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Woodland Edge

The National Forest Wood Fair in the rain

The National Forest Wood Fair in the rain

It was a blessing it hadn’t rained in the night.

But 6am arrived and the first spots started. I bravely tweeted “Come and walk the National Forest Way in the dry!” - referring to the miniature version of the route we had laid out in the shelter of our marquee - and set off to the site.

Exhibitors who had camped overnight emerged smiling, pulled cagoule hoods over their heads and added another guy-rope to the gazebos and tarpaulins. Colleagues on site were well-togged up, putting last minute arrangements in place. Former TV newsreader and National Forest Ambassador Kay Alexander arrived, looking weatherproof and sparkling, set to be our compere and roving presenter for the day.

And despite the forecast, around 2,000 people paid their money and came in through the gate.  Not just local people either, but first time visitors who had made their way down the M1, or across the county: everyone dressed for the weather and determined to make the most of all that the Wood Fair had to offer.

My day passed in a steamy, sodden haze of timber birthday cake photo opportunities, visitors from Peru, radio interviews, mugs of tea and more rain. Our visitors, after watching the lumberjacks and the chainsaw carvers, and enjoying venison burgers and delicious hot tea and cakes, and drying out in the craft marquee, said what a great day they’d had, how they had really enjoyed themselves and hadn’t everyone done well in the rain.

Similarly, many of the exhibitors commented on the productive conversations they had, that they had sold more, that they signed more people up for workshops, that more people were interested in their newsletters and activities. Our sponsor Vitax introduced many people to their biodegradable pots and slug treatments - with much hilarity about it being “just the weather to bring them out”. Luckily no one rushed home to try and catch the pesky things there and then!

Was it that the visitors had more time to browse and more space to notice the beautiful items on sale, or did the rain bring out a camaraderie that encouraged connection and involvement?

Yes, this year the Wood Fair will have lost money, but many of us felt that as organisers we could take as much heart that 2,000 motivated and interested visitors supported the event in poor weather as we could if 5,000 had turned out on a sunny day. Our auction in aid of Tree Aid raised over £1,000, more than in some previous years with sunshine and greater crowds.

This was our tenth anniversary National Forest Wood Fair and I think we can be proud to say we run a well-organised, friendly, focused event and people really enjoy this. With our partners at Leicestershire County Council, we put on the Wood Fair each year to celebrate all things timber and wood –related. We aim to entertain people and through this, to demonstrate the many facets of The National Forest: its economic impact, how it creates jobs and employment through woodland creation and management and through tourism businesses; how it improves the quality of life for visitors and those who live within it; and how by creating and looking after The National Forest we create and connect valuable wildlife habitats. This year, in the rain, we may have achieved more of this than we thought possible.

Look out for the date of next year’s Wood Fair and let’s hope for a day of equal enjoyment, even greater success and perhaps the sun could shine as well!