Gallery: Straw Bear festival close to being called off after Fenland Council forget road signs

WHITTLESEY S Straw Bear Festival came close to being called off on Saturday when Fenland District Council forgot to instruct contractors over road closures. We hold our hands up, this was a genuine oversight on our part and we can only a

By Maggie Gibson

WHITTLESEY'S Straw Bear Festival came close to being called off on Saturday when Fenland District Council forgot to instruct contractors over road closures.

"We hold our hands up, this was a genuine oversight on our part and we can only apologise both to the festival organisers and the public," a council spokesman said today.

Thousands of people had already turned out for the unique event but the barriers and road signs were no where to be seen.

A frantic phone call from festival director Peter Williams to the council's market manager Mike Chapman revealed the council had forgotten to instruct Ringway on the road closures.

Mr Williams said: "After all their meddling and interfering in our festival they then turned around and asked if we could deal with the road closures. I am sending off a letter to the chief executive to express my disappointment because I have never encountered such incompetence.

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"I don't think they had any understanding of the consequences. The whole festival would have needed to have been cancelled because it is such a crucial thing. We had 400 dancers and people had come from all over including Germany to take part. We don't want anything more to do with the council"

Festival committee members came to the rescue when they collected signs and barriers used previously and put them out around the town. The parade began one hour later than planned.

The council spokesman said: "We had worked very hard to lay all the foundations for the traffic management plan, which is the most complicated for any FDC aided event. Unfortunately, by an oversight the necessary order was never sent to our contractors. "It was a simple human error.

"As soon as we were alerted t the problem early on Saturday morning we pulled out all the stops, together with the contractors and the festival organisers to put the agreed plan into operation. Those combined efforts enabled the parade to go ahead. There was never any question that the parade would be cancelled."

He added: "We are particularly sorry about what happened on Saturday because we have done so much in advance, together with the festival committee, to help make this year's event a success, including making a special grant of �2,000."

Road closure crew manager Richard Exton today had a message for the council. He said: "We thought their involvement would be good for the festival but I think now we would like our own festival back so we can arrange it ourselves.

"The whole thing was very stressful and because it was pouring with rain a lot of people were not prepared to stand there for another hour waiting for the parade and they went home, so we lost out financially."

Mr Exton has been involved with the festival for 20 years. He said until this year the committee had authorisation to put up the barriers and more than 40 road signs.

However, he said this year the council had become more involved with the whole event and promised the services of a road management company to deal with road closures.

Mr Exton said: "At 7.40am there was still no sign of anyone and it became clear they were not going to turn up. My first feelings were of shock and horror but everyone helped and fetched the signs we had used before and put them out. Everyone was brilliant and helped to save the day.

"Boons Transport of Whittlesey also helped by letting us use some lorries to collect all the barriers and signs because that would also have been a big problem. If we had not kept our own signs that would have been it"


I THINK this is very embarrassing for Fenland District Council. I think we have to start empowering the organisers so they can deal with more themselves.During the last couple of years there has been a lot of red tape which has been very frustrating for the organisers.I have asked Fenland District Council to look at the ways of facilitating the organisers by working with them.The parade was much quieter than usual and I think this was to do with the delayed start and the weather.CLLR MARTIN CURTIS

I THINK that it is good that the council messed up the road closure for the Straw Bear Festival on Saturday for people dressed in stupid outfits.I know that it is meant to be a tradition because money was tight for the farmers years ago so they took a plough decorated up around the town to raise money. Yes, I agree with that bit.But it is the pub crawl and the mess and the sick they leave and it was because of the Straw Bear Festival I hear dressed up people robbed a cash van near Somerfield.The Straw Bear people don’t want anything to do with the council in the future – so why doesn’t the council stop it? It has to clear the mess up and I bet if the paths and roads are icy next year they (the Straw Bear people) will want the council to grit them.And why should a major road be closed for this? If they want it to carry on find a field, not a council park, and have it there with a few beer tents and lock the gates so they don’t mess the town up.From a Whittlesey person who always gets away from it.KAREN MCFARLING

WHAT a shame that Fenland District Council cocked up Straw Bear this year.The organisers have managed to get it right for 30 years and not had to use the excuse "that they are only human and make mistakes". The first year the council has anything to do with it and it goes to pot.As for claiming that they pulled out all the stops once they realised the mistake had been made, all I noticed was the festival organisers running around trying to put things right which, to their credit, they did very quickly.I can't say I noticed a lot of Ringway employees, unless you count the lorry load of cones they turned up with. Not a lot of good to close roads off.As for Karen McFarling I would suggest she gets her facts right. Where does it say those who robbed the cash tins were dressed in costume? Also, has she not walked around town on a normal Saturday Night?This festival is good for the Town. Yes there were a lot of very wet people but there were lots of very happy people (not all drunk like Ms McFarling suggests) who were enjoying the sights and sounds.Well done all the organisers. Keep it up.LYNN PALMER(A Whittlesey resident and someone who very much enjoys Straw Bear)

TO the Whittlesey resident who would like to see the festival stopped – have you considered that it is largely the income that those attending Straw Bear give to local businesses that keep the town running for the rest of the year?Many of the shops and pubs report that they take half of their annual takings over the weekend. Without the festival, Whittlesey would almost certainly lose a lot of facilities that are there for local residents over the rest of the year.It’s a shame that the robbery on the Somerfield van spoiled the day for some, but equally it’s a shame that the festival always gets the blame.Criminals are known to operate at any occasion where large numbers of people gather – this doesn’t mean that events should be stopped.I for one am very glad of the festival’s existence as it brings a lot of pleasure to those who take part and to most of the residents of Whittlesey.SARAHA Morris dancer who is proud to be in Whittlesey for Straw Bear.

