Organisers tell how the Early Early Christmas Fair helps the soldiers who risk so much but ask so little.
THE ANNUAL Early Early Christmas Fair, in aid of ABF – The Soldiers’ Charity, takes place, as always, in the grounds of Tedworth House in Tidworth on Wednesday, September 28. But at one stage it looked as if it would not. Tedworth House has undergone a major transformation since transferring from army stewardship to Help for Heroes, to enable it to become a flagship rehabilitation centre for wounded soldiers.
Staging the fair there could have disrupted its important work. But everyone’s willingness to compromise has meant the fair will be held there for years to come. Organiser Caroline Cary said: “I
would like to thank our key sponsors and upporters, who have been fantastic and helped us in this transition: General Dynamics, Aspire Defence, Wiltshire Life, Wellington College, Wellington Academy, Blue Apple Catering and Tesco in Tidworth, without whom we would not be able to hold the event this year, as well as Bryn and Emma Parry, of Help for Heroes, Ian McFarlane, project manager for Tedworth House, and Colonel Paddy Tabor, garrison commander.”
The Early Early Christmas Fair will take place in large marquees in the grounds with more than 90 stalls, many of them new. Items will range from trinkets to cashmere, foods to stocking fillers; gifts not on the high street and something for all ages and pockets. There will be refreshments, free parking, a raffle, a tombola and a preview on the evening of Tuesday, September 27, for which you can buy tickets.
The fair began as a low-key event in the late 1980s, aimed at giving an outlet to local people to sell their wares to an invited public; stall holders were mainly army spouses. A few years
later, Sarah Rutherford-Jones hosted a house sale for fellow wives, where there was an Army Benevolent Fund collecting tin for voluntary contributions. Following the fair’s success, she did it again on a larger scale with the help of Michela Levey. Tedworth House looked just the venue and so the Early Early Christmas Fair was born, proudly opening its doors for the first time in October 1994. At the end of the event £1,200 was handed over to Brigadier Arthur Gooch, ABF’s regional organiser.
When Sarah and her husband were posted overseas shortly afterwards, another Sarah – Arthur’s wife – ran it along much the same lines for the next three years. When he retired in 1998 his successor Brigadier David Shaw, seeing the fair’s potential as a major regional fundraising event, recruited Colonel Tony Moorby to take overall responsibility and to provide the essential link with the MoD, the army and the garrison. He was supported by Susanne Hollis as fair secretary, who has been one of the unsung heroes of the last 15 years. In charity fundraising the volunteer is all-important allowing costs to be kept to a minimum. The role of event organiser is also absolutely key: without someone who can select and organise an array of stallholders and bring fresh ideas, fairs such as this would fail.
Sarah Gooch, and her successors Leslie Findlay, Francesca Pearson and, for the last seven years, Caroline Cary have all brought a unique vision and have incredible drive in taking the fair forward on an upward path.