A series of problems affected the smooth running of an ambitious new Christmas Festival in St Albans last year. Private firm Meraki approached St Albans City and District Council in January 2018 about staging the event at Verulamium Park.
The Council agreed to allow the company to manage its annual continental-style Christmas Market and make it part of the Festival offering. Meraki was also due to operate fairground rides, a skating rink, a Santa’s grotto, live music, theatrical performances, bars and other social spaces.
However, the firm did not obtain planning and licence permissions in time to start the Festival at its scheduled date of Friday 30 November. As a result, the market was switched to its usual venue of the walled Vintry Garden near the Cathedral. The rest of the Festival was moved to Herts County Showground near Redbourn, only for bad weather, low visitor numbers and other issues to force its closure after two days. On Saturday 8 December, the Meraki Christmas Festival finally opened at Verulamium Park.
The event, though, attracted a lot of negative comments on social media. There were complaints about high prices, a lack of atmosphere, poor choice of fairground rides and the small size of the skating rink. The problems were outlined in a report to a meeting of the Council’s Community, Environment and Sport Scrutiny Committee on Thursday 17 January.
Councillors were told that a number of valuable lessons have been learned for organising Christmas activities in the future. These included the need to avoid splitting a Festival between two or three sites as each one might not attract the “critical mass” of visitors needed for atmosphere.
Many visitors expect a low-cost or free experience while there did not appear to be an audience for late-night operations. There was also a need to tap into the Group Travel Market and increase the number of coach trips to St Albans to boost mid-week visitor numbers.
These and other issues will be discussed at two workshops that are being held in January offering residents, businesses and organisations the chance to provide feedback. The Committee agreed to hold a full-scale review of the Christmas Festival at its meeting on Thursday 7 March when the results of the engagement events will be known.
Meraki should also have provided final information about visitor numbers at Vintry Garden and Verulamium Park by that time.
Source: News release from St Albans City & District Council