Gearing up for Gala day

Newhaven Gala Queen Abbie Minto with her fishwives Kathryn Dempsie, left, and Freya O'Brien
Newhaven Gala Queen Abbie Minto with her fishwives Kathryn Dempsie, left, and Freya O'Brien
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IN a city full to bursting point with glitzy festivals and show-stopping theatre productions, big sporting fixtures and even bigger pop concerts, it might be easy to overlook the humble village gala day.

After all, it takes a lot of bunting, tombola prizes and tug o’ war contests to compete with the lavish Festival finale fireworks, the flair of the Fringe or, indeed, the pomp and ceremony of the Tattoo.

But for communities across the city, the local gala day or village fair is by far the biggest – and probably the best – event on the calendar.

The gala season hits full stride today when thousands join the fun at the bi-annual Corstorphine Fair – an event which attracts around 25,000 visitors. At the same time, the annual Meadows Festival will be well under way, with two days of music, arts, crafts, dance and fun events which typically draws around 30,000 revellers over the weekend.

A few miles across town today, the crowds might be smaller but the excitement just as fervent at the newly revived Newhaven Gala Day.

There, Newhaven Gala Queen Abbie Minto, 11, a P7 pupil at Victoria Primary, and her entourage – Fisher King Mitchell Haddow, 11, and attendants Sophia Duff, 11, and Danny Harkins, 12 – will make their way by boat to the harbour to kick start a day of child-friendly fun that includes stalls, games and, of course, the traditional crowning ceremony.

The event was revived two years ago by Victoria Primary headteacher Laura Thomson.

She says: “The gala day fell by the wayside a few years ago. It took a lot of organising, was a bit too big and it had become more about a day for the adults than the children. This is the third year since we brought it back. It’s very much about the children, focusing on the harbour and the fishing community and the school.”

The event is particularly special for former Victoria Primary pupil George Hackland. Now 91, he was four-and-a-half years old in 1925 when he became a pupil at the primary school. Today, he will be guest of honour when he crowns little Abbie queen for the day.

“The gala days started after the war and they were wonderful community events,” recalls George, of Main Street, Newhaven. “They were a great way of meeting people you hadn’t seen for a while and socialising together. Families who had moved away to new estates in Sighthill and Pilton always came back to Newhaven for the gala day.”

Gala days and community events, however, are notoriously tricky to organise and fund, as highlighted by children’s festival Parents Like Us, whose organisers have warned that this weekend’s event at Leith Links could be the last unless it draws in enough cash to survive. The free festival, aimed at families with younger children, is expected to attract 30,000 people.

Some community events seem to weather the storm, even growing in size as years go by. Corstorphine Fair began in 1986 and has now grown to be the largest community-run event in Edinburgh, organised entirely by volunteers. This year, more than 100 organisations are taking part, with sports demonstrations and battle re-enactments, live music, dance and tug o’ war.

This weekend’s packed diary of events is just a taster for a busy season ahead – Leith Festival Gala Day will see crowds pack Pilrig Park next weekend, while preparations are well under way for gala day fun at Kirkliston and at Gorgie and Dalry Gala the following weekend.

Davidson’s Mains Children’s Gala Day will mark its 80th anniversary on June 16 when the royal entourage picked from local primary school children makes its way to Lauriston Castle for a fun packed day. At the same time, Inch Summer Saturday brings free fun and entertainment to south Edinburgh families. Saughtonhall Community Village Fete rounds off that weekend the following day.

George believes gala days and community fairs are still a precious part of Edinburgh life.

“There are a lot of big events in Edinburgh, but they are city-centre events. Edinburgh is made up of small villages, places like Newhaven and Duddingston, Swanston and so on,” he says. “It’s good for a community to get together and it’s especially nice if it’s for something family orientated.”

n For details, dates and times of local community events, including gala days, go to {http://www.eventsedinburgh.org.uk | www.eventsedinburgh.org.uk www.eventsedinburgh.org.uk}.