Strawberry Fair forever?

News Reporter 6 November 2008

The Stawberry Fair festival, a oneday event held each year on Midsummer Common, is in danger of being cancelled due to Council fears over anti-social behaviour.

The festival is a free event run by volunteers, attracting around 15,000 people every year. The fair has been held annually in the first week of June ever since its humble beginnings in 1974, when it was conceived as an alternative to the rathe more expensive May balls.

Licensed by Cambridge City Council to occupy Midsummer Common, the fair has not been without controversy in previous years. In 2008 complaints were made by residents in the area surrounding the Common, after a significant minority of those attending were deemed to have behaved in an unacceptable manner.

Eye-witness reports of the event claimed that people were seen urinating on cars and in residents’ gardens, parking and camping illegally, dropping litter, taking drugs, making excessive noise, and even defecating in public and residential areas.

Cambridge City Council, which meets each year to discuss whether to renew the festival’s license, are now facing a tough decision.

According to Clare Blair, the chair of the committee that will make the final decision, there are currently three options,one of which is to cancel the one-day festival outright: “Option one is that we license the event again for 2009 with additional conditions, option two is that we shorten the event with early closure time and option three is that we refuse permission to hold the event in 2009 without prejudice to any further event.”

Clare Blair assures The Cambridge Student (TCS) that she is still interested in hearing people’s views before the decision is made, and both the council and the organisers want to find a way to continue holding the event without causing upset or inconvenience for residents.

Justin Argent, the chair of the Strawberry Fair committee and also a volunteer for the event, told TCS:

“For 35 years, we’ve worked closely with the council, police and residents and would like to continue to do so to resolve outstanding problems. We want to continue trying to set up a system that works for everyone.”

Suggestions mentioned in a report by Cambridge City Council include bringing in transport police to prevent drugs being brought onto the site, seizing alcohol from under-18s, and placing “pee pods” at strategic points.

Clare Blair emphasised that the committee would prioritise the concerns of the residents and of those attendees who behaved responsibly:

“We know it’s a major, popular event for so many people but we also have to balance this with consideration for the residents.”

Such comments on behalf of the Council, whilst moderate, have prompted criticisms from students, anxious not to lose the popular event altogether.

Ian McGonigle, a Biochemist from King’s College told TCS:

“This event is an important cultural occasion for the locality marking the climax of summer festivities. A reactionary and ill thought out prohibition of this event punishes the community collectively for the misbehavior of a few.”

The final decision on the licensing of the 2009 fair will be made in late November.

Sita Dinanauth

News Reporter