Hull Fair showmen reveal lockdown struggles and how prices could go up this year due to Covid

The showmen who bring Hull Fair to life with their dizzying array of rides and colourful stalls have revealed their struggles to make ends meet during lockdown.

With the disruption to their livelihoods caused by the pandemic over the past 18 months, the operators of the attractions that travel the country to entertain have had to find their own ways of coping with everyday demands.

Garry Leach, chairman of the Yorkshire section of the Showmen’s Guild (SG), said Covid-19 had been tough on the industry like everything else, not least in losing some members to the virus.

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“People just see us roll into Hull with the fair and then leave again, without thinking much else about it,” said Garry. “But we all have bills to pay.”

Garry said: “We have lost quite a few people from the guild through Covid, some of whom I’ve known personally, and there are those who have had it affect their business.

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Aerial shot of Hull Fair
Aerial shot of Hull Fair

“People have been struggling; unfortunately there are those who have bought new equipment and they have massive payment plans and mortgages on them and some just can’t take the pressure.

“A lot of the things we have are transported on big articulated units, so people who have got that experience have been driving lorries for a living during the pandemic.

“About 40 showmen have been helping to man a Covid testing centre at Doncaster as a way of paying the bills – my sister worked there and she said there were half a dozen airline pilots there as well, there were many qualified people all just trying to earn a living.

“We are no different from anyone else, no better, no worse, and I don’t think we are always perceived as that. All the problems we have had is the same stuff that’s happened to the people of Hull.”

Prices at the fair, which opens in Hull on Friday, October 8, are being kept to a reasonable level, but Garry said in some cases people might see an increase on some of the attractions.

“I own a hook-a-duck stall and I’m maybe having to put my prices up by 50p, as it’s really hard to buy the stuff for it. When you look at the cost of stocking the stall two years ago as opposed to today, there is no comparison.

“We can’t afford to run at a loss. There is still the cost of the diesel, the rent and the insurance to pay, and you have to have some food to eat.”

Garry said the showmen were delighted to be able to return to Hull’s Walton Street fairground this year after a break in 2020 because of the pandemic – the first time there has not been a fair in the city since the Second World War.

Garry Leach, chairman of the Yorkshire section of the Showmen's Guild
Garry Leach, chairman of the Yorkshire section of the Showmen’s Guild

“We are really looking forward to it, we do need life to get back to some kind of normality, but we really need people to take it calmly.

“We are there for eight days – we would have liked to have included the two Sundays as well to take the pressure of the weekends.

“It’s not possible at the moment but we hope that is something that will come in the future.”

The SG has already announced its Covid-safe measures for the fair and appealed for fairgoers to use common sense when visiting.

Hull Fair was last on in October 2019
Hull Fair was last on in October 2019

Garry said: “We are advising people to get vaccinated if they can, we all need to be as vigilant as we can possibly be.

“My own wife and kids come to help operate the rides and I would not want to put them where there is any risk.

“We’ve had the last year and more to plan, and we are approaching it with military precision and think we have most bases covered.”