How did the Fayre start?
In 1998 Helen Duce, custodian of the castle at the time, realised that the castle didn’t have an outside event at the end of November. Most people would have said ‘well of course it doesn’t, who wants to be outside at the end of November?’. But Helen and Prue Dakin got creating and the idea of a Christmas Fayre taking visitors back to the castle’s medieval past was born. Prue was already running the successful Ludlow Castle Festival of Crafts and working with the Ludlow Food Festival at the time, so already loved the Castle and its history, and she reached out to her friend Paul Saunders, Medieval musician extraordinaire, and never looked back. Jump to 22 years later, via Prue’s daughter Abi joining her to work on the Fayre in 2010, and the Medieval Fayre is a staple in people’s calendars, kicking off the festive season for Ludlow and bringing thousands of people to the medieval market town.
It’s been a journey which has seen a lot of rain, wind, the odd smattering of snow, temperatures as low as -17°C, alongside a lot of wonderful memories. Ludlow Medieval Christmas Fayre is a labour of love for a small family business and the wider festival family who descend on the castle once a year and work incredibly hard to create, celebrate and share their joy in bringing the castle to life.
What is different about the Fayre?
Ludlow Medieval Christmas Fayre welcomes visitors to step through the castle gates and back in time with a smile on their faces. It welcomes families and friends to celebrate the start of the Christmas season in true medieval style in one of the most stunning castles in the country.
Wherever you look there is something happening, from two stages and walkabout performers to our wonderful stallholders in costume. It’s a delight to see people getting into the festive spirit and savouring the sights and sounds of a medieval market.
The Fayre is a family-run event which you can see in the creativity and love that goes into transforming the castle with the Fayre family. The affection and care that the people working on it feel is really reflected in how the audience feels. All involved are very moved by how loyal people are to the Fayre and look forward to it as much as visitors do!
Tell us about your role as a major local employer?
We passionately believe that sustainable, ethical events should benefit the communities in which they take place, and as such the Fayre is a significant employer at an important time of year for a lot of local people. The Fayre doesn’t use volunteers, and everyone involved, whether it’s behind the scenes, selling tickets or performing, is paid. In numbers, this breaks down to 65 local stewards and crew and over 40 artists and performers. Without these people, the Fayre wouldn’t be possible.
What has been the impact of Covid-19 on you as a business & as an event?
As a small local business and independently-run festival we, like so many others, have been massively impacted by Covid-19. Alongside not being able to run the Fayre in its usual form, our main source of income that allows us to organise the Fayre and continue to work has completely disappeared in 2020.
For the Fayre, it became clear early on that the event wouldn’t be able to take place in its usual form. The Fayre attracts visitors from across the UK and beyond, and the organisers have a responsibility to the safety of the audience, everyone involved in bringing the Fayre to life, and the community of Ludlow itself. But we were determined that Christmas wouldn’t be cancelled! So we went back to the drawing board of what the Fayre could look like and how we could bring the elements of the Fayre that everyone loves to life to be enjoyed remotely.
Tell us about the performers, demonstrators and stallholders who play such an important part of the Fayre?
We’ve always known that it’s the people who make the Fayre and its atmosphere unique. The performers and demonstrators bring the feel of the Fayre to life and allow us to step back in time with them. Everywhere you look something is happening and you’re being welcomed to immerse yourself in the medieval revelry we love.
The stallholders go to great lengths to transform their stalls in keeping with the medieval theme, and their costumes just get better and better every year – they get quite competitive about it! For a lot of our stallholders, it’s their greatest selling opportunity of the year, and as small independent businesses, the Fayre is a really important part of their year.
How have they coped with this year and how important is Ludlow Medieval Christmas Fayre to them?
The performing arts have been decimated by Covid-19. The Medieval Fayre is an important date in their performance calendars, both financially and as a highlight of the year for them. The Fayre is as much a celebration of the start of the festive season for the performers as it is for the visitors.
Likewise for stallholders events have been cancelled across the country, and they are really suffering. We hope our online market will give our virtual visitors the opportunity to buy unique presents or indulge in a treat from our hand-picked selection of stallholders.
How many visitors do you usually get to the Medival Fayre normally?
We’d usually be welcoming between 15 and 18 thousand people to Ludlow over the weekend of the Medieval Fayre.
So the loss of the Medieval Fayre this year will have had a huge impact on the visitor economy?
Absolutely. Accommodation is booked up a year in advance and people come from across the UK to kick off their festive season in the town and support the local businesses which make it so unique.
What are your plans for Ludlow Medieval Christmas Fayre online?
We want to bring all of the elements of the Fayre that people love to them remotely, so wherever you are in the country or abroad, and however tough life in the pandemic is, you can still celebrate the start of the festive season with us and bring a little bit of medieval magic into your homes.
We’ll have performances from all the Fayre favourites and hands-on history and demonstrators bringing the history of the castle to life. There will be competitions and interactive moments through social media all weekend and, new for this year, a programme of workshops. Due to Covid-19 Christmas is going to look a little different this year for everyone, so we want to help people make their own Christmas with their family and friends, with a full programme of workshops with our Fayre favourites, from making your own decorations and hand-crafted gifts to cook and mix-along workshops with our wonderful food and drink vendors. It’s the perfect opportunity to learn a new skill, create a gift, or just have the chance to meet other people who love the Fayre.
So get together the group of people that you usually come to the Fayre with and celebrate with us remotely and safely!
How can people get involved?
In a departure from our usual commitment to keeping things Medieval, all you need this year is an internet connection! You’ll find all our medieval magic, over 28th & 29th November, on our website and social media platforms. On Saturday we’ll be celebrating our performers, demonstrators and stallholders, and on Sunday we have our full programme of workshops for people to book onto. And all weekend people will be able to get involved in competitions and peruse our curated online marketplace where you can find unique gifts, treats and ingredients to make the perfect Christmas, right up until 25th December.
Why is it so important that you raise money this year to future-proof the Fayre for the future?
We’re raising money for two things. Firstly to cover the costs of this year’s Fayre, which involve a whole programme of artists, demonstrators and the filming to get their performances online. And secondly, we’re also raising money so that we can put the Fayre on in 2021 and beyond. We find ourselves in the same position as so many independent organisers, with no income and a very uncertain events landscape. Once the costs of the 2020 Fayre are covered, all donations will go towards the costs of bringing Ludlow Medieval Christmas Fayre back to a live audience in 2021. We hope we'll see you all there!