Mixed reactions to St Albans Meraki Christmas Festival
PUBLISHED: 19:00 12 December 2018
Visitor and traders’ early reactions to St Albans’ highly -debated Christmas winter wonderland event have proved a mixed bag.
After an initially positive reception to Meraki Festival taking over the yuletide reigns, the Christmas event has been confronted by setbacks.
A handful of neighbours living near Westminster Lodge Front Meadow, where the festival is being held, had clubbed together to scupper the plans.
But although the district council still granted it permission to go ahead last Thursday, if left just one day for Meraki to set up for opening on December 8.
The festival features fun fair rides, children’s ice skating, Santa’s Grotto, chalets, live music, and more spaces for socialising.
Donna O’Neill, who was manning the Baliwood Furnishing stall, said: “It was very good on Sunday, very well attended, I think [Meraki organiser] Kerry [Marks] has worked tremendously hard and my hat is off to her.
“Amid all the adversity I think she has done tremendously well.”
Owner of The Coffee Stop, Steve Lewsley, said: “The weekend was good - Saturday was a slow grower but Sunday was very busy. It is a bit smaller than I expected, but they have had their issues and it has gone in the right direction.”
To compromise, Meraki were forced to split the event over three locations - Vintry Garden, Herts County Showground, and Westminster Lodge Front Meadow, but the showground event closed down prematurely following problems on site.
One St Albans employee, who would prefer to only go by Mark, visited the Vintry Garden site. He said: “It is alright, I like the diversity that is on offer, it is bigger than I expected and very Christmassy.
“I think it would be better having it all in one area, making it all a bit more friendly rather than walking somewhere else.”
St Albans resident Carmel Tubbs added: “I think it needs tweaking but [the Vintry Garden] is a good place, using the town as a backdrop because that’s why people come to St Albans, and using the space around it so it doesn’t impose.
“I don’t think it will work down the end [at Westminster Lodge], because people are all too lazy to walk down and back again and keeping it in the same place would be better.”
About 18,000 people attended the opening weekend near the leisure centre.
Manager of Carnival Coffee, Conrad Stace, attested to its success: “The first day it didn’t look too good but I think that was because of the weather - it was raining all day. The Saturday picked up a lot and it picked my hopes back up for sure.”
However, some traders and visitors are less positive. Owner of Mr Olivewood, Ibrahim Olivewood, said: “It is going very badly because I am not happy about how the thing has been organised.
“There are simple things that could have been done - for example there’s no sign on the main street that there is something happening down here [at Westminster Lodge].”
Visitor Katherine Paley had driven from Northwood on Tuesday for the event: “I thought it looked really good, and I get it’s not a weekend but it’s very commercial and absolutely flat. I just thought it would be more of a buzz, I thought it would be bigger.”
Another trader, who wished to remain anonymous, said footfall was not as promised: “It has been awful. The bottom line is we haven’t got what we paid for, how it was sold to us.
“It was going to be here for four weeks, there was going to be a winter wonderland, there were going to be adult Christmas parties, there were going to be 50 cabins with traders.
“I won’t come again, I am angry and disappointed.”
Meraki founder Kerry Marks said: “We have tried to get the build done in a short space of time and it is open and packed this weekend.
“The whole thing went up in a day because we only got permission the day before so it was a real challenge.
“It has been really good and it’s always the same, we have good reviews and bad reviews and some people don’t like it at the end of the day, but St Albans wanted a free event that no-one had to pay for and we have had really positive feedback from families who really enjoyed themselves.
“Generally everyone is supportive and happy and having a lovely time. It’s hard to get it feeling Christmassy in the day but as soon as the lights come in at 4pm or 5pm, it’s shining and Christmas.”
Find out more about the Meraki Christmas Festival at www.merakichristmas.com
Every Tuesday unlimited rides and skating are included in a £10 ticket.