I WONDER what pleasures Ms McFarling gets out of life following her posting about the Straw Bear Festival. I also wonder what she personally does to enhance the image and the profile of Whittlesey and the surrounding area.I have spent the past 30 years of my life with a great number of passionate volunteers putting Whittlesey on the international map (mostly at our own expense) through our Straw Bear and related activities.To take her point of view to the n'th degree, all the major sporting events and major festivals (including Royal Ascot, The Lord Mayors Show, Henley Regatta, Knotting Hill Carnival, The East of England Show and hundreds more) should be banned be because alcohol is consumed (in some cases to great excess especially drinking of overpriced Champagne at Royal Ascot).The history of Straw Bear is quite clear. It is a celebration of the turning of the year conducted by the working man. What the Strawbearers have done is created a winter community carnival.The joy on people's faces on seeing the Straw Bear and his entourage on Saturday was a real tonic.Ms McFarling obviously does the correct thing and leave town with her “Bah! Humbug!” attitude. If she leaves town on the day I wonder how she knows what goes on – or is her posting hearsay?As far as the mess is concerned, it is no worse than a normal Saturday night. But the financial spin off from the Straw Bear Festival to others (not the Straw Bear organisation) is considerable.BRIAN KELLPresidentWhittlesey Straw Bear Festival

IN response to the comments by Ms McFarling:I know the Straw Bear Festival is not for everyone, we don't aim to please all comers, we just work 11 months of the year to put on a colourful show for those who appreciate tradition, lighten up an otherwise gloomy January and bring some business into our town (which I have lived in for 57 years).Personally I don't like horses or horse racing but I don't complain when I see piles of horse manure heaped up in the streets and roads around the town, nor do I complain when the jockeys get dressed in 'stupid outfits' or the punters stagger across the streets of Newmarket or Chester after a couple of bottles of bubbly.It's all part of living where you live. Live and let live is my favourite motto.If there was a robbery on the Extravaganza night would she blame the Highland Pipe Band or the Edwardian dressed group? On Whittlesey Weekend she could blame the motorcycle or classic car club.Perhaps Ms McFarling could do Whittlesey and The Straw Bear Festival a big favour and leave town for the whole weekend. If she lets us know when she is away on holiday we could change the date of the festival just for her – or perhaps we could run it at night.But be sure – as eggs are eggs – the Straw Bear Festival will continue.PETER WILLIAMSStraw Bear Festival Director

WHAT another great Straw Bear Festival. Even though we had bad luck with the weather and a delayed start, it still brought the Whittlesey people out together.My family and I had a fantastic time and I was impressed the next day at how clean and tidy the town looked after such a big event.It’s a real shame Karen McFarling feels this way about the festival which brings in much needed extra cash to local shops and pubs.All I can say to you Karen is it’s your loss. We only want happy, cheerful people at the festival anyway!It’s about having fun while helping our beloved Whittlesey town out at the same time and really puts us on the map.I want to say a massive thank you to everyone involved in the Straw Bear Festival for all the hard work that goes on throughout the year in getting this fantastic weekend organised.Roll on Whittlesea Straw Bear 2011 which gets bigger and better every year.SHARON GREEN(Mother of Adam a Sir Harry Sword dancer)

I FEEL I must point out to Ms McFarling that neither last year, nor this year was a major road closed for the Straw Bear Festival.Also, residents of Whittlesey who live along the routes people take home from the pubs avoid vomit, litter and often broken bottles every week of the year and not just on Straw Bear Day.I would also like to remind her that this traditional event, part of our heritage, is organised by members of the Whittlesey community for the benefit of the community and any profit made on the day is given back to community projects within Whittlesey.As the Manor Leisure Centre is for the use of the community, why shouldn't it be used on Straw Bear Day?It is a great meet and greet occasion, with thousands of smiling people in the town, not just Whittlesey folk, but friends and relatives from distant places staying with friends and relatives in homes, in B&Bs, hotels and even camping and all with the enthusiasm for having a good time.Saturday, despite the weather, was a good family day with lots of children, as well as adults, enjoying the music and dancing and having lots of fun. Many will return to the town again next year.Isn't it wonderful to be able to welcome people from all over the world to our town and have a fun time together!RUTH TAYLOR

I THINK Councillor Martin Curtis has it about right – it was embarrassing for the council. But if it was a genuine mistake why is Peter Williams calling it incompetence?Hasn’t he ever made a mistake? Is he Mr Perfect? And as I understand it – as he said – following urgent phone calls things were put right – so why the fiasco’ headlines… it was something that went wrong but was put right.He says he talked to the market manager very early in the morning – how many council staff answer phones on a Saturday anyway – and especially so early!!!Maybe this should be put into perspective? It went wrong – and was fixed just in time. Everybody had a great time.JOSIE

IN reply to Josie's comments, I don't think she is aware of the consequences of the 'mistake' (or incompetence) by Fenland District Council.Over the last few months the Whittlesea Straw Bear Festival members have given up their own time to meet Fenland officers in order to discuss the road closures.The closures were agreed weeks before the event and were to be managed by FDC, which employed a road traffic management company to carry out the work on the day.Authorisation from the council to the contractors should have been given well beforehand and double checked before the event.If it hadn't been for the Straw Bear members (all volunteers) stepping in and using their own equipment, there would have been no festival this year.It is wrong to say that there was a combined effort by the council and the contractors. The contractors did arrive with some traffic cones, which cannot be used for road closures.I agree with Pete Williams that this was incompetence on behalf of Fenland District Council.RICHARD EXTONRoad Closure ManagerWhittlesea Straw Bear festival

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