Henley town centre was bustling with people on Monday with the return of the much loved May Fayre. From fairground rides to fancy dress competitions, street food to stilt walkers, there was somethings to entertain guests of all ages. The event was unable to take place in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic, so its return on the bank holiday weekend was even more hotly anticipated than usual.
The May Fayre took place in Falaise Square, which boasted an array of pop up food stalls and fairground activities. The talented young dancers from Divas & Dudes Dance Academy then kicked off the festivities with some traditional maypole dancing. The group, guided by Anne Garrison, had been rehearsing three dances in the run up to the event, one of which they only made up last week! If there were any nerves, it certainly didn’t show as the group confidently weaved their ribbons around the maypole, cheered on by the supportive crowd.
There were plenty more performances throughout the afternoon, including a Morris dancing show by Ellington Morris Dancing, and live music by the Laughing Ants. Street performers were also roaming the square throughout the day, towering above the crowds on stilts or blowing giant bubbles for children to gleefully chase.
Mayor Sarah Miller had a tough job judging the children’s fancy dress competition, which this year had a ‘Jubilee’ theme in recognition of the upcoming celebrations for Her Majesty The Queen’s 70 years as monarch. There were many tiaras in recognition of the theme, and a number of rosettes and prizes were awarded for the children’s efforts. However, there was one young girl who really stood out: 7 year old Lottie, who was dressed as a queen on horseback. Her shoulders were draped with a Union Jack print scarf, her head sported a beautiful silver crown, and her incredible horse-shaped trousers made it look as if she were sat side-saddle on a pony!
Lottie loves dressing up, so claims that putting an outfit together only took her two minutes! She said about her win, “I feel really good. I thought I’d win. My favourite bit of the May Fayre was the fancy dress party.” Lottie was also delighted to win a prize at the hook a duck stall.
Lottie’s mum, Harriet, said, “To be honest, when she got an excuse to dress up, she was there because she dresses up seven days a week anyway. It probably did only take two minutes because she was probably already wearing something. The costume is very short on her legs but she’s rather in love with it, and then she’s got one of my beach wraps on which is a flag. She is very happy.”
One of the stands keeping punters fed and happy belonged to local baker Sammy Macmillan, also known as the ‘Ganache Gal’. Her mouth-watering cakes and sweet treats went down a storm — a particularly impressive achievement given that Sammy has only been in business for six months. She said, “It is my first time at May Fayre and it’s so lovely to see everyone out and about after the couple of years that it hasn’t been on for. It’s been really good, really positive. Everyone stops by and says that my cakes look really nice, so that’s great to know. It’s just nice to be in this kind of environment. This is one of my first events, and what a good one to go to!”
As well as food stalls and fairground rides, there were also many stands promoting local community groups and charity work. One such stand was dubbed the ‘Henley Hub’, and was a collection of the various Henley-based groups working with Ukrainian refugees. Here, there were representatives from: the Sanctuary Foundation, a national charity connecting hosts; Mother Sister Daughter, a local charity doing some of the matching; and Anastasia Lypynska’s charity. Anastasia, with the help of Councillor David Eggleton, has been collecting humanitarian aid supplies and sending them back to Ukraine, where she is originally from. The aim of the May Fayre stand was to raise awareness for the local groups working with Ukrainian refugees, to make connections, and to invite others to help. Miriam Kandiah, whose husband Krish runs the Sanctuary Foundation, said, “It’s great to see so many people. Dave is doing a great job promoting it from the front. People are keen to help. It’s symbolic as well, that as Henley we can say that we welcome people from Ukraine.”
Reflecting on the event, Henley Mayor Sarah Miller said, ”We all had a fantastic day at the May Fayre on Monday. It felt really good to see so many people in the Market Place enjoying the entertainment and stalls. Not only was the Market Place buzzing with families but the whole town was heaving. Pubs, restaurants, coffee shops were full. It was really lovely to see especially after a 2-year break. I would like to thank Cllr. Stefan Gawrysiak for ensuring his voice could be heard in Reading as he walked around the Square, microphone in hand, talking to stall holders, promoting local businesses and ensuring everybody knew what was happening during the day. And of course, thanks to Cllr. Dave Eggleton for all his hard work on the day, to our Park Services (Karl and Kyle) and Nicci Taylor and Louise Hastings for working the road closures and generally being on hand to ensure the day ran smoothly.
“And I must thank our fantastic entertainment , The Laughing Ants, the Ellington Morris Dancers, Anne Garrison who taught the Maypole Dancers and of course Steph Maxwell from Divas and Dudes who provided the actual dancers. And the magical Victoria Grace Ruskin-Clements and her stilt walker and Bubble Fairy. The children loved you! Thank you to Wilkins, SOHA, EH, Rupert House School, Penny & Sinclair, Aliquando Chamber Choir, Divas & Dudes and last but not least Henley Town Council. Without your sponsorship we would not have had such great entertainment.
“Having the May Fayre back has been a highlight for me and what an end to my mayoral term to see everybody having such a wonderful time and the businesses brimming with people. It’s exactly why we brought the event back to the town centre”.