St Albans reacts to the cancellation of Meraki Christmas Festival

PUBLISHED: 10:30 03 January 2019 | UPDATED: 09:13 08 January 2019

Visitors to the Meraki Christmas festival in Verulamium Park. Picture: DANNY LOO

Visitors to the Meraki Christmas festival in Verulamium Park. Picture: DANNY LOO

©2018 Archant

Naysayers have won their campaign against St Albans Meraki Christmas Festival, which will not be returning for 2019.

Visitors to the Meraki Christmas festival in Verulamium Park. Picture: DANNY LOOVisitors to the Meraki Christmas festival in Verulamium Park. Picture: DANNY LOO

When St Albans district council (SADC) handed over the reins to its 2018 festive market, the event was welcomed with open arms by many residents and businesses.

Previous years’ offerings had racked up a bill of more than £300,000 since 2013 and never broken even.

However, when Meraki applied for planning permission to erect a winter wonderland on Westminster Lodge Front Meadow, a handful of the site’s neighbours took up arms to campaign against the event.

Meraki were forced to split it over three locations - the Vintry Garden, opposite Westminster Lodge, and at Herts Showground, which closed early due to operational difficulties.

The Meraki Christmas festival in Verulamium Park. Picture: DANNY LOOThe Meraki Christmas festival in Verulamium Park. Picture: DANNY LOO

The district council eventually gave the go ahead for the meadow site on December 7, leaving just one day for Meraki to set up shop before its opening night on December 8.

There were fun fair rides, children’s ice skating, a Santa’s Grotto, chalets, live music, and more space for socialising.

However, since opening reviews have been mixed and last week organiser Kerry Marks announced the winter wonderland would not be returning to St Albans for a second year.

She said: “It’s been pretty quiet here since the opening, unfortunately, so I don’t think we’ll be able to come back and do this one again.

Visitors enjoy some ice skating at the Meraki Christmas festival in Verulamium Park. Picture: DANNY LOOVisitors enjoy some ice skating at the Meraki Christmas festival in Verulamium Park. Picture: DANNY LOO

“I have read social media reviews from some people and I’m sorry I haven’t lived up to your expectations.

“To build this event in one day is pretty tough and it meant we were not able to do everything the way we wanted it to be.”

On hearing the news, St Albans residents took to Facebook to debate what went wrong.

Luke Ridge thinks SADC should have done more: “Meraki did the best they could with what they had. But to deal with St Albans council is a horrific job. They are responsible for this festival’s demise, not Kerry and Meraki.

Visitors enjoy some ice skating at the Meraki Christmas festival in Verulamium Park. Picture: DANNY LOOVisitors enjoy some ice skating at the Meraki Christmas festival in Verulamium Park. Picture: DANNY LOO

“Nothing is simple, everything is a pain with them. I’m not at all surprised it has ended like this.”

David Thurston agreed: “Why do councils pander to the minority moaners rather than giving the majority what they want. Meraki were set up to fail by this atrocious council.”

Andrew Jackson added: “What will people object to now if you don’t come back next year. Some people are put on this earth to ruin every decent person’s enjoyment.”

Charlotte Delcore added: “There’s nothing wrong with the festival, It’s amazing.

Visitors enjoy some ice skating at the Meraki Christmas festival in Verulamium Park. Picture: DANNY LOOVisitors enjoy some ice skating at the Meraki Christmas festival in Verulamium Park. Picture: DANNY LOO

“However, I haven’t seen any advertisements and it all seemed last minute. I felt sorry for all the little independent retailers last night when I visited.”

She described it as a “shambles and a shame for all concerned, mostly vendors”.

Hayley Higgins said individual events “definitely needed to be run better”: “The council really messed this up and it would have been lovely to have it every year.

“It definitely had some teething issues, but even with our disappointments with certain events we would have still gone back next year in the hope that those problems would have been sorted out.

Visitors to the Meraki Christmas festival in Verulamium Park. Picture: DANNY LOOVisitors to the Meraki Christmas festival in Verulamium Park. Picture: DANNY LOO

“Local business just isn’t meant to survive in St Albans I guess.”

John Allen said: “This town is always held to ransom by the NIMBYs who contribute nothing into our great city and spoil for the rest.”

Caroline J. Cox urged Kerry to reconsider: “Please come back Meraki! Hopefully next year you can do the full stint in one place!”

The summer Meraki Festival, which is a paid music weekend held at Herts Showground, is still scheduled to go ahead from August 23 to 25.

Visitors enjoy some ice skating at the Meraki Christmas festival in Verulamium Park. Picture: DANNY LOOVisitors enjoy some ice skating at the Meraki Christmas festival in Verulamium Park. Picture: DANNY LOO

Markets project manager at SADC, Liz Marcy, said: “We would like to thank Meraki for the hard work they put into their event. Meraki approached the council earlier in the year with a view to piloting their Christmas Festival.

“We’d worked with Meraki before, and we felt that many of the benefits of the St Albans Christmas Market could be achieved, with enhanced aspects, at reduced cost, through a change of formats.

“It turned out to be a very difficult event for them, not least because of some opposition to the park location, and the poor weather.

“We will review and take stock of St Albans Christmas events in the new year, before we take any decisions about what we will do next year.”

Visitors to the Meraki Christmas festival in Verulamium Park. Picture: DANNY LOOVisitors to the Meraki Christmas festival in Verulamium Park. Picture: DANNY LOO

Visitwww.merakifestival.com to find out more about the festival.

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