THE VANISHING BOOT FAIR

Ever since a new car boot sale arrived in Fleet, it has been subject to a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs. From a generous grant to help boost the signage for the local event, to the mystery of the missing signs and then a change of location (supposedly)…all in the short space of a month.

It was hoped that the sale would breath life into Fleet after the lockdown period and indeed in the time it was there it attracted more and more local visitors. So…where did it go?

After the boot fair’s successful time at Victoria Road car park, it was then given permission to move to the newly pedestrianised Fleet Road. Plans were made, new signage was printed, then…everything came to a grinding halt. Permission was withdrawn and the council and organisations who agreed the move went very quiet. Confusion reigned…and it was all a bit of a mess.

The organisers, who had been left in a state of limbo by the cancellation were left to try and find someone to resolve the situation but were only met with denials of responsibility and a rather deafening silence as the boot fair remained shut and unable to operate. Now, at long last, Hart District Council have responded to the situation.

Below: The car boot sale in Victoria Road car park.

In a recent meeting on October 1st, Hart District Council debated the future of boot fairs in Fleet and how things should be handled with regards to who should be allowed to hold them and who should benefit financially from them. It finally also addressed the question about whether or not the current car boot sale would be allowed to carry on or not.

Councillor Oliver stated that he acknowledged there had been a breakdown in communication and that he had been unable to extend the use of Victoria Road due to the “vagaries of local government rules” but it isn’t at all clear why permission was given for the change of location which was then revoked? The emphasis on loss of finances may have been a clue until you see just how little Victoria Road car park typically brings in on a Sunday morning…less than £100 in fact, leading Councillor Oliver to call it an “under utilised piece of asset” (not for much longer if Hart get their way with the new development plans…but that’s a different story).

The last post the car boot sale made on their Facebook page was September 3rd. The Hart meeting was almost a month later on October 1st. To someone trying to raise income from a project such as this and who was unable to start until much later in the year because of covid, the procrastination between the local council and Fleet BID had wasted a whole month.

Finally, as the cold rainy weather replaced the warm sunshine, the council made a last minute offer to the organisers…just in time for their council meeting. The offer was for them to work out the last four weeks in October while they decided about the future of the venture, a poor substitute for the warmer weeks lost.

Below: New signage for an event that would never happen.

Below: The car boot fair organisers respond to the current situation.

“After a 5 week lease of Victoria Road Car Park, we were informed by Tracey Shipman of Fleet BID that she had permission to move us to Fleet Road. She put this on the BID website and Facebook page and we announced it too. Several days after planning the new signs and marketing materials – and after paying a firm to display them publicly – she informed us we couldn’t now go into Fleet Road. Fleet BID have refused to pay for our costs and thus we ended the initial run at a loss (which hurt a lot especially as our usual businesses weren’t operational due to Covid 19).

After weeks of phone calls and asking to be allowed either onto Fleet Road or Victoria Road, we were offered nothing. On Tuesday (29th) we were asked to run 4 weeks starting this Sunday. October has fairly bad weather and is far too cold considering a lot of our early morning audience are over the age of 60, plus we would be starting from scratch to run for 4 Sundays when its very possible some would be cancelled due to bad weather.

We would rather return for a full season, starting in March. We think it would be very confusing to come back for just 4 weeks. It’s just not financially viable to cover costs, especially as some of our signs were broken by the street cleaners when they took the signs down. The rise in the virus is also concerning. Thank you to our supporters and we hope to see you soon.”

The organisers, Sanjay Bagga and Zed Carter, had been struggling financially with the loss of events since March due to covid and the brief time they spent in Fleet has left them more in debt than before. Now, with all momentum lost and winter setting in, a four week run this late in the day appears to be rather insulting. After supporting the boot fair and helping them get set up with a grant, Councillor Steve Forster was disappointed by the situation.

Councillor Steve Forster: “After I supported the boot sale with a grant, it was sad that Councillor Oliver didn’t work with me to ensure the organiser could continue the event in Victoria Rd car park. I’m pleased that, with encouragement from me and a group of residents, the cabinet members finally listened and agreed to do this. The delay may mean it won’t continue now but I hope that the organiser is able to continue helping our community and isn’t put off by the charges that Cllr Oliver insisted should apply.”

After making the last ditch offer, Councillor Alan Oliver made it clear at another meeting (Fleet Town Council on 7th October), that despite a rather obvious failure of responsibility and a breakdown of communications, he wasn’t to be held accountable if the boot fair didn’t show up in the colder weather.

Councillor Oliver: “If the car boot sales don’t turn up in Victoria road car park in the next few weeks its not because he doesn’t have permission its because he doesn’t think he’s going to get enough people there and he’s not going to make any money ok? …cause its a commercial operation for him ok? …so please don’t write into the District Council saying “why isn’t it there”…ok? He has authority if he wants to set it up ok? …so I’m just trying to limit the email traffic”.

Judging by recent comments on social media Councillor Oliver is rather a fan of limiting email traffic…by just not replying to them.

So there we leave it for the year, as the poor October weather is little help to a boot fair that has literally been left out in the rain. Let’s hope that they are invited back next year, even if they will have to be part of a newly agreed tender process with additional costs to face.

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