Crunch meetings to salvage towns’ carnivals

Support for annual parades grows in Bideford and Barnstaple

UNCERTAINTY surrounding the future of two of North Devon’s largest carnivals could be cleared up in the next couple of weeks.

Traditional processions in Barnstaple and Bideford face the axe due to a lack of volunteers to organise the event.

But following the collapse of the Barnstaple organising committee last month – and warnings of a similar outcome in Bideford – the Gazette understands that discussions to salvage both carnivals are reaching a critical stage, with two pivotal meeting taking place in the coming weeks.

Hopes are high that Bideford Carnival will be saved at a meeting in the town next Wednesday, while a crunch meeting in Barnstaple has been organised for on Thursday, March 3.

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Since the Gazette highlighted the plight of the Bideford event last month, a number of people have expressed interest in helping.

Carnival secretary Mike Harper said five different people and groups who had expressed an interest had been invited to next week’s meeting with the carnival committee and he was hopeful that a way forward would be found for the carnival to continue.

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The carnival crisis came with Mr Harper and his partner Gaylena Humphries being forced to stand down from their roles in running the event because of increased business commitments.

The couple took over in 2003 following the death of Gaylena’s father Mike Humphries. He and his wife Maureen were at the helm of the carnival for more than 30 years. But now health problems have caused Maureen, 68, to give up her role, too.

Plans to hold Barnstaple’s annual procession were scrapped when the event’s organising committee folded at the group’s AGM on January 26 due to a lack of support.

The event has been an annual fixture in the town since 1931 and has faithfully taken place every year except during World War II, raising thousands of pounds for small charities in the town.

But since the Barnstaple Fair Carnival Association committee members tendered their resignations, discussions between various organisations, businesses and individuals in the town have produced “encouraging feedback”.

Barnstaple St John Ambulance president Jo Thompson said that she hoped that by sharing out the various organisational and administrative roles, the event could get the event back on track.

“The idea is that individual organisations will take on responsibility for one element of the carnival and that we can re-form a new working committee,” said Mrs Thompson, a former Barnstaple carnival chairman who resigned from the committee five years ago.

“I have already received some encouraging feedback and the meeting being held on March 3 is open to anyone who feels they can contribute.”

The meting will take place at the Barnstaple St John Ambulance headquarters in Princess Street, from 7.30pm.

“St John Ambulance is taking the lead with me as the president working on their behalf to try to encourage organisations in the town to come to the table and take part,” added Mrs Thompson.

“As past chairman of the carnival committee, I feel that if we can start afresh with new committee members, we might be able to salvage something.”

Mrs Thompson said that a new group could keep the same constitution and take on the charitable trust aspect of the previous committee, which left an estimated �9,000 left in the coffers

The money is being safeguarded by trustees who have already agreed to hand over �3,000 to any group that offers to take the carnival with the same charitable aims and objectives.

“Many people have grown up with Barnstaple carnival and I hope we can save it so that future generations of children and grandchildren can enjoy it,” she said.

“I would love to hear from any other organisation or individuals who feel they can help.”

Anyone interested in getting involved can call Jo Thompson on 07732 652785. They can also contact the North Devon Gazette on (01271) 341629.

Readers wanting to get involved with Bideford Carnival can call Mike Harper on (01237) 422477.

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