Carnival nostalgia: Fakenham’s event through the years
PUBLISHED: 06:30 25 July 2020 | UPDATED: 09:26 30 July 2020
As the world slowly returns to normal and the idea of events with large crowds return, we look back on Fakenham carnival down the years.
When plans were being discussed to bring the carnival back in the early 2000s, mayor and deputy mayor at the time, Janet Holdom and Adrian Vertigan, were doing their bit to support the return.
They were in Fakenham during the carnival’s popularity in the 70s and 80s. Both were involved with their families, friends and colleagues.
The event took place every May. Bringing the town together in what Mr Vertigan described as “a mini Norfolk show”.
“With the carnival, the town was full of music, bands and nonsense going on”, he said. Mr Vertigan worked for the Salvation Army on their float and Mrs Holdom with Ross Foods colleagues, which she described as “a fun-filled day of competitive team rivalry and nonsense.”
Mrs Holdom added: “This all happened in a more relaxed health-and-safety-free time.”
While the carnival was well attended in its heyday, the former mayor suggested the spiralling of insurance costs and easier travel options finally led to its demise.
Mr Vertigan added: “In the 90s, the world expanded, a lot of people moved away and didn’t come back for a long while as more young people got apprenticeships, or moved away to university and the town lost a generation.”
These factors were echoed by Mr Vertigan himself, who moved away to join the Navy in 1986 and would not return to the town until 2001.
In the early 2000s, a community group called Kick Start Fakenham was working to revive the carnival for their children to enjoy.
Another reason they wanted to bring back the event was in response to a 1998 article in The Independent, which labelled the town the `most boring place on earth’.
In 2010 the group planned the event to return to the market town. Moving it to the August bank holiday, and offering amusement in the town’s Millennium Park, they hoped to reignite the carnival’s spirit.
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There were charity stalls in the town, activities and demonstrations on the day but Mrs Holdom said: “Though the spirit was there, it was a paler version of what had been in the past
“It was just a little bit harder to do. Insurance and events licenses and a lot more hurdles to jump through.”
Mr Vertigan added: “There were only around 16 people trying to organise the event, and we struggled to get volunteers.
“It always rained on us, every year at around 3.15. The rain was so predictable we had umbrellas as a theme one year. There was an old joke, that we were cursed by the “Witch of Walsingham.”
The carnival ended in 2015. Over the years the carnival had a series of changes including it becoming a walking parade with no floats, and being held in the town centre to support local businesses.
While some might view the rebirth as a failure, Mr Vertigan believes they had a positive effect which can still be seen today, he said:
“We might not have had the same events, but those years of very proactive community engagement brought back a sense of people happy to go into town and participate in a town event.
“I think that was because of the groundwork done by the carnival, stuff like the Fakenham Fayre and Active Fakenham have absorbed those ideas from before.”
As the pair reflected on their experience with the carnival and asked if they thought it could return, the pair had mixed responses.
Mr Vertigan said: “I think the fair works better if it is more commercially themed and in the town.
“I would hope the community spirit that the pandemic has reinvigorated will help create this spirit again in Fakenham”.
Mrs Holdom added: “Despite the fun, Adrian and I had the year we joined the parade on a tandem, virtual cycling to Fakenham’s twin town in Olivet, in order to raise funds for the skate park.
“We have realised the value of community recently and hopefully those new connections will remain after Covid, but probably not in the form of a 1980s style carnival.”
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