Bartholomew Fair evaluation published … no more Corporation funding?

The City Corporation has published an evaluation report on Bartholomew Fair – held over three weeks in September – detailing visitor numbers, their spending, preferences, and the partnerships formed to put on 250 events in 17 locations across the Square Mile. The Fair was part of the Destination City programme – which is now under review.

The Fair cost the Corporation £1,514,535 against an indicative budget of £1,338,000, and attracted some 35,000 additional visitors over the period. The additional cash they spent in the City was an estimated £1.8 million. Details below, with an update at the end on what I think analysis shows.

The report will be discussed at Policy and Resource committee on Thursday 16th November: item 11 has the main report and appendices. It goes to Culture, Heritage and Libraries on the 20th. Update: you can view a recording here.

It looks as if the City may not fund the Fair in future. The main report says (and see update at the end of this post):

21.The Bartholomew Fair concept can now be used to demonstrate value and therefore attract commercial sponsors to fund City events of this nature in the future so that the Corporation does not need to.

The good news – as presented in the report – is that media coverage exceeded targets, there were 18 cultural partnerships, £170k of in-kind value, £292k media value and £40k additional funding from partners.

There was relatively high satisfaction with the Fair and the City experience among those who visited. The Destination team reckon they have a lot of useful learning to inform the City’s future programmes.

However, while the the target of additional footfall was 276K, only 142k additional visits were made compared with the period last year. (The 276k was estimated for a five week programme later cut to three).

The summary appendix explains that the net figure that can be specifically attributed to Bartholomew Fair was only 35.5k.

The Destination team explained to me: On the footfall point, during the Fair we saw between 116,000 and 142,000 additional footfall in the event footprint vs the same period last year. Conservatively, we have attributed 35.5k visitors specifically coming to visit the Fair, based on the proportion of people in field surveys stating they had come for that reason, from a sample size of 1,500 – and applied to the overall footfall figure each week.

“The average spend for those surveyed was £52. If this spend figure is applied to the net new footfall figure of 35,000, it is estimated that those visiting specifically for the event would have generated revenue of up to £1.8m”.

Here’s the full report – appendix 2 on the agenda.

Click/touch X above for full screen, if showing. Alternatively download to view under three dots. 

My take on the report and the Fair is influenced through playing a small part in helping get it restaged, by supporting councillor Matthew Bell who campaigned for it. I also worked with Matthew and others to develop and promote Cloth Fair as a complement to the official Fair, based around the original location in Smithfield. I did the website, which also has a history of the Fair, and souvenir edition of The City Courant. Here’s Matthew’s story of the re-staging.

The Destination team did an amazing job in a short time to launch a visitor website, and meet a policy brief which dictated that the Fair had to be staged across the City. Their approach, in the main, was to buy in a lot of acts for some £800k rather than rely on local talent and the existing cultural and heritage attractions of the City. The aerial ballet on St Paul’s Cathedral cost £205,000.

I don’t think it worked – compared with previous re-staging in Smithfield by Barts Hospital in 1923 and 1973. Reports of the 1973 event cite an expected crowd of 25,000 on the one day. Simon Jenkins was enthusiastic, writing in the Evening Standard:

“This was a full-blooded cauldron of everything that used to make the medieval fair the hub of the City’s life.

“There were not just coconut shies, hoop-la, helper-skelter, carousel, swings, beauty queens and lost children. There was a vast roasted ox, mead and mulled wine, a fortune teller, two superb fair-ground organs blaring out across the roofs of Cloth Fair, Punch and Judy, flower girls, monkeys and even men dressed up as bears”.

Next year, how about an event like that, coupled with information about how to explore other cultural attractions in the City, and its heritage. That’s what the figures show people are most interested in (but see update below). As I wrote last July Destination City needs more support for wandering about

Spend by Main event reason, p47: cultural activity £123; exploring the area £95; Passive activity £62; shopping £59.

Unfortunately I doubt if an event funded solely by commercial sponsors will go that way.


I’ve now read Appendix 3 of the Bartholomew evaluation, by Colliers Retail Strategy and Analytics team, and it provides a more nuanced story than I drew from the main report.

Colliers used mobile and spend data together with information from local businesses and a survey of 1500 people. My understanding is:

  • 31% of event visitors came specifically for the fair and 78% loved or enjoyed the event. Residents did too. That’s a good result.
  • 69% of event visitors felt that the fair had improved their perception of the area, and 36% planned to visit again. That shows engagement with the City.
  • A large proportion found out about the fair through passing by, or social media. Press coverage wasn’t so important
  • The fair brought increased footfall of 1% – 6%, but that didn’t have much impact on spending. It didn’t achieve that key purpose very successfully.
  • Businesses were generally keen to contribute to future events, but the challenge is to attract more people and spending through greater collaboration.

I was misleading in saying earlier that the graph about Visitor Spend Results (above) showed that people were most interested in cultural and heritage attractions

What it shows – I think – is that people visiting for cultural activity spent £123 (with a lot on hotels and accommodation) compared with £52 for those visiting mainly for the fair.

Other higher spending was exploring the area £94; passive activity £62; shopping £59.

In summary it would seem that the fair didn’t bring in many additional visitors, but they and residents enjoyed the fair experience and other engagement with the City.

If the aim is to increase spending in the City it may be better to focus on cultural attractions, helping people explore, wander about and shop.

Events should be part of the attraction – but it’s not clear that investing a lot in a fair spread throughout the City is value for money. I guess that’s why the main report says that the future lies in sponsorship rather than a Corporation budget.

The question now is how any future Destination City programme will be designed, and with whom … businesses, sponsors, Business Improvement Districts, cultural attractions, Livery companies, churches, councillors. Hopefully residents will get a look in too.

I don’t think another Big Idea will provide the answer. It’s all more complex than that – just like the City itself.

Update 2

Councillors in discussion at the Policy and Resource committee today were concerned about the budget overspend on the Fair, and value for money – that it had cost £1.5m to generate £1.8m of consumer spend. Several made the point that in future the emphasis should be on making the most of existing cultural and heritage assets rather than staging one-off events.

However the main news was that an independent review of the whole Destination City programme is underway, conducted by Paul Martin. He will report early in 2024, and that’s when future strategy will be discussed.

Policy chief Chris Hayward said his personal view was that the 2023/24 £2.5m budget for the Destination programme – including the Fair – was intended as pump-priming. The City should look to commercial and other private sector interests for funding. He wasn’t convinced that the Corporation was best placed to organise big events either. View here on video recording.

Since Mr Hayward is in effect leader of the Corporation, and generally has his way on this sort of thing, the future of Bartholomew Fair is uncertain. Will a partnership of sponsors pick it up – or is there scope for councillors and residents to organise a more authentic Fair around the original home in Smithfield? Here’s what we did this year with Cloth Fair, and what else has previously been organised locally since 1923.


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