How it All Began

Behind every successful event there is normally a driving force, a person who conceives, organises, and works tirelessly with their team to make something special happen. Twenty-seven years ago, Jeanette Howse had a vision of a Christmas event that would wow the people of Didcot, raise money for local charities and provide extra income for local shops and businesses. Pick went along to meet the woman who makes Didcot Street Fair happen to find out what it takes to put on the event.

I had seen Wallingford’s Christmas event and I’d been to a carol evening that Didcot Chamber of Commerce had put on and I just thought it was well attended and I asked myself why didn’t they do more, why didn’t they open the shops late, why didn’t they hold a Christmas event like other towns had started? So it must have been the early part of 1994 when I first suggested an event. They all thought we couldn’t do it, but I was thinking big, so I wasn’t just saying let the shops open and have a shopping evening, which they had told me they had tried before and it didn’t work. I was let’s make it an event, close the road to traffic, have the shops open late but let’s have a funfair and some entertainments as well.

We started organising the first one very late considering it is now a year-long process. I talked to a few people I knew in the town and said what do you think? Do you think we can pull this off? And they were very enthusiastic.

We had no funfair and I had no idea where to get one from. I had no experience of using a funfair at an event either. But Ian Paveley, who had a balloon shop in the Lower Broadway, had met Terry Darby of Flyte Entertainments at an event he was at and Terry used to do Wallingford’s annual street fair, so we met with him and I thought, well if this guy thinks we can and provide all the funfair let’s do it.

The first road closure was only from Edinburgh Drive  to Haydon road and of course Station Road at that time was still open and led to the station! So it wasn’t very big. In fact, I closed the road on the first day myself! I got this call on the radio to say we’ve got nobody to close the road and I said well, where is the police? They said you are doing it was the reply. We hadn’t planned for this so we took a moment to think about how you actually close a road! It’s not like that now.   

We had no theme to begin with, but one did evolve because the mayor, who was Richard Swainston, said well we’ve got to wear something what shall we wear? He then said why don’t we wear Victorian clothes then? So the first theme ended up as Victorian by mistake really. Then we decided that instead of doing Victorian every year, we’d have a different theme each time.

We don’t take any money on the day so it has to be made in advance from sponsorship, hiring the stalls  to traders and taking a % from the funfair spaces and I have to balance the budget all year. So when somebody wants to spend something or when somebody has a good idea we have to make sure we have got the money for that. We allocate budgets out, roughly, for marketing, entertainment, the hire of stalls etc and run other events to pay for it such as the Gift & Craft Festival and the Food Festival in the beginning we were also involved with Didcot Fireworks and a monthly market in the Orchard Centre. If we don’t make the money, we can’t spend it. That has always been my rule.

Timmy Mallett, Bob Harris and Jan Meek a lady who sailed around the world have all appeared at the street fair. Jan brought her boat as well. Christopher Awdry, who wrote the Thomas the Tank Engine books has also attended. We’ve had two great great grandsons as well; Jim Nobel who is Brunel’s great grandson and Gerald Dickens who is Charles Dickens great grandson  and various Radio Oxford presenters, Jo  Thoeness, Adam Ball and Lilley Mitchell.   

A lot of planning has gone in before of course. Obviously, once you have done it, it gets easier year on year because you know what works in what places. So along with Terry who sorts all the entertainment, I will physically walk the Broadway with him and agree on what is going where. So that on the day he looks after the funfair and the rides and I look after all the stalls. We have 60 to 70 stalls every year of local clubs, groups, and schools as well as local crafts. There is also a large range of charity stalls. We always try to keep it local and if they are a national company then we try and have the local volunteers there. The road is open whilst setting up so it all has to be coned off and done safely. Every element has to have a risk assessment done for the public liability insurance, which isn’t so bad these days as we have done that for several years now. The stalls now come from Canvey Island. They arrive on the day and at 9 am we put the stalls up, put the covers on and I walk down the street with them putting the names on the stalls. I make sure they all go where Terry and I have agreed and then behind us come to an electrical team putting all the lights on. Of course, we have to agree in advance where all the electrics are coming from as well which many of the shop supply to save us having generators. We also have a parade team who put together local people in keeping with the theme each year. It’s the highlight for most people to see the parade.

