Saturday 25th January marked a special occasion not only for myself and the rest of the Vegetarian and Vegan Society executive committee but for Durham as a whole. After months of meetings, emails, phone calls, and form-filling, our idea to host Durham’s first Vegan Fair in celebration of Veganuary finally came to fruition (if you’ll excuse the plant-based pun); we took over Durham Masonic Hall for the day with a range of businesses, charities, and students groups, and opened the doors to members of the public and students alike. From sustainable fashion to ethical beauty products and vegan Japanese food, there was something for everyone, and this was reflected by the overwhelming turnout, with a constant flow of people through the doors all day! The event also included a variety of talks, from vegan activist Leigh Venus speaking about his ‘one regret’, to student group Durfest discussing how music festivals can be made more sustainable.
The idea first came about when we were thinking about how these sorts of events take place across the country, and while there has been one Durham Vegan Festival in the past, it took place during the Easter break – so we didn’t see any reason why we couldn’t try to replicate that, but attract students as well as local residents by holding the event during term time, specifically marking the month of ‘Veganuary’, when people are encouraged to try out a vegan diet and lifestyle. The biggest expense for the event was the venue hire, and as a university society we were able to apply for a grant from the Student Union for this, and use the money in our existing society funds to cover the cost of promotional materials. Building up the event from scratch was challenging, but it soon became exciting to see the Facebook event grow to over 1000 people ‘interested’ in attending, and while we were initially reaching out to as many sellers as we could think of, the event soon gained attention to the extent that stallholders were approaching us asking to be at the fair!
What’s more, this engagement with our social media marketing was happily reflected in the number of attendees, and despite not charging an entry fee, we received an incredible number of generous on-the-door donations, which will go back into our society’s campaigning and activism, raising awareness about the benefits of a vegan lifestyle for the animals, the planet, and our health. Speaking to the stallholders at the end of the day revealed that they were all incredibly satisfied – in fact, the hot food completely sold out several hours before closing time, and most other food sellers hardly had anything to take home with them! And while we had initially planned for this to be a one-off event, its success showed us all that we can definitely make it a regular occurrence, and we’re already planning the next Vegan Fair for a few months’ time – so stay tuned!
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