The Eye attended a meeting of local residents in the theatre function room last night. The meeting was a borough council invitation to residents to express their views about the skating rink and market held in the London Road Recreation Ground over the 2016 Christmas period. The meeting – which was very constructive – lasted an hour and a half, so the following summary does not cover everything that was said.
At the outset of the meeting, it was said that Event by Event, who ran the 2016 market and rink, was intentionally not represented at the meeting. No reason for this was given;. The Eye suspects that the absence was highly significant, but you may think differently.
The basic statistics: 12,000 people visited the site, of whom 7,000 skated. This was less than had been hoped, though the council judged the figure to be “not bad” for the first year of an event. While the rink was running, town centre footfall was better than the national average, and car park usage increased slightly vs. last year. Nevertheless, as expected, the event itself made a loss overall. Event by Event, who were not paid anything by the council, probably were more out-of-pocket than they had planned.
Analysis of the postcodes of people who bought tickets on line showed that quite a few lived outside the town. The fact that the event brought people into Camberley is a measure of its success.
Much of what was said during the evening reflected what was written in the social media at the time. Ticket pricing, the system for on-line ticket purchase, residents’ difficulty in getting the promised free tickets, the fairground rides, and the market (in particular the ‘log cabins’), the muddy route that NON-visitors had to take to cross the park, confusing no-parking signs and the final day ‘happy hour’, were commented on adversely. Also, in spite of extensive advertising, it was said that many people still didn’t know that the event was running or where it was being held.
On the other hand, the ice rink itself, the staff manning the rink and the road diversions put in place to manage traffic were praised. (Southern Road did suffer excessively from drivers turning in it to ‘shortcut’ the diversion.) Restoration of the park after the event has also been commented on positively. Apparently, Event by Event contributed financially to the remedial work.
The location was questioned; it seems to be accepted generally that it would have been better if the rink had been in the town centre. However, the rink – which was the minimum size for a genuine ice rink – was too large to fit in the town. It was suggested that a smaller synthetic rink would get around this problem.
We got the impression that the council was well-aware of many of the ‘shortcomings’. When asked about the fact that planning permission was granted for a similar event for five years, it was emphasised that the permission ‘follows the land’, and is not granted to any particular body. We read into this that if the occasion were repeated in future, Event by Event might not be the operator.
There was strong – but not universal – support from the floor for implementing the traffic diversion on a permanent basis. Clearly it won’t be possible to please everyone!
Something that was said several times was that the relatively recent investment by the council in the town centre was a factor that couldn’t have been considered when planning last year’s event. But the council now had greater control and completely different options for a Christmas event might be viable. Certainly, the idea of running a Christmas market again for six full weeks seemed to be a non-starter; maybe a relatively brief craft market would be more successful?
Nothing is definite at this stage, but the Eye would be very surprised if an ‘Ice Rink Mk II’ was not held next Christmas. We hope that it is! But there might be a risk that arrangements will be made too slowly and too late. Winchester Christmas Market – probably a much bigger affair, of course – is advertising for stall-holders NOW. http://www.winchester-cathedral.org.uk/home/christmas-at-the-cathedral/christmas-market/ Event by Event complained that the delay in planning permission held them back. SHBC won’t be able to use the same excuse next time!