Back in 2013 Christine Wallace took part and reached the quarter finals of the Great British Bake off. I contacted Christine and asked if she would lead the town parade for the annual Didcot Christmas Street Fair. Christine recalls feeling greatly honoured and duly accepted. After the event we got together and became good friends. Christine joined the Committee who then planned the Street fair and The Gift and Craft Fair. Shortly after, the current CIC Didcot Events was formed and it was decided that a Food Festival for the town would be a great idea! With Christine’s knowledge and contacts it fell to her to plan and organise the first one which was a great success and that is, as they say, how it all began!
As each year goes by we grow bigger. Our theatre attracts leading chefs to demonstrate from both T.V and local esteemed establishments.

I tend to try and have January off without thinking about it, but that’s probably not totally true because we also have a party just to thank everybody that’s been involved. We have a basic review then as well because everybody wants to talk about it, so we may as well go through what worked what didn’t work what shall we change what did we like, etc.. And then in February and March, we start having the meetings, choosing a theme first. The planning always starts with the theme. We also discuss how we are going to raise the money to pay for it. We have had some changes as we have incorporated some new events such as the Food Festival and have had new logos done for each.  So more work in the early part of the year this time to sort the teams out and discuss the new events.

The small team are all volunteers and are dedicated to putting on some amazing events for the people of Didcot.  

I hear you were given an Honour for Organsing the Street Fair    

Yes the Street Fair team nominated me for an honour for the organisation of the  street fair which was amazing.  I collected my British Empire Medal(BEM) from The Duke of Gloucester and I am delighted that Didcot Street Fair received such recognition.  We have also won two BACA awards.  

I look forward to seeing the people of Didcot enjoying our events and hopefully, they can return this year.

Behind every successful event there is normally a driving force, a person who conceives, organises, and works tirelessly with their team to make something special happen. Twenty-seven years ago, Jeanette Howse had a vision of a Christmas event that would wow the people of Didcot, raise money for local charities and provide extra income for local shops and businesses. Pick went along to meet the woman who makes Didcot Street Fair happen to find out what it takes to put on the event.

I had seen Wallingford’s Christmas event and I’d been to a carol evening that Didcot Chamber of Commerce had put on and I just thought it was well attended and I asked myself why didn’t they do more, why didn’t they open the shops late, why didn’t they hold a Christmas event like other towns had started? So it must have been the early part of 1994 when I first suggested an event. They all thought we couldn’t do it, but I was thinking big, so I wasn’t just saying let the shops open and have a shopping evening, which they had told me they had tried before and it didn’t work. I was let’s make it an event, close the road to traffic, have the shops open late but let’s have a funfair and some entertainments as well.

We started organising the first one very late considering it is now a year-long process. I talked to a few people I knew in the town and said what do you think? Do you think we can pull this off? And they were very enthusiastic.

We had no funfair and I had no idea where to get one from. I had no experience of using a funfair at an event either. But Ian Paveley, who had a balloon shop in the Lower Broadway, had met Terry Darby of Flyte Entertainments at an event he was at and Terry used to do Wallingford’s annual street fair, so we met with him and I thought, well if this guy thinks we can and provide all the funfair let’s do it.

The first road closure was only from Edinburgh Drive  to Haydon road and of course Station Road at that time was still open and led to the station! So it wasn’t very big. In fact, I closed the road on the first day myself! I got this call on the radio to say we’ve got nobody to close the road and I said well, where is the police? They said you are doing it was the reply. We hadn’t planned for this so we took a moment to think about how you actually close a road! It’s not like that now.   

We had no theme to begin with, but one did evolve because the mayor, who was Richard Swainston, said well we’ve got to wear something what shall we wear? He then said why don’t we wear Victorian clothes then? So the first theme ended up as Victorian by mistake really. Then we decided that instead of doing Victorian every year, we’d have a different theme each time.

We don’t take any money on the day so it has to be made in advance from sponsorship, hiring the stalls  to traders and taking a % from the funfair spaces and I have to balance the budget all year. So when somebody wants to spend something or when somebody has a good idea we have to make sure we have got the money for that. We allocate budgets out, roughly, for marketing, entertainment, the hire of stalls etc and run other events to pay for it such as the Gift & Craft Festival and the Food Festival in the beginning we were also involved with Didcot Fireworks and a monthly market in the Orchard Centre. If we don’t make the money, we can’t spend it. That has always been my rule.

