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Caroline Cary explains how with sheer determination and creative thinking, this popular charity event is taking a different approach to fundraising this year

we have all had to cope with so many different challenges on every front and have had to adjust, work hard, work on ourselves and dig deep.

The hospitality, events and charity worlds have been badly hit by the pandemic. It has been a hard time for those trying to raise money and therefore affecting those who benefit from charitable donations raised through events. The future remains uncertain, but the power of community remains undimmed.

As soon as the Early, Early Christmas Fair finishes, the planning for the next year’s event starts. Everyone in the events world or anyone involved in on-going events knows how long it takes. It can be the most frustrating business sometimes, but when it all comes together it is magical. Events are not just about companies and organisers, their success is down to everyone involved; the organising team, suppliers, the volunteers and of course all those who attend the event.

Caroline Cary organiser of the annual event to support ABF, The Soldiers’ Charity

As soon as lockdown happened, I was not too worried initially about the fundraising events we planned for later in the year, but as time moved on and the seriousness of the situation unfolded, everything came to a standstill. The work we would normally be doing could not progress, things were steadily collapsing and our charity events work just stopped. Therefore, we felt asking for money was out of place and deeply uncomfortable. People were struggling, businesses had closed, the people we deal with had been furloughed and suddenly a slight panic set in, as I am sure it did for many.

AstimewentontheIhadtothinkonmy feet. Could we do the event? The Fair which has been going for 28 years, is a flagship event for the charity and this would be the first time it may not be in the Wiltshire calendar. What would happen, do we just postpone it to 2021?

There were so many questions and no one could answer them: What about the marquees? The team is furloughed for the foreseeable future and, if they have no causal labour as they usually have all summer, they may not have the required manpower to put up the structures; this might also translate into a price increase. Would they still be in business even? In addition, we have no idea how many visitors can come to the event; how many are allowed in; how many can shop at each of the stalls; or how many can eat at any one time. Even if physical events do resume, will attendance will be limited? Will people be comfortable coming to an event? Will they stay away from big ones? We have over 2,500 visitors at our event which include older visitors and mothers with young ones – without them, it could result in a drop- in door revenue? What would happen if the catering area had to be reduced and the evening reception cancelled due to the new guidelines, and also the numbers attending may have to be seriously reduced.

We already had over 100 stallholders booked into the event, but some of our stallholders may need to pull out due to the financial implications of the pandemic on their businesses. So many of whom have given so much to the event and have raised so much money for us over the years. These small businesses, run by hardworking, resourceful and creative people are the key to this event. How could we help with their welfare too?

How could we market this event? These months are key for this working with our sponsors, booking in adverts, designing the programme and fliers and writing content for the PR and marketing work – this is key as we engage with all those around – our supporters, friends, family and local business none of which we could see and in some cases not even call them. The 12,000 programmes usually go to print in June, but they guys are all furloughed. Advertising is virtually zero at the moment as people cannot afford it or budgets do not allow.

Eventually having spent many weeks thinking about and doing lots of work behind the scenes, whilst talking to people and looking at what we could do The Early, Early Christmas Fair 2020 is on, but in recognition of the government guidelines, we at ABF, The Soldiers’ Charity have adjusted to the circumstances and have decided to take this wonderful Fair online. We intend it to be a voyage of discovery to unearth what can now be found in retail online.

