Summer fair success stories

PTAs share how they planned and organised sizzling summer fairs

‘Our whole team is new to the PSA but we pulled off a sell-out success’

At my dream summer fair, there’s uplifting music playing and a crowd of happy kids running around full of sugar, jumping on bouncy castles and downing cold drinks. But how could we achieve this when our whole team, including the committee members, was new to the PSA? None of us had even attended a Queen’s summer fair before.

Luckily, the previous committee had left notes, so we knew we needed to start by providing a barbecue, bar and cake stall. We chose a 1980s Hawaiian theme – it’s bright and fun, and we knew it would be easy to find decorations. We gave every volunteer a flower garland and asked them to wear bright clothing and Hawaiian shirts if possible. We decorated the stalls with grass table skirts and Hawaiian-themed paper garlands. The local balloon shop owner is a parent at the school, so we got our balloon arch at the wholesale price. It was pink, orange, yellow and green with watermelon, pineapple and parrot balloons attached. At our tiki bar, we served piña coladas with Hawaiian paper straws.

We paid for a bouncy obstacle course and a bouncy castle. But at the last minute, our order wasn’t available, so we ended up with a bouncy snow globe instead. No one minded the Christmassy addition. To cover upfront payments, we pre-sold 100 bounce bands at £10 each. We used a ticket system for the stalls and games and sold strips of tickets in the week leading up to the fair. Visitors could also buy tickets by cash or card at the gate and inside the fair. The ticket system encourages people who have pre-paid to show up whatever the weather, and we find they spend more if they aren’t searching around for change.

On the day, 115 volunteers worked a combined 178 hours. We were lucky to have an experienced set-up team of dads who knew where everything went. They arrived early and walked around with site maps, handing out tables and gazebos. At the end of the day, the whole thing was deconstructed in under an hour.

We sold out of sweets; the barbecue team had to restock part way through the fair and the bar staff sold all the Pimm’s. There’s a photo of my son running towards the bouncy snow globe holding hands with a little girl friend. To me that really encapsulates the joy of the day.

Rebecca Geitgey, PSA chair, Queen’s Church of England Primary School, Kew, Richmond, Surrey (360 pupils)

‘We wanted all our pupils to join in, whether their parents could afford an evening out or not’

The secret of our summer fair’s success was the buzz we created in the build-up. People couldn’t wait to get through the school gates and some even turned up half an hour early.

We’re known for our quirky activities. Potential volunteers could see what we had planned from our online sign-up sheet. We also put a few photos as teasers on social media to help whip up the excitement. News of the Turbo Toilet 2000 (named after the leader of the talking toilets in Captain Underpants) spread through the staff and children while word of The Floor Is Lava leaked out via the PTA.

Our new games went down a storm. Even though I’m an engineer, it took a ‘meeting’ in the pub with an engineer friend and some tweaking from another pal before we finalised the design of the Turbo Toilet 2000. It still involves a teacher getting wet but is less vicious than soaking a teacher in the stocks. Everyone loved it – even the teachers.

Next up was Shoot A Stormtrooper, run by a parent who appears at charity events in his Stormtrooper costume. As well as supplying Nerf guns, he ran the stall with a parent dressed as Princess Leia, his son in Darth Vader costume and some other PTA children in Star Wars outfits. The kids fire the Nerf guns at him and he’s great at interacting with the hits and misses.

For The Floor Is Lava, we used a groundsheet with an existing climbing frame in the playground to create a trail that participants must cross without touching the floor, just like in the TV show.

Our electric Jeeps are a great favourite. We used one belonging to my son, and a friend loaned the others. We had lines of children waiting to have a go. The parents of the younger children love seeing their little ones driving around the playground just as much as the children enjoy driving.

We pre-sold tokens as payment for the games. For families in hardship, we made 90 bags of tokens available, each worth £5. The school office distributed these anonymously to anyone eligible for Pupil Premium.

The excitement in the weeks beforehand helped us recruit volunteers. In the end, we had more than 75 helpers – mainly parents, but some staff and even some governors. One father-and-son team ran the football game for the entire fair.

We’ve discovered it’s better to have a smaller selection of well-resourced games than to spread yourselves too thinly. We allocate several runners whose job is to circulate the stalls and fix problems, get spare change or extra prizes and cover comfort breaks. If there are any problems, they can relay messages to the organisers who will make changes, for example shutting a less popular stall early if the volunteer is needed somewhere else. That way, you can provide proper relief for helpers.

The feedback from children, parents and teachers was fantastic. Once parents and carers see how much fun the children are having, it’s easier to get new volunteers next time as no one wants to miss out.

Richard Brigg, PTA chair, Moorside Friends, Moorside Primary School, Lancaster (410 pupils)

‘The beauty of the circus is that they turn up almost self-contained’

Last year’s summer fair was like no other we’d held before. Joining forces with a circus meant we could leave the entertainment to the pros. Right from the first phone call, the team at the National Festival Circus were helpful and easy to work with.

Over the past two years, our experienced volunteer pool had left the school and we had taken on new recruits. Yes, they were enthusiastic and motivated, but because of the pandemic, the majority had never even attended a school event, let alone created one from scratch.

We put our energy into selling tickets and promoting our fair. The circus was an event people were genuinely excited about attending – they weren’t just turning up to support the school. Just looking at the big top is enough to get visitors excited – all we had to do was provide electricity and hang bunting. Previous fairs had multiple activities happening over two hours and required a lot of volunteers. This time, we didn’t even ask parents for tombola and raffle donations. Knowing we had an income from the main attraction also allowed us to reduce prices elsewhere in the fair. We stuck to a few classic games, such as Bean Bag Toss, Pick-a-Stick, Hook-a-Duck and Coconut Shy and charged 50p a go for each.

The big top holds 200, and the circus put on two performances. The PTA also sold burgers, hot dogs, drinks and snacks. National Festival Circus sold Slushies and souvenirs. Local firm Granny Smith’s Ice Cream took a stall and gave us ten per cent of sales, which came to £65.

Heatwaves and rain are always a concern at PTA events, but the big top can be opened at the sides to cool it down. Knowing we only had to weatherproof our other activities gave us even less to worry about.

Jenn Birrell, chairperson, Friends of Bridgetown School, Stratford Upon Avon (400 pupils)