For those of us who have lived in Whitstable for decades, it’s a surreal experience to see our harbour crammed to the gills for the Oyster Festival.
Concrete spaces that most of the year would get little more than a seagull dropping by are suddenly trampled under tens of thousands of flip-flopped feet.
More than any other festival, this is Whitstable’s day to revel.
Yet this year, the festival left a bitter taste with many of traders who have happily supported the event for years.
First, the prices were hiked from around £180 to £250. That’s a steep jump in any year but especially galling given the economic climate. Unsurprisingly, as a result, there were half the number of stalls.
Having stumped up their inflated admission, stall holders faced pandemonium as vans struggled to get in and out to load, with no traffic organization.
Finally on site, some faced a disappointing weekend of trading.
“Previous years were great, but this year it changed,’’ said one trader. “It was chaos for setting up,we only got the the email to say we had our site approved the day before, with no clear plan of how everyone was going to get their vans on site and out again. We ended up carrying all our stuff to the road and loading up there!
“They said they had lost some subsidy, hence the price rise, and that they were laying on security overnight on Saturday. However, as stall holders we were told to take away anything that was portable as there were only 3 guards for the whole site and they wouldn’t be responsible for anything that happened to our stalls!!
“The festival has changed from a food festival, full of artisan producers and craft stalls, to a music festival with beer & takeaways.”
Canterbury City Council hired new organisers for the event this year.
Further along the quayside, Vanessa Kent of Canterbury Ales reported a successful weekend of beer sales.
“There are still a few issues around organisation that need to be sorted,’’ said Vanessa. “They need a one-way system for vans coming in and out. Many stall holders we spoke to were surprised by the increase in prices this year.”
Some food for thought for next year.