'Lessons learnt' from handling of Market Harborough Light and Life traveller event

Photo of the convention by Clive MasonPhoto of the convention by Clive Mason
Photo of the convention by Clive Mason
The council has produced a report on the event, which took place in July

A number of lessons can be learnt from the handling of a travellers’ festival which took place in Market Harborough earlier this year, Harborough District Council has concluded.

The Light and Life festival ran from Saturday, July 22, to Thursday, July 27, on the Showground at the edge of the town.

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Hundreds of traveller families from across the county attended, with the programme including prayer, gospel music and song, and Bible study groups. A similar event was held in Rutland in 2021, when more than 100 complaints to police from residents as shop workers were intimidated and cars were driven at speed around streets near the Rutland Showground on the edge of Oakham where the event took place.

In advance of the Market Harborough event, dozens of pubs and businesses in and around the town shut their doors amid fears of anti-social behaviour spilling out from the event. Some businesses claimed they had been told by the police to shut, although the force later denied it had done so.

However, no reports of anti-social behaviour were received during the event, the district council said, in a report which was considered at its Performance Overview and Scrutiny meeting last night, Thursday, December 7.

It added in the report that “lessons have been learnt” around the handling of the event. It said, for example, that it had spoken to businesses after the festival, and found that one of their main concerns was that they had very little warning it was taking place, and that that had left them little time to make plans for the day, should they wish to.

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The council added that businesses told it “scaremongering” online had made shoppers reluctant to head into town that week, leading to a loss of earnings. Rumours of the event and concerns over its impact on the market town started to be circulated on social media a week or so before it was due to be held.

The council report stated the organiser of the festival had explained they did not intend to release the location of their events in advance as they did not want communities travelling to them early and parking up in the surrounding district. The council had originally agreed to this approach, the report added. However, it decided to inform businesses when the speculation started on social media.

The few attendees who did arrive early were moved into the showground, the report added. The authority said that, as most people did not arrive early, it would in future give the local community more notice of such events.

Some businesses reported parking and driving issues when the event was taking place. While the council disagreed, it said additional parking enforcement could be made available in future, but only if it and Leicestershire Police received requests early enough.

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Shoplifting was also reported by businesses, the report stated. The council said shoplifting was on the rise both across the district and across the country. It added that retail packs were being issued to businesses to record and report incidents, the information from which would help the police tackle the issue.

Concerns about increased litter and mud caused by bad weather were also flagged by the council in the report. It stated: “The showground manager and organisers will [in future] need to prepare for heavy rainfall and litter outside the venue and ensure there is capacity to manage this and keep the roads clear of litter and mud.”

The district council said that while the showground was cleared of rubbish after the event, and volunteers litter-picked along the road, “significant litter on the pavements and roads was left by attendees”, and the local authority was left to clear some of this up. Leicestershire County Council, as the highways authority, also had to sweep the mud from the roads. The report stated that organisers of such events needed to be better prepared to deal with both in future.

However, some councillors on the committee which considered the report said they felt the document did not go far enough. Councillor Phil King said: “I was not against the event, but I do think there are some more significant lessons that need to be learnt.”

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He disagreed with the council’s conclusion that there had been no anti-social behaviour as a result of the festival. He said businesses and residents had told him they did not report incidents not because they had not happened, but because they felt it was “pointless” to do so as “nothing would happen”.

The showground is a private venue and no licensable activities were taking place during the festival, the council continued, so it was not for the authority to say whether it could or could not take place. However, the council did chair a group of various organisations the run up to, and during, the festival in a bid to ensure things ran as smoothly as possible, it said.