‘You can’t please all the people, all the time’. That was the general thrust of a generic statement from the organisers of yesterday’s ‘Winter Wonderland’ in Andover.
“High Street events mean bringing in stalls and activities that can obscure the shops and cafes” was the opening line of the statement from Our Andover CIC director David Coole who was responding to concerns over Sunday’s would-be festive Christmas event in the town centre which caused dismay among the high street businesses who felt the event hindered their ability to trade.
Mr Coole, co-organiser of the event and Andover’s Town Mayor added, “The event brought many thousands of people into the town centre who would not normally visit on a Sunday”. This claim is supported up by some people on social media such as Steve Lee who commented on Love Andover’s Facebook page, “More families had a better time/had more to do than if the event hadn’t happened”.
Concerns were raised by local, independent retailers such as The Travelling Cupcake and Canto Gelato who specifically highlighted that competitive traders were sold pitches which were erected directly outside their premises.
Facebook user Carole Danks said people from Andover are quick to criticise and that the event was “an amazing effort which should be applauded”. However, her view wasn’t shared by hundreds of others. Local trader Phil Nightingale from The Record Box said, “Too many stalls placed in incorrect places”, offering advice to the organisers, he added, “This would have worked better at Vigo Park”.
Virginia Safe’s online comment to organisers through Love Andover was, “For next year’s Winter Wonderland… don’t bother”.
Love Andover requested a comment from organisers yesterday morning. The only direct response received was from Our Andover CIC co-director Joanne Coole who blamed The Travelling Cupcake for sharing “misleading” information about event marquees obscuring the front of the popular bakery and tea shop.
It was later confirmed by Mrs Coole’s husband and company co-director David Coole that it was only after reading of The Travelling Cupcake’s “negative post” online did they re-arrange the marquee so that the established premises could be more easily accessed.
In the statement, Mr Coole singled out the success of a national coffee chain. He stated that Coffee #1, which has 100 stores nationwide, “was extremely busy throughout the day”.
Many of the concerns expressed by visitors and businesses were conspicuous by their omission from the generic statement sent to local media.
Following a request for listeners to share their feelings on the event by 95.9FM Andover Radio yesterday, worries such as public safety, noise levels, level of public funding and inviting out-of-town traders to compete with established businesses were raised. The originality of the idea was also open for debate with some social media users suggesting the idea for the event , including the Lantern Parade was hijacked and plagiarised.
Commenting that he felt the point of the event was to help struggling local businesses, Robert Wilcox shared through Love Andover’s Facebook page, “I thought it was a great idea although perhaps the planning or execution in some areas was a let down.
“It seems that High Street businesses were playing second fiddle to outside stalls brought in from elsewhere.”
Nigel Male from Nidge’s Artisan Pizza Kitchen who was stallholder on the day contacted Andover Radio to share that a competitor was “furious” to discover they weren’t the only pizza trader on the day; an exclusive they were guaranteed by organisers.
With “far too many food stalls” and hot dogs on sale priced at up to £8.50, Lin Eyres wrote, “Would have been nice to have had Christmas stalls. We can’t afford the prices they [were] asking to eat.”
An element of concern that had been raised by a number of online users and radio listeners was the cost of the event. Several people including highlighted the use of public money to fund the event. One user saying said that “nearly £18,000 of public funds was being applied for this event”.
This figure is, of course, a staggeringly unlikely amount for Sunday’s standalone event, but Love Andover will request some clarification from the organisers about the amounts and manner in which funds were procured, particularly if public money was used.
On public safety, Shelle Jones shared that her 2-year old tripped over an electrical wire that hadn’t been covered over. She said of the event, “It was one massive joke to be honest”. Others had contacted Andover Radio to share their concerns over trip hazards and the difficulty that disabled people had navigating the high street on Sunday.
Following the on-air and online requests for comments and thoughts on the event, many respondents were pragmatic with their views. Facebook user Vera Ralph commented, “The stalls were nice and should have been back to back down the High Street so existing shops weren’t left out. The two food stalls we went to were expensive. Otherwise, the rest was pleasant”.
