On 11th and 12th October 2020, Stratford-upon-Avon will host its annual Mop Fair. This event is an exciting and historic part of the town’s history, which brings thousands of people to the town centre. It is originally enshrined in a charter granted by Edward VI in 1553. This was reinforced by a later charter, issued by Charles II which stated that Mop Fairs should be held “within and through all places, Streets, Lanes, Alleys and Fields in the Borough”.
However, while the Mop is normally a welcome visitor to our town, in 2020 its arrival is a cause for concern for many residents because of the risk of spreading coronavirus. Stratford currently has infection rates below the national average and residents of the town would like it to stay this way! Bringing the Mop into the “Streets, Lanes” and “Alleys” of the town centre will prove a public health risk to the population of the town, both those who live and work in the town centre. It also needs to be noted that Stratford has an aging population, many of whom would be considered to be extremely clinically vulnerable to Covid-19.
The event also runs contrary to advice given by the government to the visitor economy which states that “Local authorities should avoid issuing licenses for events that could lead to larger gatherings forming”. The same advice states provision should be made for “Assessing the numbers of customers, or crowd density, that can reasonably enable social distancing within any space”. Given that the event will have multiple entry points, this would become impossible, leading to unsafe levels of crowding in the town centre. The guidance states that “For indoor and outdoor attractions [officials should] …limit the number of customers or adjust crowd density at any time”, again, something that will be impossible to achieve.
As residents of Stratford-upon-Avon, we ask that, for one year only, the Mop be moved out of the town centre, to one of the “fields” of the Borough and be located on the Recreation ground. Over the summer, a fair has been located in this area and has been deemed a great success and Covid compliant. For this year, the Mop should use a similar set up, where access to the attractions can be limited, numbers can be monitored and social distancing enforced. If this venue is not appropriate, other alternative sites should be considered.
Many people in Stratford, myself included, love the Mop fair and do not want to see it cancelled. However, at a time when both the RSC and Shakespeare Birthplace Trust are restricting visitors and activities to keep the town safe, we feel it is necessary to ask for Mop to be moved from the Town Centre this year. Next year, hopefully with the worst of the pandemic behind us, we look forward to welcoming the Mop back to our streets.