Christmas fairs: From big to small

As your PTA starts to plan the Christmas fair, we look at three different-sized schools (from big to small!) to discover their tips and successes

You don’t necessarily need to be a big school to pull off a ‘big’ fair. We’ve delved into the Christmas fair files to find three different-sized schools, whose events have generated fantastic funds for the PTA, and given the Christmas season a kick-start!

Big school

Jenny Cameron, Deputy Head of the Christmas Committee, Warren Road School, Kent (800 pupils): ‘We offer a diverse array of stalls and activities, in the hope of getting as many pupils, parents and members of the local community through the door. The fair is divided into two halves. The first is a craft fair with external stallholders who rent space from the PTA to sell Christmas gifts like jewellery and handicrafts. The rest of the fair consists of the canteen and other PTA-run stalls, including tombolas, raffle, sweets, cakes, popcorn, biscuit decorating, lucky dip, test your strength, a buzzer game, Scalextric races, nail painting, face painting and glitter tattoos. We have a local reptile rescue centre that brings in reptiles for the children to meet and learn about which has a separate room. We also have Santa’s grotto and a secret gift room. Most rooms cost 50p to £1.50 entry, and are run by parent volunteers. Sponsorship from local businesses is a big source of revenue for the fair, and in October we put requests in to the local water and rail companies to put up banners advertising the fair on their property. We put leaflets and flyers in local shops, playgroups and pre-schools and try to get the local press interested, too. Last year we made over £5,000 profit!’

Medium school

Estelle Lloyd, PTA Secretary, Boxmoor Primary, Hemel Hempstead (240 pupils): ‘We start planning the fair in July to avoid any last-minute panic. In terms of space, we use the dining area, hall and two classrooms. Our Santa’s grotto consists of a decorated gazebo and we use the corridor leading up to the area for children to queue. A parent provides a snow machine, which we position at the school entrance and we have a trombone player belting out Christmas carols! We also have a choir performance in the hall. We have a Christmas food/gifts stall – we sell a range of puddings, jars of home-made mincemeat and cookie mixture, which are all popular. Our ‘race the sprout’ stall is a big winner – two wind-up sprouts on a table-top course! Other attractions from last year’s fair were well-established ones: the secret present room (pupils choose a gift for a relative and wrap it with the help of a member of staff), craft room, lucky dip, raffle, bottle tombola, chocolate tombola and general tombola. We charge 50p entrance for adults, no charge for children/concessions. We run the fair from 11am-2pm, and last year we raised £3,100!’

Small school

Maryann Parkinson, PTA Chair, St Andrew’s Yetminster, Dorset (160 pupils): ‘We hold the Christmas fair on the first Friday in December, from 6pm-8.30pm. Admission is free but we hold a raffle where raffle books (five tickets per book at £1 per ticket) are sent home two weeks before the fair. Prizes include hampers of various sizes, filled with donations from local companies. A man in the village also designs and prints all the raffle tickets in exchange for a bottle of whiskey! We fill our sports hall with outside stalls, charging £10 per pitch or £5 for those with a link to the school. We also sell mulled wine, mulled cider, mince pies and non-alcoholic drinks. Our PTFA stalls include face painting, arts and crafts, tombola, name the teddy and guess how many sweets are in the jar. We also have the year group stalls, where each pupil makes something in school time to then sell to their parents. We use the outside play area for our Santa’s grotto, for which we charge children £2 entry to the grotto. At the end of the evening we draw the raffle and then the event is closed with carols around the piano thanks to our music teacher. As each class is there selling handmade items, it is one of the few events where all teachers attend. Our last fair raised £1,329.’

Tips and advice

  • Licensing: Order any licences with plenty of time to spare. If selling or supplying alcohol at your event, you will need a TEN. If pre-selling raffle tickets, you will need to register as a small society lottery and tickets must show the name of the promoting society, the purpose of the lottery, the ticket price, the name and address of the organiser and the date of the draw.
  • Committee: A dedicated sub-committee – focused solely on the Christmas fair – should result in more productive meetings and ensure that jobs get completed. Regular meetings early on will benefit you in the long run. Have different members of the sub-committee take responsibility for different areas, they can then delegate jobs to individual stallholders, thus distributing the workload and making it much more manageable.
  • Volunteers: Give yourselves plenty of time to alert, recruit, and assign volunteers for the fair. Build interest slowly and regularly over a prolonged period, and make everyone aware of every bit of help needed.
  • Contacts: Find and make use of contacts at the school who can help by offering donations, discounts, sponsorship or more. Send a letter to parents with detailed requests, whether that’s raffle prizes, programme printing or even a Santa or two...
  • Stalls: Inviting outside stallholders will provide instant cash and a wider range of stalls. Advertise your event on with plenty of notice, and cherry-pick the stalls you think best suit your audience.
  • Raffle: Source raffle prizes as early as possible so they can be advertised and printed on tickets, before being sent home. If bringing in outside stallholders, ask them to donate a raffle prize as a way of increasing donations. Get a big-ticket prize that will encourage sales.
  • Publicity: Promote your fair as much as you can in the lead up to the event! Contact local radio stations, send details to the local press, ask for local companies to display your posters, as well as shops, playgroups, community groups. If you’re planning to use street banners, the council will need to be contacted in advance. Print these to say ‘this Saturday’, rather than a specific date, so you can use them again next year.