Fury as country house near Harborough gears up to stage back-to-back camping weekends for hundreds of people across the country during Covid-19 pandemic

Some fear that inviting up to 900 people to camp on the 200-acre site at the Grade 1-listed house over three straight long weekends will ignite a local coronavirus spike

By Red Williams
Wednesday, 5th August 2020, 11:12 am
Updated Wednesday, 5th August 2020, 11:15 am

A Covid-19 storm has blown up as an historic country house near Market Harborough gears up to stage back-to-back camping weekends for hundreds of people.

Furious local residents and council leaders have hit out as the Shambala camping event prepares to kick off at Kelmarsh Hall, near Great Oxendon, on Friday August 7.

They fear that inviting up to 900 people to camp on the 200-acre site at the Grade 1-listed house over three straight long weekends will ignite a local coronavirus spike.

Kelmarsh Hall.

But the Kelmarsh Trust, which looks after and safeguards the magnificent estate, is insisting that it is working flat out to make August’s camping spectaculars as Covid-19 safe as possible.

Craig Boswell, 45, of Great Oxendon, told the Harborough Mail: “I don’t care what they say – this is outrageous.

“I’m horrified by what they are doing in our own backyard.

“They have to cancel these camping weekends now for the good of all of us in the Market Harborough area.”

Craig said he was particularly concerned for the welfare of his wife and three-year-old son.

“They both have serious blood disorders – and are especially vulnerable.

“We are just starting to tentatively step back out now after 15 weeks in strict isolation during the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.

“But now that Kelmarsh Hall is busy inviting the world and his uncle to pitch up on our doorsteps over the next few weeks we are very worried and stressed again.

“I simply cannot believe that they are being so irresponsible.

“We’ll have hundreds of people flooding in to Kelmarsh – just minutes away – from all over the country and even abroad.

“Who knows how many of those people are infected with the virus?

“They’ll be pouring in to Market Harborough to shop and walk about.

“It’s going to be a free for all and it’s a recipe for absolute disaster.

“I have got relatives in Oadby who have been driven mad by the city-wide lockdown there.

“The last thing we want here is a dramatic micro coronavirus spike – ending up with us being locked down again.

“It beggars belief that we are even being forced to talk about this when the entire Covid-19 battle is still very much on a knife-edge across the UK.”

Craig, a stay at home dad, accused Kelmarsh Hall, which stretches back almost 300 years, of giving local people a “slap in the face”.

“They are in real danger of alienating their closest neighbours.

“We are all very disappointed and feelings are running very high,” he said.

“We have consistently supported Kelmarsh Hall in the past.

“But not any more.

“I’ve tried to contact Kelmarsh Hall to express my fears and anger but not even heard back.

“It’s just not acceptable and their disgusting behaviour will leave a very bad taste for a long time to come.”

Cllr Roseanne Steedman, chair of Great Oxendon Parish Council, told the Mail: “We are still in a Covid-19 situation but we are going to have hordes of people rolling up to a festival just down the road.

“And it’s all due to start on Friday.

“I emailed Kelmarsh Hall to give them my thoughts about this and not even had a response.”

The four-day Shambala Festival, featuring music and performing arts, which is held at Kelmarsh Hall every summer, has been cancelled amid the coronavirus crisis.

So the organisers are instead promoting “Carry on Kelmarsh” campsite Friday-Monday weekends from August 7-10, August 14-17 and August 21-24.

“The Shambala Festival brings in about 10,000 people every year and we’ve always helped to support it,” said Cllr Steedman.

“But it’s totally different this year as we are all still fighting to defeat Covid-19 – and we are not a holiday destination.

“The campers will pack into Market Harborough to shop as well as going to other local shops and businesses –giving us all extra anxiety at a very worrying time.”

Lesley Denton, general manager of the Kelmarsh Trust, said they are trying to bounce back as the pandemic has had a “severe” financial impact on the charitable organisation.

“What we are hosting on our event site Friday to Monday for the coming three weekends is a family camping weekend for which the organisers have the full permissions from Daventry District Council.

“It is a very small campsite (a maximum of 90 pitches, not all of which have been booked, and a maximum of 300 people) with no indoor spaces apart from the pre-booked and fully erected tents each with their own toilet facilities for one designated household,” said Lesley.

“The event is in line with all Government guidance and regulations, with the rules enforced for all that attend with social distancing enforcement.

“Every effort has been made to make the events as Covid-safe as possible.

“Again every pitch has its own dedicated toilet facility and the pitches are generous in size and spacing.

“In place is a level of provision and professionalism clearly above and beyond many other campsites and holidaying options available in this and other areas of the country.”

She said campers are being sent guidelines on social distancing and sanitising, asked to bring what they need for the weekend, urged to avoid contact with local communities and stay on the site for the whole weekend.

“Food is available on site as is a camp shop for everyday essentials.

“Whilst Northamptonshire is not a forerunner as a holiday destination the estate does have beautiful scenery and calmness.

“It is a perfect alternative to crowded beaches and popular tourist sites and we sincerely hope that families will enjoy a couple of days away in the countryside,” said Lesley.

“This is the Trust's first step on hopefully the road to recovery.

“It is providing some much-needed business for supply chains and the I would assure you that the Trust is approaching it with caution and attention to every detail.”