Coronavirus: 'Nightmare' of no shows for the fair families

By Andrew Picken
BBC Scotland News

  • Published
empty fairgroundImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Industry leaders are unsure when events will return.

Scotland's travelling funfairs are facing financial chaos as a result of the coronavirus lockdown, says showman Alex James Colquhoun.

The centuries-old tradition of "the shows" touring the country has ground to a halt, leaving many of the families travelling the Scottish circuits struggling financially, with the prospect of no work in the lucrative spring and summer months.

Industry leaders are unsure when the events will return.

Last month's postponement of the Links Market in Kirkcaldy, Europe's longest street fair, was the start of what Mr Colquhoun, of trade body the Showman's Guild, calls "the nightmare".

He says: "We are fighting for the very future of some of our members' businesses and arguably a cherished part of Scottish culture.

"Overnight the income streams have been switched off but the outgoings, the insurance or loan repayments, still have to be met.

"We're trying to get the banks and finance firms to show some flexibility but not knowing when they can get back out on the road makes this difficult."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
There are still families travelling the Scottish circuit who go back to the turn of the 19th century with most members of the family traditionally playing a role in the running of the fair

Music festivals, highlands games and the Edinburgh Fringe are among the events which travelling funfairs would have typically been a part of but are now not taking place.

Mr Colquhoun said the Showman's Guild, which has about 300 members in Scotland, has been in touch with the Scottish government to offer up the use of its members' vehicles, generators and other equipment in the fight against coronavirus.

Image source, Mitchell Taylor
Image caption,
Mitchell Taylor and his son Mitchell junior enjoying one of the family's rides

Mitchell Taylor is part of the sixth generation of his family to run operate the Taylor's of Edinburgh funfairs.

The businessman's first contact with the impact of coronavirus came in early March when he had to make a dash to the Czech Republic to get some rides which were working at a fair there back to Scotland before the country went into lockdown.

"We got back from Prague and it's been a case of watching everything fall like dominos since then," he says.

"It's a big family-orientated way of life so if we come through this with everyone still here health-wise then that is the main thing but I don't where to begin with the business.

Image source, Mitchell Taylor

"The yard is full of equipment we can't use and if we had to sell - who would buy it?"

Other work

In the winter months, show families - the majority of whom are based in the west of Scotland - tend to live in privately-owned or leased yards with their equipment.

These yards would traditionally be emptying out at this time of the year but it is the workers, not the rides, on the move now.

Mr Taylor's brother Kyle has been working in agency driving jobs and a number of people in the industry, many of whom have HGV licences, are now looking for other work, with no prospect of a fair being held this side of July.