Timmy Mallett, Bob Harris and Jan Meek a lady who sailed around the world have all appeared at the street fair. Jan brought her boat as well. Christopher Awdry, who wrote the Thomas the Tank Engine books has also attended. We’ve had two great great grandsons as well; Jim Nobel who is Brunel’s great grandson and Gerald Dickens who is Charles Dickens great grandson  and various Radio Oxford presenters, Jo  Thoeness, Adam Ball and Lilley Mitchell.   

A lot of planning has gone in before of course. Obviously, once you have done it, it gets easier year on year because you know what works in what places. So along with Terry who sorts all the entertainment, I will physically walk the Broadway with him and agree on what is going where. So that on the day he looks after the funfair and the rides and I look after all the stalls. We have 60 to 70 stalls every year of local clubs, groups, and schools as well as local crafts. There is also a large range of charity stalls. We always try to keep it local and if they are a national company then we try and have the local volunteers there. The road is open whilst setting up so it all has to be coned off and done safely. Every element has to have a risk assessment done for the public liability insurance, which isn’t so bad these days as we have done that for several years now. The stalls now come from Canvey Island. They arrive on the day and at 9 am we put the stalls up, put the covers on and I walk down the street with them putting the names on the stalls. I make sure they all go where Terry and I have agreed and then behind us come to an electrical team putting all the lights on. Of course, we have to agree in advance where all the electrics are coming from as well which many of the shop supply to save us having generators. We also have a parade team who put together local people in keeping with the theme each year. It’s the highlight for most people to see the parade.

Back in 2013 Christine Wallace took part and reached the quarter finals of the Great British Bake off. I contacted Christine and asked if she would lead the town parade for the annual Didcot Christmas Street Fair. Christine recalls feeling greatly honoured and duly accepted. After the event we got together and became good friends. Christine joined the Committee who then planned the Street fair and The Gift and Craft Fair. Shortly after, the current CIC Didcot Events was formed and it was decided that a Food Festival for the town would be a great idea! With Christine’s knowledge and contacts it fell to her to plan and organise the first one which was a great success and that is, as they say, how it all began!
As each year goes by we grow bigger. Our theatre attracts leading chefs to demonstrate from both T.V and local esteemed establishments.

I tend to try and have January off without thinking about it, but that’s probably not totally true because we also have a party just to thank everybody that’s been involved. We have a basic review then as well because everybody wants to talk about it, so we may as well go through what worked what didn’t work what shall we change what did we like, etc.. And then in February and March, we start having the meetings, choosing a theme first. The planning always starts with the theme. We also discuss how we are going to raise the money to pay for it. We have had some changes as we have incorporated some new events such as the Food Festival and have had new logos done for each.  So more work in the early part of the year this time to sort the teams out and discuss the new events.

The small team are all volunteers and are dedicated to putting on some amazing events for the people of Didcot.  

I hear you were given an Honour for Organsing the Street Fair    

Yes the Street Fair team nominated me for an honour for the organisation of the  street fair which was amazing.  I collected my British Empire Medal(BEM) from The Duke of Gloucester and I am delighted that Didcot Street Fair received such recognition.  We have also won two BACA awards.  

I look forward to seeing the people of Didcot enjoying our events and hopefully, they can return this year.

Jeanette Howse

My company “Well Preserved” came about by me enjoying a hobby of making jam and marmalade and chutney for friends and colleagues at Tourist Board Day Out Fairs over 30 years ago whilst working at Didcot Railway Centre.

The hobby and enjoyment of selling preserves then became a fundraiser for Didcot’s first Christmas Street Fair when it started in 1993 raising over £1,000 each year towards the costs of the event. A Craft fair at a school near Didcot gave the Street Fair Committee a small table to give out leaflets and sell some jam. Despite only selling half a dozen jars a booking was made to take a stand at the same event the following May, but this time in the school library. That started me on the craft fair circuit and the experience gained from other exhibitors encouraged a more professional look to the stand, labelling and range of produce.

Customers interest in homemade produce has increased in recent years and more people are enjoying them than ever before. Well Preserved produce can be purchased at a variety of events around Oxfordshire and stocked in selected delis and small farm shops.   

