The Kingston Green Fair was a remarkable event which took place every year by the river in Canbury Gardens. Its raison d’être was to create and grow environmental awareness and green thinking in Kingston. Beginning in May 1987, it ran for 21 years before suddenly ending in 2008.
From modest beginnings it grew in popularity year on year drawing in crowds of 25,000 toward the end. It’s easy to take green issues for granted now but back in the late 80s sustainability and environmental impact were nascent ideas and the Green Fair was instrumental in creating the levels of awareness that exist in the area today.
The Fair started at noon every May Bank Holiday Monday. Riverboats, battered old vans and a colourful collection of Bohemians of all ages descended on the green the day before the event. Tents and stalls were erected and areas cordoned off in preparation. On the day, the crowds arrived and the music would begin. The hot plates would start sizzling and the henna artists, hair braiders and face painters would get to work. The power to amplify the music came from people generating electricity on cycles. Kids helped to make environmental sculptures and learned how to juggle, walk on stilts and fashion kites and dream-catchers from household rubbish.
There were stalls selling herbs, tie-dyed handmade clothes created from sustainable materials, local produce, candles, pots, jewellery and incense sticks. Kingston’s voluntary organisations, groups and clubs were there, educating and informing. You could learn how to heat water underground, compost and keep your babies in nappies without adding to landfill.
From the top of Canbury Gardens to just beyond the Boaters’ Pub was a moving carpet of colour, noise and vibrant activity. The atmosphere was good-natured yet edgy. The ‘people watching’ was a joy. Tattooed and pierced youth playing tom toms. Young women in diaphanous dresses and Doc Martins flitted between groups of friends. Their artily dressed and scruffy children were never too far away, looking like they had stepped off a Palizzi canvas. As an onlooker you were never sure whether these people lived like this all year round or they were just taking time out from the Waitrose shop.
As evening approached, the families would leave. The music and entertainment got louder and mingling with the smell of couscous and falafel wraps would be the whiff or marijuana. By 9pm it was all over and the big tidy up would begin.
The Green Fair marked the start of summer for Kingston. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t always kind and in the last few years up to 2008, the May Bank Holiday saw some incredible downpours which kept people away and it all became unprofitable. By 2009 the Fair had gone.
All in all the Green Fair is remembered fondly. Could it return one day to Canbury Gardens? Probably not, Elf ‘n’ safety, not to mention the residents of the new riverside developments would likely object. Perhaps we feel more at home at a farmers’ market these days. It was part of an era. Different, creative and a huge credit to its organisers -a nd not a smartphone or a social network in sight.