UK Cooperative goes bananas in support of banana farmers

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Getting into Holmfirth Civic Hall on the afternoon of the Totally Tropical Tea Party was a bit of a squeeze. In fact the event was so popular that, like many of those who had come to show their support for the banana farmers of St Vincent that day, I had to queue to enter the packed hall. Luckily, the sound of a local drumming group playing enthusiastically inside the hall got everyone in the mood for a party and nobody seemed to mind the wait.

Once inside, we were treated to what can only be described as a totally tropical experience! A large number of people had arrived in colourful clothing – Hawaiian shirts, grass skirts and vibrant, flowery garlands were the order of the day, and following The Fairtraders Co-operative’s theme of ‘Go Bananas in January’, Director, Peter Beetlestone, turned up in his very own Fairtrade banana outfit – just the thing for a tropical tea party aiming to raise funds for Fairtrade banana farmers.

As people streamed into the hall the drumming continued, and children (as well as the occasional adult) could be seen on the stage 'hoola'ing their hoops most impressively. Raffle tickets were available to one side of the doors, offering the chance to win a fabulous DVD player and many other fantastic prizes that had kindly been donated by local people. To the other side of the entrance was the Fairtrade refreshments stall - and what a tempting range of tropical treats were on offer! There were tropical fruit smoothies, banana loaves, pineapple sponges and all sorts of other tropically inspired goodies, accompanied of course by a cup of Fairtrade tea or coffee. I was unable to resist the fruit smoothie, and it was yummy – a tasty way to my five-a-day, and fairly traded too!

After the drumming, and while people enjoyed browsing the stalls of books, bric-a-brac and locally made crafts, we were treated to all manner of tropical-, Fairtrade- and banana-inspired entertainment from the stage. The children of Upperthong School sang a lovely song about the value of supporting friends. This was very fitting, given that the event was organised to benefit the banana farmers of St Vincent who lost their livelihoods in last year's Hurricane Tomas, and that many of these farmers have links with the Holmfirth community through the church, through personal friendships and through their very generous decision to invest funds in The Fairtraders Co-operative when it was first getting off the ground. After the singing came a samba band, marching through the hall and onto the stage where they were joined by a very enthusiastic, samba-dancing gorilla!

Next, Gerard Hetherington, of the Holme Valley Fairtrade Support Group, introduced Claire Ibbertson-John, who lived in St Vincent for many years, and who talked about the devastating and far-reaching effects of the hurricane. She explained how many banana farmers and their families now face the prospect of living without any income for up to nine months, and how this means there is a real chance that parents will be unable to afford to send their children to school for the foreseeable future. Then we heard from local MP Jason McCartney, who expressed his strong support for Fairtrade issues, and thanked all those who had turned out to show their support, part with their money and have some fun for the banana farmers. He also praised the work of the Holme Valley Fairtrade Support Group and The Fairtraders Co-operative, sharing with us that he himself is a member of The Fair Traders Co-operative, having invested at the launch of the shop.

The afternoon ended with a lively demonstration of latin dance craze, Zumba, The Fair Traders Co-operative's Helen Robinson and Sophie Bebb giving it their all on the stage along with lots of enthusiastic school children. Finally, the raffle was drawn and it was time to go home after a very successful afternoon – the hall remained full for duration of the afternoon, the local media covered the event, everyone had fun, and most importantly, a whopping £1,544 was raised for our friends in St Vincent. Thanks to everyone who helped, joined in or donated, it is really appreciated.

You can see pictures of the Totally Tropical Tea Party on our Facebook page.

Don't forget to buy your tickets for the next St Vincent benefit event, 'For the FOLK of St Vincent', to be held at Hepworth Village Hall on Friday 28th January, featuring The Sail Pattern, Leo Brazil, Owen Phillips and Stefan Melbourne. Tickets are available in the shop or via our website - £6 NUS / £8 in advance / £10 on the door.