In this blog Whiteshill resident, Liane James, writes below about how the recent party came about; you can also see the short video I made to capture some of the voices of people at the party.
I’ve lived in the village of Whiteshill for about six years. In that time I’ve heard many conversations about how villagers used to get together with an annual street fayre and how it was such a shame that they didn’t happen anymore. There had been parties to celebrate the Queen’s jubilee and the royal wedding in more recent years, but there were no plans to make these large parish events regular occurrences.
I’d been at that jubilee celebration, and it had lived up to my notion of how village life should be perfectly. So when I became a Whiteshill & Ruscombe Parish Councillor a couple of years ago, I was keen to get involved in organising events that would replicate that feeling of community, but that we would be able to hold on a regular basis. I wanted to start new traditions.
There were many reasons why resurrecting the street fayre was impractical. So, wanting to find out what parishioners did want and what was practical, the first thing I did was organise a networking event on behalf of the parish council. Parish groups and individuals with an interest in the community were invited. Lots of ideas came from that – big, complicated events that would require a huge amount of organisation but also smaller, informal events that would be easy to set up and easy to repeat.
Not wanting to over-reach myself and understanding that most events would require a lot of volunteer support that I could not guarantee, I decided to start with something very simple - a parish picnic. I set a date, put up posters and sent out emails asking people to come to the playing field for a picnic, bringing their own food along with something to sit on. There was a nervous wait on the field as there was no way of knowing how many people, if any, would turn up. It was fantastic when about 50 people did. It was an excellent start with lots of conversations and two families attending who had only just moved to the parish.
Another councillor was keen to help. We decided to put on next a Christmas event for all parishioners that included a Santa’s grotto. By now we had enlisted the support of some volunteers and were able to organise activities with that in mind. We also gained the financial support of the parish council who gave us a budget and agreed that the event could be free of charge. It was a huge hit with all who came along. The falling snow at the entrance to the village hall which was provided by Snow Business was a particular highlight and beguiled all, young and old. The community feedback was unanimous in requesting that this be held every year. Importantly, the volunteers all expressed how much they’d enjoyed taking part and that they wouldn’t hesitate to take part again. So we now had two events that were manageable, sustainable and that parishioners wanted. We were doing well!
After the picnic I’d started to think about a bigger event on the playing field. If I did decide I wanted to organise something, how realistic would it be to attempt it for the following summer? I’d been passed all the paperwork from the jubilee and wedding celebrations and could see that the equipment used had all been borrowed. I knew that much of that equipment was no longer available to us. I decided that if I could solve the problem of not having our own equipment - marquees, in particular - I would try to get a bigger event organised.
I’d worked previously for a Big Lottery funded project, and so was aware of the Celebrate England fund. The fund was available to community organisations such as our parish council for the purpose of organising events that would celebrate community and bring people together. I applied to the fund just before it closed, and as I know these funds are very hotly contested, I thought little more of it until I was told by the parish clerk that the bid had been successful. I heard that news while building Santa’s grotto. It was a fantastic Christmas present, but it was also a little scary as I now had to go ahead and organise something that I knew was going to be quite complex and also incredibly time consuming.
So that’s how we managed it. The Big Lottery money paid for the purchase of two large marquees, the hire of a generator and portaloo and purchase of various other items that we needed. Having this basic infrastructure in place enabled me to proceed with confidence – I could now organise activities and recruit volunteers around what we had, not around a vague hope of what we might have.
Party on the Playing Field was a success, and all want it to become an annual event. Its format will change, according to what parishioners want from it, and that’s as it should be. While I had lots of volunteers helping over the weekend and I was able to hand over some jobs to other councillors, most of the work could only be done by me. My partner helped hugely, and also had to put up with our very small home being totally taken over by event equipment and event meetings. Organising this took over our lives for months and I could not have done it without his support. It has been stressful – more stressful than I imagined! But it has also been an incredibly rewarding experience that has got the parish thinking and talking about next year and how we must keep coming together. And as everyone has now seen how the event can be, it will be that much easier to share the responsibility for organising it in the future. That’s what I’m hoping!