years. It raises thousands of pounds for charity each year.

In an email to town councillor Sarah Miller, Round Table member Dr Nick Woodthorpe said the group had originally been able to fund the fair through money collected at Mill Meadows car park.

When the car park switched to being unmanned, the council provided a grant. However, this was reduced from £1,500 in 2006 to £500 in 2014. The most recent grant was £750 but it has now been withdrawn altogether.

Dr Woodthorpe said: “As a result, we cannot provide the high-end attractions that were previously afforded. We also have to be mindful that the event is weather-dependent and deposits have to be paid to secure more lucrative attractions. This results in us having to budget accordingly and assume it could be rained off.

“In essence, this event is not a charity fund-raiser and is put on purely for the local community. This year we made a loss running the event.

“Therefore, with a heavy heart, we are unable to carry on organising the May fair. We hope that whoever takes the mantle will have the financial resources and manpower to allow the fair to flourish as in the past.”

Dr Woodthorpe also said that membership of Round Table was dwindling and the group no longer had enough people to run the event properly.

He said the group would be happy to advise whoever took over responsibility for the fair.

Councillor Miller has agreed to form an external group to look into finding new organisers. She said she had received lots of calls offering support for the fair and had also received an offer of sponsorship.

The event could also be moved back to the town centre after more than 30 years in Mill Meadows.

Speaking at a meeting of the council’s town and community committee, Cllr Miller said: “Round Table has done a fabulous job but I feel we have lost the link to the town centre and I believe the town council should consider running it in Market Place again.

“At Mill Meadows it is spread out and if it rains people just get in their car and go home. If it was in the town centre they could go for a coffee and stay in the town.

“We are passing the buck on this — it’s a community event and we should take it back and run it. I think we really need to think about where we are going to have it and put serious consideration into putting it on in Market Place.”

Clerk Janet Wheeler said the council didn’t have the manpower to run the event in the town centre and it could be too late to start planning for an event in May.

She said: “Events in Market Place are very different to Mill Meadows. There is much more space at the meadows and you don’t have to worry about traffic.

“I also have concerns about what target audience we would project this at. If it’s just for little ones the square is a possibility but if it’s for the whole family it might be a bit of a letdown and Mill Meadows could be better.”

Mayor Julian Brookes said: “I see this as a summer event in Mill Meadows rather than the centre of town. The most important thing is to find who is going to run it as they may have other ideas.”

Councillor Helen Chandler-Wilde said: “We don’t want to create a list of demands and then hand it over to someone.”

Deputy Mayor Will Hamilton said: “I’m not against moving it to the square but we already have events there like the markets.

“What worries me is that we need a team to run it and it’s a bigger challenge to get a new team and move it to the town centre at the same time. Perhaps we should leave it to the new team to make plans and decide where they want to do it.”

l What do you think? Write to: Letters, Henley Standard, Caxton House, 1 Station Road, Henley, RG9 1AD or email

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