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Huntingdon Community Radio banned from Virtual Strawberry Fair broadcast over #blacklivesmatter stance

Cambridge Hoopers’ founder Electric Chesh at Cambridge Manor care home for Strawberry Fair 2020. Picture: Hillary Butler
Cambridge Hoopers’ founder Electric Chesh at Cambridge Manor care home for Strawberry Fair 2020. Picture: Hillary Butler

The festival season may have been cancelled but you know what, most of them were overpriced rites of passage anyway - with the exception of Strawberry Fair, which has remained free since it began in 1974.

The local festival of music, entertainments, arts and crafts is traditionally held on Midsummer Common on the first Saturday in June, but it didn’t turn out that way this year, which has been overtaken by a rite of passage everyone has been involved in, which has proved rather expensive. But there’s no reason why a global pandemic should stop people from celebrating life in the city in the summer, which is why Cambridge 105 hosted this year’s festival programme from its network of studios around the city.

Cambridge 105 Radio joins with the organisers of Strawberry Fair to create a 12-hour celebration of the Midsummer Common event. Featuring contributions from the Portland Ballroom, the Flying Pig, Scarecrow Corner, Rebel Arts and the Cambridge Band Competition. The coverage started at 10am with Lucy Milazzo looking back at the story of the Fair, followed at midday by music from Ezio and Ben Miller, and a commentary by Julian Clover and Lucy on a virtual parade. Then it was over to the Kids’ Park, some more live music hosted by Les Ray and Tim Willett, a session from the Flying Pig, some jazz from Cambridge Jazz Festival, over to Scarecrow Corner for a Druid ceremony, Cambusker, Rebel Arts, Shady Nasty... if you closed your eyes, you could almost be there.

There was also a session at Cambridge Manor care home, where residents were given a live show by artists including Cambridge Hoopers, featuring founder Electric Chesh, who was very much the face of the Cambridge Independent’s coverage in 2019.

Electric Chesh at Strawberry Fair last year. Picture: Keith Heppell
Electric Chesh at Strawberry Fair last year. Picture: Keith Heppell

Chesh is based in Brighton, but is in town regularly.

“It was great, really lovely,” they said of the day. “I was outside, most of the residents were sitting inside looking out through the windows, but there was a steel drummer there too and after a while some of them came out to dance, so it was a lot of fun.”

Chesh has also set up XR Rebel Hoopers.

“It’s a worldwide group which we founded and I do the coordinating for the UK,” they say. “It’s to encourage minorities, the LBGT community and women to be confident in a public space by street hooping.”

The station has taken a dim view of the decision by Huntingdon Community Radio, which has allegedly banned any mention of the #blacklivesmatters protests, to the point where some volunteers say they have lost their roles on the station because they questioned the decision.

Strawberry Fair’s organisers issued a statement which reads: “It was always intended that the Virtual Strawberry Fair 2020 radio shows would be available for broadcast by other local community radio stations. This was very much the vision of producer Trevor Dann, the volunteers from Cambridge 105 Radio and Strawberry Fair, and the Audio Content Fund that provided the grant funding.

“However, following the recent decision by the management team at Huntingdon Community Radio to instruct its presenters that they are not allowed to discuss the Black Lives Matter movement in their shows, it has been agreed by Cambridge 105 Radio and Strawberry Fair that it is not appropriate for Huntingdon Community Radio to continue to broadcast the Virtual Strawberry Fair, so we have withdrawn permission for them to do so.”

“Fair enough if they won’t let that go ahead - blimey!” says Chesh. “You’ve got to act in solidarity, what are they thinking?”

Huntingdon Community Radio has been contacted for comment.

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