Like many other scooter rallies in 2020, the popular Mersea Island event has also fallen victim to the Coronavirus pandemic. Nevertheless, organisers the Colchester DVLC (District Vespa & Lambretta Club) are having a virtual rally online with Scooterist Internet Radio providing the entertainment. To find out more about the event, which I like many have attended from the early days in the 1990s, we asked DVLC member and designer of the ScooterNova rider logo, Si Barber, to tell us about the history of Mersea Island Scooter Rally. Over to you Si…
Like all good stories this one begins once upon a time in the East… well something like that.
The Colchester District Vespa & Lambretta Club (DVLC) had been formed in 1992 when The Colchester Lambretta Club allowed Vespa riders to join. Jon Betts chaired the amalgamated club. He also ran successful Acid Jazz nights with his brother Robin at The Colchester Art Centre under the banner ‘A Family Affair’. It was while doing his Acid Jazz do’s that Jon hit on the idea to organise a club rally.
Jon searched endlessly for a venue, but they either had no camping, no bar, limited on numbers, all the above or the venue just said no. Fellow club member Phil Radio (nickname) told Jon of the youth camp on Mersea Island. Folklore has it that Phil did community service there. This was confirmed by another club member Tony Wright (Ginger Tony) who had attended bike and car clubs events at the site. Jon contacted the site manager Doug Powell who invited Jon down. They got on like a house on fire and very soon the idea for the very first Mersea Island Scooter Rally was devised. To quote Jon, “Well I love organising events and although I loved the other rallies, I thought something local with everything you need on a single site would be unique. The rally would include more diverse music choice and daytime entertainment… all for a fair price (£10).”
Jon along with members of the DVLC started making plans and checking dates. Back then, the IOW wasn’t on the calendar as it is now. Before very long flyers had been designed by Si Barber and were being distributed wherever the DVLC went. Adverts were placed in the scooter press and slowly interest grew. Patches were designed by Paddy Smith and incorporated Dave Oakley (a DVLC member)’s scooter.
Before we knew it the date had arrived, the site was set up as best we knew how to back then (with no previous experience, but with a bit of common sense and a desire to give the punters a good time) and the gates were opened. With just under 400 people in attendance. Blink, and the rally was over.
A great weekend had by all, hangovers and beaming faces abound, See you next year.
It was at the first Mersea that Jon met Niamh. Numbers were exchanged and they quickly became an item and Niamh became Jon’s wingman (person) in organising the next Mersea. Niamh had a wealth of knowledge working the venue doors and campsite gates for the NSRA and later the VFM. This knowledge proved useful when she started running the Mersea gate in 1994 and every year since.
So it started again Mersea 1994. The ball was rolling: artwork created by Si Barber, flyers printed and handed out everywhere, adverts placed in the scooter press (who had reported favourably on the first rally) all built upon positive feedback from those that attended the first rally. This added to the interest of Mersea and the tickets started to sell.
This format continued for the first seven Mersea rallies, with Jon and Niamh organising alongside great assistance from the DVLC club members.
Jon and Niamh separated, Jon moving away from the scene. Martin Leech was appointed chairman of the DVLC. Martin discussed with other club members, Don Black (club secretary) and Phil Rudkin (work colleague) to decide whether the DVLC should continue with the Mersea Rally. Their thoughts were presented to the club at their AGM, a unanimous yes was agreed but the club would need to form a committee to run Mersea to lighten the load and avoid the ‘JB burn-out’. Martin chaired the committee and other members of the DVLC were recruited, each taking on specific rolls; security, gate, site set up, artwork, club stall, live music and DJs, with more roles being added over the years as more events were added to the rally. Martin and Niamh shared the role of chairperson for the Mersea Committee until Martin eventually retired from the committee and Niamh was unanimously voted in to chair the Mersea Committee.
Committee members have changed over the years but Niamh (on a technicality), Martin Leech, and Si Barber have been a part of Mersea committee since the very beginning. Other members of the club including Dom Roche (incidentally Dom purchased the very first Mersea ticket), Tony Wright, Gerry Stocks, Nigel Burnside (Birdy), Justin Ashworth, Roy Hooper, Kev Bird, have also been involved since the very first Mersea on site and gate duties. Some of these members are now and have been on the Mersea Committee for several years.
Over the years Mersea grew and grew, gaining National Rally status for many years.
