Adieu to French Fest as it faces guillotine

...gone tomorrow? The annual French Fest is destines to disappear from the Horsham town centre calendar
...gone tomorrow? The annual French Fest is destines to disappear from the Horsham town centre calendar

THE GUILLOTINE hangs above French Fest, the popular Horsham town centre event that has taken place for the past six years.

The County Times understands the three day Gallic affair, previously billed by Horsham District Council as one of the highlights of the Horsham calendar, looks set to be scrapped in 2012.

The news, which comes just weeks after the County Times revealed a threat to the funfair held in the Carfax each October, has been met with disappointment from the many groups, organisations and businesses that have contributed to the annual July event over the years.

“Disgusting,” said Francesco Raciti, owner of Carmela’s restaurant at the end of East Street on hearing the news.

“It’s something different. We’ve got the Italian, the French and the English festival - if any of them should go it should be the English, because that won’t bring in people from outside. People enjoy it and it would be missed.”

Gordon Roach, co-owner of Beeches Buffet on East Street agreed. He said: “It’s one of many things we need to get people into town. It’s important to bring people in from outside the area for any kind of growth.

“Some businesses will benefit, and some won’t. But we need to be looking at the bigger picture and when shoppers come here for an event like that they will stop off, have a bit of lunch, have coffee, look round the local retailers.”

Rachel Merryweather, a staff member at Crew Clothing, commented: “The festival is pretty good for us because it increases footfall. It’s just something different, and I think people like that.”

Her colleague, Charlotte Klimek will miss it too. She said: “I think it’s really nice to have something to do, because there’s not an awful lot of things to do in Horsham. The atmosphere’s always good whenever it’s on.”

However, other traders said they would be glad to see the back of it. Vince Cassar, owner of Town and Country Weigh said ‘good job’ on hearing the news. He remembers French traders visiting his East Street shop to buy nuts, only to sell them on at inflated prices just metres away at the Carfax market.

Vince told the County Times: “We have a lot of customers who come in here and moan and groan about it.

“They complain about how expensive it is and how they can buy it from local shops cheaper. People have realised over the years that it’s a con and it won’t be missed by a lot of people.”

But French Fest, championed by HDC’s town centre manager Garry Mortimer-Cook, has grown into much more than just a glorified visiting French market.

Patrolling Napoleonic soldiers have always proved popular, according to Duncan Miles of the 45eme Infanterie Regiment de Ligne, the company which performs re-enactments at the festival.

“It’s quite disappointing because it’s always been popular with the public,” he said. “You get people come from far and wide - all over the South East.”

Another popular feature was the business boules competition run by Rotary Club of Horsham.

The club’s John Le Rossignol said: “Assuming we get a good location we are going to continue with the boules competition.

“The businesses love the competition and in the evening this year we allowed the public to have a go, which was good fun.

“I think we should encourage events in the town. The town needs events and if there weren’t any why would people come to Horsham?

“It’s a small town and if people want to shop they will go to Guildford or Chichester.”

Others who would like to see French Fest stay on the town’s event calendar include Carole Noble, chairman of Horsham French Club, who said: “It’s a great shame. French Fest encouraged us to get to know our French counterparts and it’s an opportunity for our members to practise their sentences without the hassle of booking a ferry to France.

“It was always very well attended and there was a great atmosphere and vibe there.

“It was something different for Horsham and it is twinned with a French town so things should be encouraged not discouraged.”

The club has more than 80 members who they always encouraged to attend the festival.

The County Times understands French Fest, as well as the funfair at the October town centre festival, could be replaced with a brace of British events to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Olympic Games in 2012.

Jeremy Knight, curator of Horsham Museum, which has held themed exhibitions about Horsham’s historic links with France during French Fest, said: “The museum takes full advantage of the excellent marketing and promotional events run by the district council’s events team in promoting Horsham.

“With ten town centre events planned for next year including the 2012 specials - Olympics and the Queen’s Jubilee - the museum will be more than busy helping the team to promote Horsham as a town for culture, entertainments and leisure.”

Town centre manager Garry Mortimer-Cook declined to comment on the demise of French Fest or next year’s events calendar.

An HDC statement instead read: “We are currently working on the events programme for 2012.

“Fuller news about the Horsham town centre events programme for 2012 - which will contain at least ten major events that will draw footfall to benefit town centre businesses - will be made available in mid January following consultations with those business and community partners and sponsors that contribute to making these events possible.”