I have been very fortunate to be involved with a variety of small businesses over the years. I started many years ago in Germany, when my husband and I were posted to Detmold with the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards. It was such a shock to the system – leaving London and living the army life – I do not need to say much more if you have experienced it!
Having had a busy career in London, I felt lost. Cooking, washing and the garden still left me with so much time on my hands. I was then offered a business selling Robert Norfolk Sweatshirts by Sarah Rutherford-Jones – who was the pioneer of the Early Early Christmas Fair along with Michaela Levey. So, off each month to the Bielefeld Flower Club (BFC) with these sweatshirts It was my introduction into the art of selling a product when it was not even my style in the first place!
Then onto selling adorable children’s clothes, designed and made by Patricia Smith who lived in the heart of Cornwall. They were divine but one mistake I made was putting our eldest son into pink pyjamas, a sample I was dying to use. Such was his horror of anything pink that they ended up being flushed down the loo! Back in the UK later on, I was one of those stallholders arriving at Tedworth House only to find myself in a location of low footfall. I was not happy and it was a useful lesson, well learned.
A little while later, I was cooking and doing the lunches for over 100 people at the BFC, baking over 60 cakes a month and filling people’s freezers. I think this was when the carrot cake was the biggest hit; regimental wives put in their orders fast and furious. You know who you are!
The years go by and we end up in Tidworth – Richard commanding 43 Wessex Brigade and we arrive in September. The highlight of the month was The Early Early Christmas Fair – something you never missed when you were back here. It was the place to see all your mates and just empty your bank account; I loved it. This particular year I was approached by Fran Pearson who asked how much I had had to drink. “Gosh,” I said, somewhat bewildered ,“I‘ve only had one glass.” She suggested she would come back when I had had a couple more. The next day red files landed on my doorstep: Fran and Mike were posted and she needed someone to take over the Fair!
That was 14 years ago and yes, I am a glutton for punishment, but I just got on with it and so much has happened over these years. Tedworth House fairs were amazing in that beautiful house; I was there so often I almost felt it was my home! Then H4H took it over and we had to re-think: could we do it in Marquees? What would it cost? Would people still come? I was full of trepidation but we made it work with so much help from everyone: supporters, sponsors, volunteers and my long-suffering friends!
Then we had to move it again as it was too big to stage in the gardens of the Tedworth House and Tedworth Polo Club and the Army came to our rescue. We have delivered this event in this format here for 4 years and now, this year, we have to think laterally again. I feel very sad we cannot deliver this event the way we normally do but we will be back.
I cannot begin to express my huge thanks to everyone who has helped me on this journey. I was part of the Charity Fairs Association: on the committee for a few years and then was Chair for 3 years. I learnt so much, I made so many friends and the support I have had has been incredible.
Stallholders have been at the very heart of this journey. The greatest lesson from all these experiences has been an appreciation of the value of the relationships and community spirit you build. It is these friendships that get you through some very tough times. We have just been through some of the worst few months for so many; small businesses have been hit particularly hard. Some have been lucky that they have had the products that we have all needed, others not. And yet the community holds together.
This year we are going online and holding a ‘virtual’ EECF. I could not do any of this without you all. It is about team work: stallholders, friends, volunteers, the charity and our supporters. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart. Let’s have some fun and let’s make this work.
Please come and support all those that have supported us, let’s party, let’s shop, let’s have a Pinkster Gin evening, let’s have a curry party. Get that gem/ picture/ piece of furniture valued, fill your cupboards with presents for Christmas and yourselves of course!
Thank you all again. Not having a physical event this year has been a very hard decision, and the virtual EECF will be a huge amount of work, but I love it and hope we deliver something of which we can all be very proud. I will never forget the support I have had over these 14 years – in particular to our sponsors who have never lost faith in all we do. We could not do it without all of you, and I will do all I can to make it the successful flagship event for ABF The Soldiers’ Charity that it has always been.
Caroline Cary – Fair Organiser