The same principles have perpetuated from the very first rally. Organise a rally that’s in an unrivalled location, not expensive, great music, good food and to give the punters a good time. We’ve introduced live music over the years with many bands treading the boards in the Mersea Marquee. We now have three music rooms, including The Darkside and silent disco.
The Saturday afternoon entertainment has come along way over the years from the yard of ale, using club member Pete Backhouse’s home brew (an acquired taste apparently) to Ginger Tony’s It’s-a-Knockout style games in the arena. The inspiration for the games being taken from the rallies in Holland in the late 80s early 90s that Ginger Tony and other members of the DVLC had attended. Coincidently one of the organisers of the Dutch rallies now organises The Meltdown Rally in Germany.
The entertainment throughout Saturday has expanded over the years, we’ve had 5-a-side football, mini motor and even scooter grass-tracking. The entertainment now includes the dyno, a scooter ride-out, scooter dealer village, sign on points for both the Vespa & Lambretta Clubs of GB and the much respected custom show which has grown over the years to become one of the biggest on the scene thanks to the efforts of Martin Meuser and the 3 Jims for taking control of this. The unique Mersea Roman soldier trophies are very sort-after, but have to be earned.
Mersea’s popularity brought with it an increasingly hefty bill, the club paying £10 per head for each person that came through the gate, site set-up which included lighting, toilets and fencing, PA systems for all the music rooms and live music marquee, security, insurances, bands and DJs, printing and promotion, tickets and car park passes, the list goes on… Once everybody has been paid, what’s left is reinvested in the following years rally and donations are made to various local charities. One of which is a charity that club member Rob Brown is massively involved with, called TEECH. He travels to East European countries to repair and refurbish places like orphanages and children’s homes. It all started following the fall of communism in Romania: you might remember those shocking pictures of the handicapped children who had been abandoned in appalling conditions. TEECH now travel to other countries, such as Moldova. Rob works for Openreach and uses BT transport to get him there and back. He has been awarded ‘the chairman’s award’ twice by BT.
Rob gets his hands dirty doing his charity work, he doesn’t just sit at home and throw money at a problem. Other DVLC members have been out to Eastern Europe to help Rob. The club also makes a donation to The Mersea Lions, a charitable organisation that donates to numerous charities. The Mersea Lions can be seen at the Mersea rally manning the car park.
Scooter related businesses over the years have sponsored the music rooms and events, many sponsoring year after year. A big thank you to all our sponsors. We’ve even had Lucozade sponsoring the games. I don’t think the representatives from Lucozade that turned up at Mersea as the ‘beer & banana race’ was taking place were overly impressed with their promotion of the games. I’m sure a few tummies were settled with a glug of Lucozade as it did ‘When We Were Young’… See what I did there?
With just under 400 at our first rally in ’93 Mersea grew and grew and within five years the average attendance was 2500+ scooterists, all converging on the tiny Island of Mersea from the four corners of the UK, Europe and beyond. It is now regarded as one of the best rallies on the calendar.
Role on the next 26 years, 26 rallies + 1 virtual rally.
If you’d like to add to our story please post your Mersea experiences and stories on the Mersea facebook page along with any photos. Thank you to all the Scooterist for your continued support.
Ride & keep safe,
The Colchester District Vespa & Lambretta Club
(Written by Si Barber, with assistance from Niamh Pennington, Martin Leech and Jon Betts, who’s idea has spurned this 26 year obsession. See gallery below for more Mersea images.)
The Mersea Island virtual scooter rally page on Facebook can be found by clicking here. The club hope that with a little help from our scooter chums they can hopefully put Mersea into people’s front rooms and gardens on the 5th of September. They’ve had a few T-shirts for the virtual rally printed along with patches, Martin Meuser will be interviewed about Mersea, The First 26 Years, and all proceeds from merchandise sales will be going one of the Mersea nominated charities.
* The brand new edition 21 of ScooterNova magazine was published on 25 August 2020 and is packed with articles from the rare futuristic 1960s Japanese Mitsubishi Silver Pigeon to the exclusive story behind the Austrian home-built Vespa V-twin 2-stroke engine that produces over 50hp! Add to this some archive Innocenti Lambretta material, a 1953 Vespa Faro Basso, a couple of British street racers and a ride around the Dolomites on little Lui scooters, and the 100 pages are crammed full of reading material to keep you enthralled until the next one! Click here to visit our online shop and click here to subscribe to ScooterNova magazine.
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