Going back to the Street Fair, as part of Didcot Chamber of Commerce,  I had the vision of putting on a Christmas event that would wow the people of Didcot, raise money for local charities and provide extra income for local shops and businesses. To be the driving force of such a huge event is a lot of responsibility, and a lot of planning and hard work has to be done. Obviously, once it is done, it gets easier year on year. We always try to keep local and if a contributor is part of a national company, then we try to have the local volunteers there. The road is open whilst setting up, so it all has to be coned off and done safely before the road closes. Every element has to have a risk assessment done for a public liability insurance.

We allocate budgets out for marketing, entertainment, the hire of stalls etc and run other events to pay for it such as the wonderful Gift & Craft Festival and the very popular Food Festival. If we don’t make the money, we can’t spend it…. that has always been my rule!

All three events take many hours of work; however, I have a team of loyal people who work tirelessly with me to make it all happen and although we work hard we usually have a post event party where we trouble shoot, think about the next year and have a lot of fun!!

I was very honoured and proud when the Street Fair team nominated me for a national honour to recognise all the years of planning an event that over 20,000 people attend. I collected my British Empire Medal (BEM) from The Duke of Gloucester and I am delighted that Didcot Street Fair received such recognition.  We have also won two BACA awards.  

I look forward to seeing the people of Didcot continue to enjoy our events and hopefully, they can return this year.

Jeanette Howse

My company “Well Preserved” came about by me enjoying a hobby of making jam and marmalade and chutney for friends and colleagues at Tourist Board Day Out Fairs over 30 years ago whilst working at Didcot Railway Centre.

The hobby and enjoyment of selling preserves then became a fundraiser for Didcot’s first Christmas Street Fair when it started in 1993 raising over £1,000 each year towards the costs of the event. A Craft fair at a school near Didcot gave the Street Fair Committee a small table to give out leaflets and sell some jam. Despite only selling half a dozen jars a booking was made to take a stand at the same event the following May, but this time in the school library. That started me on the craft fair circuit and the experience gained from other exhibitors encouraged a more professional look to the stand, labelling and range of produce.

Customers interest in homemade produce has increased in recent years and more people are enjoying them than ever before. Well Preserved produce can be purchased at a variety of events around Oxfordshire and stocked in selected delis and small farm shops.   

Going back to the Street Fair, as part of Didcot Chamber of Commerce,  I had the vision of putting on a Christmas event that would wow the people of Didcot, raise money for local charities and provide extra income for local shops and businesses. To be the driving force of such a huge event is a lot of responsibility, and a lot of planning and hard work has to be done. Obviously, once it is done, it gets easier year on year. We always try to keep local and if a contributor is part of a national company, then we try to have the local volunteers there. The road is open whilst setting up, so it all has to be coned off and done safely before the road closes. Every element has to have a risk assessment done for a public liability insurance.

We allocate budgets out for marketing, entertainment, the hire of stalls etc and run other events to pay for it such as the wonderful Gift & Craft Festival and the very popular Food Festival. If we don’t make the money, we can’t spend it…. that has always been my rule!

All three events take many hours of work; however, I have a team of loyal people who work tirelessly with me to make it all happen and although we work hard we usually have a post event party where we trouble shoot, think about the next year and have a lot of fun!!

I was very honoured and proud when the Street Fair team nominated me for a national honour to recognise all the years of planning an event that over 20,000 people attend. I collected my British Empire Medal (BEM) from The Duke of Gloucester and I am delighted that Didcot Street Fair received such recognition.  We have also won two BACA awards.  

I look forward to seeing the people of Didcot continue to enjoy our events and hopefully, they can return this year.

Christine Wallace

I was inspired to start baking by watching my lovely grandmother bake and cook when I was just 6 years old!

 I have therefore always been the ‘cake maker’ in the family and it was because of this that my lovely niece Hannah persuaded me to apply for The Great British Bake Off, reluctant though I was after a major illness and stripped me of all confidence!

15000 people had applied so I felt quite safe that I didn’t stand much of a chance but I received a phone call with an invitation to audition and after numerous further auditions I was chosen for the 2013 series of The Great British Bake Off which both scared and excited me in equal measure! The whole experience was amazing…. stressful, tiring and very nerve racking but most of all hugely enjoyable! I reached the quarter finals (much to my surprise) and met 12 lovely fellow bakers who I remain so close with. We help and support each other in many different events and projects and I know it will remain so! The most important thin for me however was that the whole experience gave me my life back!!

