During the early years of the Guild it was run by a central body consisting of the officers and a committee of 28 members. In 1907 this was divided into seven divisional committees covering the whole of the then United Kingdom. These committees were in turn to provide the templates for the Sections when they were created.
The Birmingham District committee became the Midland Section, its designated area being drawn up to reflect the counties travelled by its constituent members. Changes in the pattern of local government since then have considerably complicated this landscape. For simplicity’s sake, however, the Midland Section’s region is defined as being that covered by the historical counties of Staffordshire, Leicestershire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Shropshire.
The Section manages a wide range of responsibilities on behalf of its members. Important among these is the annual thorough inspection of members’ equipment. Nearly half a century ago the Showmen’s Guild initiated a mandatory inspection scheme, and has since worked closely with the government to improve safety standards on fairgrounds. In 1984 the Guild made a significant contribution to the drafting of the first Code of Safe Practice at Fairs, published by the Health & Safety Executive. That collaboration is ongoing, with the Code being revised where necessary in response to changes in technology.
The Guild requires all its members to submit their equipment each year for thorough examination. These tests are carried by independent engineers, whose reports are submitted for certification to a body that operates in conjunction with the Health & Safety Executive. In addition, the rules of the Guild require all members to take out a high level of public liability insurance. This is, in turn, reinforced by an excess public liability insurance policy held by the Guild on behalf of its members.
Given that they are on the move for around two-thirds of the year, the education of their children is very important to travelling showmen. In the last four decades great advances have been made in this direction with the establishment of Traveller Education Services. Organised under the auspices of local education authorities, these services operate distance learning programmes that enable a continuous level of contact with children wherever they are during the travelling season. The services are linked to the schools the children will return to in the winter. The Midland Section’s education liaison officer (ELO) maintains contact with both parents and the traveller education services to facilitate the operation of the distance learning schemes. The ELO also becomes involved in the provision of further education courses for adult members during the winter months. These have included courses on first-aid and food hygiene, and heavy goods vehicle driving lessons.
Having a permanent base from which they can conduct their travels each year, and to which they can return in the winter, is a necessity for all travelling showmen. Whilst many have long-established depots, there is always a need for more sites to cope with the requirements of the younger generation. In this respect their need for new homes is no different to the rest of the population. Showmen have always been ready to pay their way, and the actual acquisition of suitable sites has never been a problem. Planning permission for amusement depots, however, is not always easily obtained. In order to assist members, the Showmen’s Guild provides advice on planning applications and other forms of support.
The most important – and overriding – role of the Guild is in the defence of the established calendar of fairs. It is essential to all showmen that their regular sequence of fairs is maintained. Without somewhere to trade, they are unable to earn a living for themselves and their families. Even though historic fairs are protected under law, there are still threats to traditional fairgrounds from ill-considered development schemes or the attempts to curtail fairs that usually emanate from an unsympathetic minority. It is an age-old problem and one that has to be constantly faced. The Showmen’s Guild will always support its members should a fair be threatened, not only in the interest of those members but also that of the overwhelming majority of the public – without whose custom fairs would not survive.