I have just taken part in a Share Fair and to be honest ... I was a little blown away.
For a long time I have tried to imagine how our society would be if it didnt revolve around money and this weekend I had chance to delve a little deeper.
Sunday morning in Milton Keynes... The big day of the Share Fair. Its 9am, its October, its wet and we are putting up tents in the park under the direction of the very excited CJ. I know she has in her minds eye an amazing space and place she is trying to create.
Although not quite right it starts to come together with the help from the Big Lunch Extras Team, a large splash of colour and the drifting smell of coffee coming from the Rural Coffee Caravan.
Within a couple of hours we manage to create a space that of sorts resembles a market but a market with a huge difference.
First off, its laid out in a large circle and within this circle we have created a smaller circle with hay bails and a fire pit, a childrens play area and a meandering path leading though the whole site. It reminds me of a time long ago, of wagon trains and pow wows, a place of safety but also so inviting that I want to be in there.
The Share Fair didnt have a big opening and sort of organically started. It seemed that just as we had finished setting up the public and local community started to appear.
Some needed a little direction, some kind of understood what was happening and some plainly got drawn in by the colour and noise. Yes, we even had live music to play away the day!
Soon the space was a hive of activity. The large tent of clothes, toys and books were a big draw but also one of confusion at times. Some needed a little push to actually take what items they wanted and sorry but no, there is no cost to any of the items. Sorry, but no donations either.
Same at the coffee shop which was full of the finest teas, coffees and a mouthwatering selection of cakes. The seating area there soon filled up and it was great to hear the conversations going on there, people who had never met, community workers from across the city and further apart and all ages talking about the market, the sun that came out ( just as we opened) and the community they lived in.
There was so much to do on the day apart from pick up some free goodies like the seeds, teas, clothes and books on offer. We had yoga, Giant Jenga, a ball pool, a craft tent, herbal remedies, live music, face painting, skill swaps and best of all giant bubbles!
Over the years I have traded at many fairs, fetes and festivals and this was a very different experience. Normally the traders are edging for position, pushing their products and a little stressed to make the money they need to buy more stock, pay the ground rent etc etc etc.
This, however, was very different. The ones running the stalls had no pressure to sell anything and when you took away the monetary element of the market then the whole atmosphere changed. The stress was gone, everything was more gentle and the whole site was one of smiles and jubilation.
Curry was on the menu for lunch and Staffie ? ( I will probably be told off for getting her name wrong,) came along with her wonderful family and a truck load of vegetables and cooked the most amazing curries and accompaniments. It was hot, it was enjoyed and over 200 people were served ! Again, no money exchanged hands and this led to some having a real curry for the first time!
As the day progressed you could see the enjoyment in the faces of those that were there. Take away the pressure of money, take away the hard sell and what you are left with is one pleasure, of content and conversation.
My concerns for the day lay in two parts.
The first being that we had limited stuff to give away and for this to work we needed others to bring and exchange.
That was apparent no real concern as people were bringing all types of things to give and not just to give but from the heart. Children had made cakes and cookies, old men from the allotments with seeds and vegetables from the harvest and ladies that lunch with bags full of clothes to swish and swap. Skill sharing was everywhere and stories galore!
The other concern was one of waste ... What happens if no one turns up and we are left with a lot of waste?
Again, an unfounded concern. Left over chopped vegetables got taken home for stews and cookery creations, clothes, that at one stage looked like a small mountain, ended up in new homes and the very few pieces left went for the homeless and charity shops. The toys found new excited hands to love them and the seeds will come to bloom next spring in allotments and gardens around the country.
Again, just as we started the day, the end of the day came to an organic close. People started drifting away around 4pm and busy hands started the task of breaking the market down. The smiles and fun of the day gave the energy that was needed to do this and within a couple of hours, stress free I may add, we had the place as we found it, an urban park in the middle of Milton Keynes.
What was created that day, I for one, hope it will continue and be replicated elsewhere. I know that I am going to try this in my town and just for that one day try to bring the joy of a Share Fair, a moneyless market to town.
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