SHOWMEN who run funfair rides at St Giles Fair have said this year's even should never have been cancelled.

The team from Hebborn Amusements have said the fair could have taken place safely this week with restrictions in place.

Now the head of the firm William Hebborn has launched a campaign to take control of the event himself.

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He spoke out after Oxford City Council handed primary control of the fair to The Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain, which then cancelled this year's event over fears about the coronavirus.

Yesterday Mr Hebborn and his staff parked on St Giles on what should have been the first day of the historic fair to stage a protest about how this year’s event was cancelled, particularly what they saw as the lack of discussion with local showmen.

The 38-year-old, who has worked at the fair for 28 years, said: "I want to take over St Giles.

"The Showman’s Guild, they were really good, but I want to take it over and I’ll be setting up a petition next week."

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He went on: "You don’t realise how much it means to some people.

"One woman was telling me how she and her mum used to come here together until she died. Now when she comes she gets two tokens for the rides – one for her and one for her mum.

"It could have been a lot smaller, and a little bit of something is better than nothing."

The fairground industry has been particularly hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

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Mr Hebborn, whose family have been attending St Giles Fair since 1912, said: "We haven’t had any help from the Government.

"We didn’t fit into the brackets of leisure because we didn’t have a fixed premise. It has been crazy, but we survived."

During lockdown Mr Hebborn and his wife started delivering funfair foods such as burgers, candyfloss, hot dogs and toffee apples around Oxfordshire to make money.

Other showmen, however, have not been so lucky.

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Mr Hebborn said: "So many showmen ended up getting jobs during lockdown to survive.

"There’s about 1,000 in our section and I would say at least one quarter of these won’t come back."

Oxford’s historic fair has previously been organised by Oxford City Council.

In June, however, it handed the main control over to The Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain.

Councillor Mary Clarkson said at the time: "We decided to pilot using the Showmen’s Guild to take on operational management of the whole event.

“We’d want to see how the pilot went before making any longer-term decisions around management of the fair.”

Read the original story about the cancellation of this year's fair here

Yesterday the guild reiterated that it had cancelled this year's event for safety reasons.

A spokesperson said: "Oxford City Council was very good and offered various options on how to manage social distancing.

"The fair was being planned to go ahead for quite some time, but because the R rate was going up in Oxford, and the city went on amber alert, because of the advice of the Chief Medical Officer and Oxford City council and the possibility of a local lockdown, the fair could not go ahead.

"One hundred thousand people attend the fair each year, so we need to put the health and safety of the public first.

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"We also need to look at the future of the fair, so it can reopen next year."

Government guidance still advises people to keep a two-metre distance from anyone outside their household and has banned large gatherings.

According to Oxford City Council’s website, St Giles Fair dates back to 1625 where it was used to celebrate the patron saint of the local church.

St Giles' Feast occurs on September 1 with the fair usually taking place the first Monday and Tuesday after this.

The modern funfair seen today developed in the late Victorian times.