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28/09/2020

Louise Brooke-Smith: Festivals of Britain

Louise Brooke-Smith laments the loss of the festival spirit in Covid-hit Britain 

I’ve missed the festivals this year, but not just the big music affairs where a cohort of the would-be trendy, right-on middle-aged try to relive their youth, or teenagers and 20-somethings make the most of drink and drugs and think they are the first to recognise deep meaningful lyrics.

There’s something oddly satisfying about pitching a tent far enough away from the toilets for them to be odourless but close enough to be practical at 3am. And you need to be near enough to the action, but not on the main thoroughfare to risk being woken up by music aficionados without the necessary inbuilt satnav trying to find their pitch.

There’s something of a hidden town planner in every festival-goer when it comes to setting up camp. It’s a mix of Weber’s location theory, central place principles and the current social distancing rules. The same principle applies when you arrive at a beach and your instinct is to find a place for your towel that is far away from everyone else but still near the ice cream kiosk. Apparently, if you were a seagull flying overhead you would recognise a pattern of hexagons. Well, that’s what my geography teacher taught me.

However, it’s all the other gatherings that punctuate a normal summer that have created the gaps this Covid year that I am missing.

“There’s something of a hidden town planner in every festival-goer”

All the main names have hit the press such as the Edinburgh Fringe, Glyndebourne and The Proms. But it’s the loss of more local events that are having as big an impact.

October will lack the fabulous Goose Fair in Nottingham, the Honey Fair in Cornwall, the Conker Championships in Cambridgeshire, and Herring Day in Great Yarmouth.

Bonfire Night next month may still take place, but we are anticipating it to be a challenging, socially distanced affair. I hope there will be sufficient oohs and ahhs to take our mind off the pandemic – we can’t miss out on our annual celebration of a man who was intent on blowing up an administration that he and others felt had misled the country, perpetuated fake news and were intent on persecuting swathes of the community. Of course, that would never happen today, although it’s quite surreal to watch the political shenanigans ‘across the pond’ become ever more polarised in the run-up to the November elections with cultural community lines becoming even more defined than normal.

Back to the culture of the UK and the quirky celebrations that have been postponed for a year or, at least have been modified to adopt the universal 2-metre rule. I live in an area where well dressing and clypping the local church still took place, although instead of the local community walking around St Mary’s, hand in hand, the circle was expanded and we all held onto 2m poles in between each attendee. Not so lucky were the world pea-shooting championships in Lewes, Sussex, which weren’t able to adapt. Face masks and pea-shooters simply don’t mix well.

And the point of these observations is that the culture and traditions of the UK may have been interrupted this year but we hope they will return with gusto in the next, and with even more people embracing local folklore, superstitions and general gatherings. They might become embedded as part of the solutions proposed to reinvigorate our town and village centres.  They might not all require a tent or careful analysis of where to stand in a crowd but, with a face mask, some hand sanitation, and a dose of common sense, we will at some stage still be able to celebrate our historic quirkiness, our national festivals and old-fashioned British eccentricities.   

Dr Louise Brooke-Smith is a development and strategic planning consultant and a built environment non-executive director

Image credit | Zara Picken

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