Heathfield’s Bank Holiday event, Le Marché, held for the first time on 25 August 1997, proved to be a spectacular success. Thousands of visitors and locals thronged the town, prepared to spend. Held in Station Road and Station Approach, specially closed to traffic for the day, the Anglo-French market offered a wide range of stalls, street entertainment, the Expedients Jazz Band, Heathfield’s own Silver Band, dual language story-telling, face painting and a petanque challenge. In the opinion of the Organising Committee, and despite heavy rain in the morning, the event succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.
The welcome involvement of the French contingent brought an international flavour which added considerable interest. 55 of those from Forges les Eaux were accommodated by local families without cost, with a view to possible links being formed between the two towns.
The original purpose was to organise an Anglo-French event and this has remained the fundamental remit. Wealden District Council has an informal link with the Pays de Bray – an area of the Seine Maritime department in Upper Normandy with similar characteristics i.e. mainly rural with a number of small market towns. It was, therefore, in 1998, proposed that the town of Forge-les Faux, which had no existing twin town in England, be invited to send traders to the market and this idea was received enthusiastically by the Maire and Chairman of the Union Commerciale of Forges and by the tourist organisation of the Pays de Bray. As it was feared that, given the popularity of French produce in England, this small number of traders might not be able to satisfy the demand, a group from Dieppe who were already coming to markets in the South East were also invited.
In the euphoria following a highly successful event, the hard-working committee met to discuss how it had all gone, what could have been done better and the 64,000 dollar question: would they do it all over again?
They demonstrated that Heathfield could put on a big event in the town. Even with other competing events on in the immediate area, Heathfield could still attract people in their thousands with the right mix of stalls and entertainment and it was highly profitable for the participants. The town residents were well-informed about the event, with a leaflet drop to the majority of the people living within walking distance, so there were very few grumbles about the street being closed. Many visitors, who had never been to Heathfield, discovered it for the first time and, having heard about the event on the radio, came from as far afield as Reigate, Bexhill and Brighton. The event raised the profile of the town through extensive press coverage over several weeks and live reportage on BBC Southern Counties Radio on the day from 6.45am onwards.