So, perhaps it’s ‘all in the branding’ – a large percentage of respondents commented that Sunday’s event not only omitted consideration for existing local traders but also entirely lacked the anticipated ‘Winter Wonderland’ feel. A planned ice rink failed to materialise.
“It seemed more of a takeover than a complementary event”, said Ginette Pope. “It was more of a Christmas market than a Winter Wonderland. Kids enjoyed a couple of fairground rides and looking at the decorations by Wilko, but were disappointed there was no Wonderland”.
The statement from Our Andover CIC, one of the event organisers, said, “What we have learned over the years is that event organisers never please everyone, some people will always complain. There’s always room to learn so that future events can be even better”.
Facebook user Sue Way agreed, “It was rather something and nothing. For next year, I’d suggest a central Santa. Snow would have been nice. Layout could’ve been better.
“It was a good start, with room for improvement, as with all first events”.
FULL STATEMENT FROM OUR ANDOVER CIC:
By their very nature, High Street events mean bringing in stalls and activities that can obscure the shops and cafes, but this does not stop people going into them and spending money. Sufficient space was left in front of all shops and cafes that were open, so people could visit them whilst enjoying the amazing free-to-attend Andover Winter Wonderland Day event. The event brought thousands of people into the town centre who would not normally visit on a Sunday, and they would have boosted the turnover of the shops and cafes they visited. Coffee#1 was extremely busy throughout the day, despite having the funfair and stalls in front of their café. Hundreds of people took part in the Christmas Lantern Parade and we were inundated with compliments and thanks for putting the event on. What we have learnt over the years is that event organisers will never please everyone, some people will always complain, and that there is always room to learn so that future events can be even better. Before the event started, Our Andover CIC spoke with The Travelling Cupcake and was told they were unlikely to put out their tables and chairs because of the weather, and they said the outdoor seating area stall was OK where it was. When we learnt of their negative post, we spoke with them again and agreed to take down the back covers of the outdoor seating area stall, to improve the visibility of their café. This photo shows the Travelling Cupcake was clearly visible behind the outdoor seating area, with their own tables and chairs in their usual area. Regular checks of the café showed it was busy. The Canto Gelato never approached us about their concerns so we were shocked to see their negative post. Had they spoken with us, we could have accommodated their concerns, as we did with The Travelling Cupcake, and they too would have had a busy day instead of closing.
FULL STATEMENT FROM BRINGING TOGETHER ANDOVER CIC:
I am Dmitrijs from Bringing Together Andover CIC – we were responsible for the Riverside Park area of the Winter Wonderland that Andover saw last Sunday. We were pleased to see thousands of residents coming out to enjoy the day; we had a variety of stalls with a fantastic stage of musical acts, and we received a lot of positive feedback on the day. I want to thank all the sponsors because we could not have achieved this goal without them. Being the first time running an event of this scale, lessons were learned.
The High Street part of the event, which was organised by The Mayor & Mayoress of Andover David and Jo Coole, who own Our Andover CIC, which is a different company to my CIC, has faced some significant complications with the layout of the gazebos and stalls which have affected a number of businesses including The Travelling Cupcake, Canto Gelato and Mooch – causing a lot of negative attention on social media. This is highly disappointing as the goal is to embrace all of Andover and to bring extra footfall to our lovely town.
When organising an event of this scale, you look for partners with known experience to help deliver for Andover. Like residents, Bringing Together Andover CIC also feel let down that residents and businesses did not get the whole experience we all expected from the High Street. If you have any queries relating to the High Street side of the event, please contact email@example.com; I am sure they will appreciate any feedback to ensure any future events they deliver have better outcomes.
In reference to the Riverside Park event, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org, as I welcome feedback to ensure the growth of any experience we deliver. It has taught me to consider future partners going forward so as not to impact my company.