The biggest event held in the UK for St Helenians (Saints), the “Saint’s Sports Day” was back after two years, with a new committee and a promise of a jammed packed bank holiday weekend for all. An event looked forward to by Saints where they can meet with family, and friends and make new friends all in one place, bringing everyone as close to their homeland as possible.
The annual event organized by the St Helena Association takes place every August bank holiday weekend at the Abbey Rugby club in Reading, Berkshire, UK. The Association is a UK-based registered charity hosting and organizing social events to raise funds and donate to St Helena. It also helps other charities and organizations in St Helena. The new committee is made up of seven active members who volunteer skill sets and their time organize events mainly around the Reading Berkshire area.
The 2022 Sports day provided overnight camping from 11 am on Saturday with a quiet camping area and a general area. Non-campers attended the main event on Sunday. Various events were laid on for the weekend which included a clubhouse disco on both nights, adult and kids sports, a fancy dress parade, bouncy castles, face painting and more. In and around the main marquee on Sunday, there were twelve stalls with traders selling St Helena crafts, and as always the popular St Helena food stalls were busy including a new food stall that was selling BBQ meals. The ever-popular miles-apart book stall and Saint FM’s outside broadcast which is the biggest attraction was not available this year. The broadcast allows Saints to send live messages back to families and friends on the Island.
Over the two days, approximately one thousand people attended the event, with many camping overnight whilst enjoying the disco in the clubhouse. Attendees who chose to attend the main event only on Sunday started to arrive just before lunch. Amongst the attendees there were family and friends who had travelled from all over the UK; and included visitors from the Falklands, St Helena and as far as Florida who came especially for the meetup.
Entrance fees on Saturday were charged at £16.00 for adults and £4.00 for children over the age of five years. Those attending the main event on Sunday were charged a fee of £12.00 for adults and £4.00 for children. On both days the campsites were busy with family gatherings, lots of laughter and a mixture of St Helena cuisine flavours filling the air. The Sunday entertainment included field sports for all ages and the ever-popular tug of war, followed by a presentation. In the evening there was a disco in the clubhouse and a silent disco in the main marquee.
After the sports day had ended St Helena Online who normally attend this annual event posted on their Facebook group asking for feedback on how everyone had enjoyed the return of sports day. However, it soon became apparent very quickly that some had observed new changes to this year’s event, which raised some questions and concerns. These questions and observations were collated and submitted to the committee for their comments and are included in this post.
Some questions asked were:
1. What are the biggest challenges on the day? A. The biggest challenge on the day was dealing with any last-minute hiccups that occurred, other challenges faced were additional help needed and finding volunteers.
2. Why was there no real presence of the committee around the field like it has been in years gone by?
A. We’re a committee of seven at Sports Day and we have numerous responsibilities we did allocate volunteers to patrol the fields during the weekend.
3. Why is there no security presence?
A. We’ve never had a real need for security at our events, but given that there have been some situations that occurred this year, we will be reviewing the need for security.
4. Loud music until early morning on the campsites?
A. This is something that was flagged to us. We are reviewing our camping policies.
5. A better connection is needed with St Helena and more Saints promoting Island-related products and promotional material.
A. Stalls are always difficult, we reached out to a number of different traders who exhibited at previous events. We followed up on our correspondence and yet we heard nothing from some of them. However, we did have a number of Saint-themed stalls, ie. Alice Francis and Island Soapery to name a few.
6. When and how do you decide when choosing Island organizations to donate funding to.
A. The St Helena Association has an ambassador on the island who is directly in touch with charities and community organizations to determine the greatest need, as a committee we review this need and donate accordingly.
7. How do sellers give back to the charity? What’s the pricing structure for vendors on the day?
A. Stallholders are required to provide a fair donation for the cost of their table. This has worked well for us as some stallholders willingly donate a high percentage of their profits to the Association.
8. Unbalanced entrance fee structuring for attendees who would like to attend for just the Sunday afternoon?
A. This is a very fair entrance structure. For example, if you were going to a restaurant for a standard meal it would still cost the same if you arrived at 9:00 am or if you arrived at 5:00 pm. This will not be changing.
Other questions that were raised and answered on both St Helena Online and the St Helena Associations Facebook group were:
- During the day the music is “FAR TOO LOUD”.
- I feel this venue has done its time, and with rising costs in the UK, it’s time for a change.
- The silent disco was a disappointment.
In speaking directly to the Association’s committee members, they welcomed the feedback and public concerns we relayed to them. There were also a few points emphasized from the committee’s perspective, which includes understanding the high cost of hosting the sports day event, the tight guidelines that they have to operate to, the services that the association has to provide from their own resources such as waste clearance, keeping the toilets clean and all and other basic amenities.
Overall, it was thought by most attending the Saints sports that it was an enjoyable weekend and it was great to be back after two years following COVID restrictions. Some people even made a special effort to thank the St Helena Association for their efforts in making this another successful event as captured below:
- ‘The best 2 days ever are the St Helena sports, my body is aching, my feet sore, I’ve never danced so much, and me pulling tug of war is UNBELIEVABLE lol. Seeing so many close family members, eating, drinking and just having the best time ever, I would go as far as to say, it was the best sport ever. Thank you St Helena Association’ – Rosemary Thomyou
- ‘Please do this [The Silent Disco] every year. This is so good. I’ve been here for 10 years and this is the best event I’ve ever been to. I will honestly say that!’ – Maia
- ‘A big thank you for such a well-organized event! Where else could you get all that for £16 for 2 days?? Nowhere do I know of – Jayne Senior
- ‘A massive thank you to everyone that worked so hard to ensure we have a great time!! Fantastic weekend!! So lovely to meet up with family and friends and it was brilliant to see how much everyone was enjoying themselves. Well worth the long drive from Aberdeen. Thank you. Very much appreciated!!’ – Carryn Jones
- ‘Well done and thank you for all your hard work. Had a great day and I’m already looking forward to 2023 sports day 😊’ – Yvonne Evie Parfitt