Artist Lucinda Coldrey at the 2019 event

You can also join in our virtual Pinkster Gin tasting evening, on Friday 25th September, you can buy the kit all online now, or sign up for your own virtual valuation with one of the countries most experienced valuers Marc Allum from The Antiques Roadshow. You can order a curry to have at home with your family and friend’s courtesy of Tuck In Foods or order your personally signed book from Colin Thackery, the 89-year-old Chelsea Pensioner and winner of the 2019 Britain’s Got Talent. Enter our amazing online raffle with over £2000 of outstanding prizes or just enjoy everything that is on offer and help us by making a donation to ABF The Soldiers’ Charity. You can read all about it on our website, sign up to our newsletter and keep up with the latest news as we add in events and offers. www.eecfair.org.uk

So please help us and come and experience this amazing event online. We have widened our scope, enlarged the horizons and intend to bring it all to you over a period of ten days, giving time to enjoy your shopping from the comfort of your own home, knowing that everything you support, buy and engage in will raise money for ABF The Soldiers’ Charity – even just one purchase makes a difference. You will be giving 10% to the Charity by adding a code EECVF into the various websites, and by so doing you will help raise funds for our service men and women who will continue to need our help for generations to come.

It has been really hard making this work, as in my view, nothing replaces the real Fair, meeting the stallholders, seeing the products, meeting with friends and enjoying the day out. I am going to miss you all so much, but we will bring this event to life online in every respect so, let’s have fun together.

Come online, have a curry, have a Pinkster party, share with family and friends across the country, anyone can shop from wherever, whenever and with all the online offers so kindly given by all the retailers – will save you money and raise funds!

My life in lockdown

Major Kate Philp, a former Royal Artillery officer

I CANNOT tell you how delighted I am that the Early, Early Christmas Fair is going ahead this year, albeit in a revised format.I have been a proud ambassador of ABF The Soldiers’ Charity for 10 years and for much of that time have lived in Wiltshire so I’ve regularly been able to attend the annual Fair, not only “on duty” but also to enjoy that smug feeling of getting ahead with my Christmas shopping! My best year was 2013 when I had all Christmas presents bought, wrapped and delivered by October – but that was due to deploying on an expedition that culminated on 23rd December! I haven’t managed to repeat that level of organisation since…

This year has been a strange one for all of us. My strange year started at the end of January when I returned home from hospital having NOT had the surgery I had gone in for. I lost the lower part of my left leg as a result of injuries sustained in Afghanistan in 2008 and, whilst I would ordinarily challenge you to guess that I carried an injury, let alone tell me which leg it is, I had been suffering from an increasing level of discomfort which wasn’t being solved prosthetically and therefore had opted to go under the knife again. A small wound that had developed meant that the operation had to be postponed and, just as I was gearing up to make the trip back up to Birmingham, I was told it had to be postponed again, this time because one of my surgeons had had to go into quarantine. It was early March by this time so, although we weren’t yet in lockdown, it was obvious from the deteriorating situation in other countries that we weren’t far from it and I braced myself for the news that my operation wouldn’t go ahead.

I’ve always found comfort in perspective, reminding myself that there are many people worse off than me, and of course a global pandemic that threatened to overwhelm our wonderful NHS is more than enough to make one pause. But what I hadn’t expected was the time it would take to get used to wearing my prosthetic again – to get it on in the first place as my leg had swollen! Even as I write this I am still only able to tolerate it for an hour a day, whereas previously I would wear it from first thing in the morning to last thing at night. Losing so much of my independence has been tough, and I have effectively been in lockdown since the end of January so the soldier in me might describe this period as attritional! But my old friend, perspective, reminds me how lucky I am that I can still work from home, that I haven’t got the pressure of home schooling, and that I have wonderful friends and family to support me.

I also love finding the opportunities that challenging times present and taking the EECF online is a perfect example. Whilst it will be sad not to be able to gather together, I am excited by the new stallholders that this virtual space could attract, the extended time to be able to browse more thoroughly, the removal of geographical barriers enabling those who live too far away to be able to visit in person to explore online the delights that the EECVF has to offer, not to mention the sigh of relief I can hear my friends with young children breathe as they don’t need to balance bags and babies! It is wonderful to have it in the diary to look forward to, I am already saving for what I expect to be a shopping frenzy, and the fact that the charity will benefit too from the offers kindly given by all the retailers means it’s guilt free, right? Now to organise that Pinkster party…