I now demonstrate at various food festivals up and down the country, talk to different organisations, cook for specially selected people and guest regularly on local BBC radio. I also give lessons at home in my kitchen which have proved immensely popular, and I am hoping post Covid that these can now continue!

I still have a huge passion for baking and love to teach the skills I have learned along the way to other people. Baking is an art, slightly scientific, highly creative, a little stressful but most of all great fun!! I love being able to pass that on and my grandson Sam is fast overtaking me (!!) in skill and natural talent. We will be demonstrating together this year in the chef’s theatre which I am really looking forward to!

Christine Wallace

I was inspired to start baking by watching my lovely grandmother bake and cook when I was just 6 years old!

 I have therefore always been the ‘cake maker’ in the family and it was because of this that my lovely niece Hannah persuaded me to apply for The Great British Bake Off, reluctant though I was after a major illness and stripped me of all confidence!

15000 people had applied so I felt quite safe that I didn’t stand much of a chance but I received a phone call with an invitation to audition and after numerous further auditions I was chosen for the 2013 series of The Great British Bake Off which both scared and excited me in equal measure! The whole experience was amazing…. stressful, tiring and very nerve racking but most of all hugely enjoyable! I reached the quarter finals (much to my surprise) and met 12 lovely fellow bakers who I remain so close with. We help and support each other in many different events and projects and I know it will remain so! The most important thin for me however was that the whole experience gave me my life back!!

I now demonstrate at various food festivals up and down the country, talk to different organisations, cook for specially selected people and guest regularly on local BBC radio. I also give lessons at home in my kitchen which have proved immensely popular, and I am hoping post Covid that these can now continue!

I still have a huge passion for baking and love to teach the skills I have learned along the way to other people. Baking is an art, slightly scientific, highly creative, a little stressful but most of all great fun!! I love being able to pass that on and my grandson Sam is fast overtaking me (!!) in skill and natural talent. We will be demonstrating together this year in the chef’s theatre which I am really looking forward to!

Didcot Events Directors
Chairman /Director
Jeanette Howse
Secretary /Director
Mick Howse
Treasurer /Director - Didcot Food Festival Organiser
Chris Wallace
Director
Sam Smith
Committee
Food Festival Team
Chris Wallace, Jeanette Howse, Mel Wilkinson, Lyn Murray, Nicole Wilson, Amy Freeman
Gift & Craft Festival Team
Jeanette Howse, Lyn Murray
.
Street Fair Team
Stalls
Jeanette Howse, Nicole Wilson, Lyn Murray, Chris Wallace, Mel Wilkinson,
Parade Team
Mel Wilkinson, Chris Wallace, Amy Freeman
Funfair Team
Terry Darby, Sally Darby
Electrics Team
Sam Smith, Mick Howse, Andrew Jones, Shane Austin
Safety
Marty Jones MJ Events
Santa’s Grotto
Liz Wood, Adrian
.
Entertainments
Information Hub/Manager
Newbury Building Society
Committee Members
Pat Bosley
Webmaster
Rob Wallace
Police Liaison Officer
Bev Kaur
Orchard Centre
Dean Inwood
Didcot Events Directors
Chairman /Director
Jeanette Howse
Secretary /Director
Mick Howse
Treasurer /Director - Didcot Food Festival Organiser
Chris Wallace
Director
Sam Smith
COMMITTEE
Food Festival Team
Chris Wallace, Jeanette Howse, Mel Wilkinson, Lyn Murray, Nicole Wilson, Amy Freeman
Gift & Craft Festival Team
Jeanette Howse, Lyn Murry
.
Street Fair Team
Stalls
Jeanette Howse, Nicole Wilson, Lyn Murray, Chris Wallace, Mel Wilkinson
Parade Team
Mel Wilkinson, Chris Wallace, Amy Freeman
Funfair Team
Terry Darby, Sally Darby
Electrics Team
Sam Smith, Mick Howse, Andrew Jones, Shane Austin
Safety
Marty Jones MJ Events
Santa's Grotto
Liz Wood, Adrian
.
Entertainments
Information Hub/Manager
Newbury Building Society
Committee Members
Pat Bosley
Webmaster
Rob Wallace
Police Liaison Officer
Bev Kaur
Orchard Centre
Dean Inwood