Great start for first real Strawberry Fair of the Twenties
The first open-air Strawberry Fair of the Twenties got under way this afternoon, with Midsummer Common bursting into a technicolour feast of sight and sound after the gates opened at midday for Europe’s largest free festival.
Not far from the entrance to Scarecrow Corner, a 20-minute opening ceremony was being conducted in a circle of nature lovers who paid thanks to the glorious weather.
“Welcome back to fairyland, welcome back to Strawberry Fair,” the ceremony’s conductor said.
He was followed by another speaker who wanted to share that not so long ago, a bunch of nature-celebrating free spirits would have been seen as a throwback to the 1960s – and now the wheel has turned.
“As we now all know, with solar power we have an idea whose time has finally come,” he said. “It should have happened 20 years ago but anyway, here we are, and we’re ahead of the game here folks.”
Sacred herbs were lit, chants and thanks were given, and one little girl got to celebrate her birthday by having a candle lit in the middle of the makeshift wooden gazebo festooned with flags depicting the changing times of the year from Beltane to Samhain, Imbolc to Lughnasadh – the Celtic seasonal festivals.
One of the tributes was made to ‘the Guardian of the North’ and for a moment one could surely be forgiven for half-expecting Jon Snow to come forward and say something intense like: ‘We look up at the same stars and see such different things.’ It was a surprisingly moving ceremony which reanimated not just Strawberry Fair, but the whole ethos of having festivals.
At one of the stalls nearby was a botanist and herbalist, who said the circle could have included druids, so as the ceremony wound down I asked one of the participants if he was a druid.
“Not as such,” he replied, “but I live in a tree and the way I live puts me in these circles... Every time I’m in one I feel honoured and treasured – I feel that we’re all connected through the circle.”
“It’s connecting everyone and everything,” chimed in the conductor – who was packing up nearby – helpfully.
“These circles don’t happen by chance,” added the non-druid. “I feel privileged to be here.”
Later, one of the women conducting one of the rituals said that the ceremony was conducted according to Wiccan tradition and practice.
Meanwhile, the festival site started filling up in the glorious weather. Scarecrow Corner was a lovely place to be this afternoon – with more melodic music (it was rather shrill in 2019 as I, or at least my eardrums, recall), and full of a wide variety of stands, from a relaxation dome to vintage clothes to body painting, with various community causes alongside. Here, Friends of the River Cam could be found. The defenders of the river are preparing for the redeclaration of the rights of the river on June 21.
“We’re looking forward to welcoming James Boyce, author of Imperial Mud, who will be at the redeclaration,” said a Friends of the River Cam spokesperson.
Cambridgeshire Keep Our NHS Public was asking people to be photographed with an appeal to not privatise the NHS – they had 150 individual photos taken within a couple of hours. Organiser Penny Morris was joined by a friend, Jackie Reed, from Chicago.
“We’ve been friends since 1990,” says Penny. Jackie has had a lot of experience of the US healthcare system and her basic warning is not to go down the road to privatisation – the outcomes for patients are not good.
The stallholders on the main drag seemed delighted with the start they’d made.
Sammy Weir, who runs Ginger Bygones, a clothes emporium based in Huntingdon, said mid-afternoon: “It’s getting crowded now, it’s very exciting – and the weather helps!”.
There were queues at many of the food stalls, and the musical backdrops began getting more adventurous. Has anyone mentioned that the standard of musicianship at Strawberry Fair is rather high? It certainly was this year.
Towards the Fort St George pub was a fundraising stand for Ukrainians. It featured two groups: the Sunflower Field project and the Cambridge University Ukrainian Society.
The Sunflower Field fundraiser is run by Żenia, also known as The Lady Moth, a self-taught fibre artist based in Cambridge.
“I’ve started the fundraiser in March,” says Żenia, who is Polish. “The war has really impacted people in Poland, and suddenly they can see the threat coming from the East.
“My grandmother remembers the last war, it is heartbreaking for her to witness this again. My father’s parents, who have now passed away, had to flee Lwów (Lviw) after World War II. Back then they took one suitcase, left everything behind, and the same thing is happening now. You would think it won’t happened again, and suddenly it is, people are taking their children, one suitcase and they flee.
“When I heard so many Polish people are helping Ukrainians I thought: ‘What can I do?’. I live in a very small space so I have no room to take anyone in and this is what I do best, I have craft skills, so I thought ‘use that’
“I’ve been running my Felting Classes page felting for several years. I’ve decided to create a video tutorial, for which I didn’t charge, but asked for donations to my Sunflower Filed fundraiser supporting Ukrainian refugees.”
Żenia has created a tutorial to make needle felt pins inspired by Ukrainian colours and Ukraine national flower. The tutorial is accessible via a Facebook group which now has more than 700 members,” she says at the stand.
“We have now raised nearly £9k. People from all over the world have learned how to make the pin and contributed to the cause.
“The money raised at Strawberry Fair will go to the Happy Kids Foundation in Poland – they are saving the most vulnerable Ukrainian victims: children from orphanages and foster care. I’ve been working on the stock to bring here for four weeks.”
“I’ve also given to Our Choice, which was founded by Polish people and Ukrainian friends in Warsaw, to help find accommodation, and to provide psychological assistance.”
Żenia has been helped by Mums4Ukraine, who provided the stall, and is also assisted by Marcin Jach, a Polish artist. Marcin is based in Cambridge and moved to the UK from Poland in 2005. In 2016, he had his first exhibition in Cambridge at Newnham College, and has continued to exhibit regularly ever since.
At Strawberry Fair he is doing miniature paintings which are then raffled off or sold to the public to help Sunflower Field.
“The paintings take about an hour,” Marcin says.
Also on the stand is Karolina Sturgolewska, of CUUS, the Cambridge University Ukrainian Society. Karolina is a volunteer, an ex-student who now works for a UK bank.
“I’m collecting for donations to Hospitallers who provide medicines for Ukraine, they also drove an ambulance there from the UK.”
“We are here to help our brothers and sisters who suffer because of war,” says Żenia.
The festival closed at 11pm.