First of all, congratulations to Grant and his team on launching this new trade publication. The demise of the World’s Fair, although a source of regret, has demonstrated the need for a modern periodical that covers all the news of interest to show people and anyone interested in the world of travelling funfairs and circuses!
The Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain and N Ireland represents over two thousand operating members in the travelling funfair industry and some circuses, we also speak to a degree on behalf of members of other outdoor entertainment industry associations on common issues. When family members and employees are taken into account, we represent approximately 25000 people.
I hope to be a regular contributor to the Showmen Times and keep the Guild perspective in the forefront.
For those who are not aware travelling showmen are a community of independent business owners who are law abiding, pay tax and offer high-quality outdoor entertainment services closely regulated for safety purposes. We are significant net contributors to the UK economy as well as preservers of a key part of the nation’s cultural heritage. Just as importantly, we offer healthy recreation facilities for families – something that government is supposedly keen to promote.
The conduct of members is governed by a code which the Guild strictly enforces – imposing penalties, in some cases, of fines of several thousand pounds or, in some cases, expulsion from the organisation.
The Guild acts as a responsible regulator of travelling funfairs. Our members are also required to hold extensive public liability insurance and their equipment is regularly tested thoroughly by independent engineers. We are actively involved in industry safety bodies.
Members of the Showmen’s Guild have a proud history of service to the nation not only during both world wars but also in supporting numerous charities.
Today, more than ever, we work closely with our sister organisations including the Association of Circus Proprietors.
The travelling funfair industry has been dealt a devastating blow by the lockdown measures introduced as a response to Covid-19. Many of our members are in severe economic distress.
Due to the nature of the business and the patchy availability of assistance measures many of our members have not been able to access government backed financial assistance during this crisis.
We cannot overemphasise the damage this has done to a key revenue generating industry that has a distinct cultural heritage going back several hundred years.
Our members are flexible and safety conscious. Many of our members take equipment all over the world and are used to adapting to new circumstances. Showmen’s Guild members are therefore ready to operate within any reasonable restrictions to keep everyone safe.
We operate travelling funfairs. These are planned, highly regulated, professional events. We are not itinerant entertainers pitching up randomly. Some of our members operate microbusinesses but many of them are substantial limited companies.
We feel there has long been a widespread misunderstanding about our business and community.
The Guild has recently worked closely with the Health and Safety Executive under the oversight of the Department of Media, Culture and Science to produce a set of Covid safe operating guidelines. The details are on our official website.
Along with track and trace measures we have introduced our members can now operate Covid safe funfairs to the highest standards.
It is therefore disappointing to see that many local authorities have simply banned funfairs without any regard to the real risk. Despite the Westminster government’s stated intention to get the industry moving again the devolved assemblies have given a mixed reaction to the easing of lockdown.
We would like to see a rational plan that balances safety and economic reality.
The Showmen’s Guild of Gt Britain and N Ireland is also a member of the European Showmen’s Union and is affiliated to various other associations and bodies. European Showmen have been far more vocal and militant in their response to various continental government approaches to this crisis. Although, it has to be said some governments, for example the Belgians, have made more of an effort to help Showmen get through the financial disaster many now face.
I would urge anyone who cares about the industry to lobby their MPs, local councillors and public authorities to assist Showmen by removing some of the irrational and unnecessary restrictions they currently face just to make a living.
Joe Mercer is the General Secretary of the Showmen’s Guild of Gt Britain and N Ireland.