Every year (and usually twice a year) Ammo Drop hosts the Midlands Airsoft Fair at the Gaol Events in Oakham, an airsoft boot fair that where big retailers/brands can showcase/sell new products and airsoft booters sell/swap second hand gear as well as get a taster game of the site, a chance to run a 3 gun course and of course, the raffle in aid of the Pilgrim Bandits. Although the event usually runs twice a year, this year April is the only event in 2018 so we decided to get ourselves down and see the progress of one of the fastest growing Airsoft events held in the Midlands.

First off, let me give those of you who are unfamiliar with the Gaol a quick rundown: The Gaol Events is an intense CQB site that is housed in wings of the former men’s low security prison HM Prison Ashwell in Oakham, Rutland. Although majority of the Prison was redeveloped as part of the Oakham Enterprise Park in 2013, 3 of the former wings remain with cells intact for players to fight though along with large outdoor spaces including the exercise yard that still has all the old features of the Prison, from the barbed wire to high prison mesh walls. The site itself is impressive and having played at the Gaol on a few occasions, I can say that if you like really close quarter combat, the Gaol is definitely a site you should try. My favourite areas of the site are G Wing – a long wooden building that holds a maze made from the old cells – it is pitch black, super close quarters and absolutely terrifying. This part of the site is one of the toughest areas to clear in the attack and defend game modes! I am also really partial to E Wing as well, a huge brick building that houses cells, common rooms, stairwells and low light corridors to battle your way through.

When I arrived onsite at 10am (when doors opened) I was pretty flabbergasted by what I saw, every year I have attended there has been a queue for entry as the fair is always popular but I have never seen a queue as big as this years! The queue span from the doors and ALL the way through the prison gate at the end of the road which is amazing! It’s awesome to see so many players coming together to support local companies and local events. A ticket to the event, has gone up from previous years and will set you back £8 – this includes entry to the fair itself, a sausage or bacon cob, a run on the 3 gun course and a taster game within a section of the gaming area. Although the price has gone up, I still believe that it is a great price point for a day out with your friends, especially considering breakfast is included! The event runs from 10am until 3.30pm.

For April 2018’s fair we saw an increase in both airsoft booters and retailers, but we were missing some key brands from the previous years. Retailers/brands included: The Pilgrim Bandits – charity supporting injured servicemen and women to live a full life again (event’s chosen charity), Ammo Drop – retailers of airsoft guns and accessories, Staffordshire Militaria Supplies – airsoft, army Surplus and outdoor Clothing Supplies, Nuprol – suppliers of gas, tactical kit and airsoft rifles/pistols, ASG – worldwide manufacturer of realistic imitation firearms and BBs, Bomb-Up Airsoft – airsoft retailer based in the North of England, Leicester Airsoft – airsoft retailer based in Leicester, Dangerzone Customs – custom tactical kit manufacturers, Pine Tree – suppliers of MRE’s, High Pressure Airsoft – suppliers of HPA systems, Airsoft Direct – airsoft retailer based in Hull, Socom Tactical – airsoft retailer based in Fleet, Redwolf UK/VFC UK – showcasing the latest products from RWA and VFC, Just Paracord UK – makers of all things paracord, The Draft Club – Manufacturers and Suppliers of BBs, Valken – Suppliers of supplies for Airsoft and Paintball and Kydex Customs UK – manufacturers of Kydex holsters. As well as the huge amount of private sellers that lined the gaol walk ways, there really was something to appeal to everyone.

The private sellers make up a huge bulk of the retailers onsite and they are in almost every nook and cranny of the Gaol’s any hallways. Pitches vary from small pitches to large depending on how much kit you have to shift. When talking to some of the private sellers, at not even 10.30am they had already made a fair amount of sales – which instantly made me regret not booking my own pitch in time! Haha. It’s great that the fair also has booters alongside the big brands and retailers because it adds something different to the event, and as the old saying goes ‘one person’s trash is another’s treasure’ Depending on my schedule next year I am hoping to run my own stall to shift some of the kit I’ve hoarded over the last few years, and I’ll be reporting from the position of a seller which will be an interesting read for those of you who would consider having a stall yourselves!

There are 3 taster games ran during the day in one of the enclosed prison wings which are perfect to give players who haven’t yet played the Gaol, and of course those who are considering joining the sport the opportunity to sample the site before booking onto a gameday. For those of us who have already played, it’s a great half an hour shoot. The 3 gun course is also another element to the day that appeals those who are interested in AISPC. Although you can run the course with your own weapons, it is a practical shooting course set-up in one of the prison wings that has card and metal targets to hit whilst being timed by the onsite staff.

This year, something new was added to the agenda – an auction to raise money for the Pilgrim Bandits! Punters at the fair bid on the following with all the money going to the veterans charity:  a Polarstar Jack that sold for £160.00, Wolverine £170.00, a full HPA Tank set-up including line and regulator sold for £120, an ASG Storm 360 grenade that went for £60 and a Tokyo Marui KSG Shotgun that sold for £330!

Every event, the fair hosts a raffle that is always one of the key events and this year the prizes were bigger and better than ever, donated by various companies and brands: Tokyo Marui 416, King Arms M4, Valken Battle Machine, Nuprol EU17 Pistol, Viper Belt set up, Viper Spec Ops chest rig, 2 X DZ Tactical mag carrier, Pine Tree MRE collection & a 12 month Ai subscription, Airsoft Innovations XL Burst, another Airsoft innovations bundle, Kydex Holster and £30 of Patches.

Overall, the Midlands Airsoft Fair 2018 was a resounding success! I had a great time catching up with friends and meeting followers. I think the fair gives airsofters a great opportunity to sell/swap kit and also purchase new goods from the retailers onsite. It was amazing to see such an increase in footfall at this event – airsofters supporting their local businesses and brands is super important for our industry and economy. The admission price to the event is reasonable – even more so when you consider that the cost of breakfast and the raffle tickets are included (those who won prizes such as the TM 416 are laughing!). I am a little sad that this is the last event for 2018, but I cannot wait to see the next instalment of the Midlands Airsoft Fair in 2019. The total amount raised for The Pilgrim Bandits (who also happen to be Airsoft Action’s chosen charity) and Prostate Cancer UK was just over £800 which is a great amount and will go towards both helping injured service men and women live a full life again and in the fight against Prostate Cancer which is the third biggest cancer killer in the UK. It’s amazing to see the community come together to support such worthy causes!... 

Hardwick, K. (2018). Midlands Airsoft Fair. Airsoft Action. 90 (August), 28-29.

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