Three hundred and sixty-five days is how long we need to organise the Harrogate Christmas Market, if it’s to have any chance of being successful. Okay, so now you’re thinking, “It’s only a few stalls and fairy lights.” And while that may be how the uninitiated see it, our ‘simple’, four-day market requires insightful planning that isn’t for the faint-hearted. Here’s a brief rundown of what you can expect if you’d like to organise your own Christmas market.
Who’s in charge?
If you’re planning on running a market on a not-for-profit basis, you’ll need to recruit volunteers to help you organise and run the event. HCM is lucky to have a dedicated team who offer practical help. Many expenses will need to be paid for up front, such as chalet and marquee hire, utilities, public liability insurance, etc., so you’ll need sufficient funds to cover these.
Identify a suitable site
This is much harder that you might think. Every location has pros and cons. If you choose an event site out of town, while this may mitigate traffic and other problems, it means that local retail shops, restaurants, cafes, and bars won’t get any benefit from the influx of visitors. Dotting stalls throughout a town or city loses that market feel, plus visitors might miss some of the stalls. As with any large event of this type, you won’t please everyone.
Pick the dates
Think carefully before you pick your dates. Research when other popular events are held to avoid clashing. If you run it too early, people won’t feel in the mood for a Christmas market; too late and they’ll have finished buying presents. You will also have to decide how many days you’d like the market to run. HCM is four days because that’s the maximum amount of days we are allowed by the Council, plus our event is run by volunteers, many of whom are not used to standing up all day!
Talk to the Council
Once you’ve got your plan and identified a suitable site, you’ll need to talk to your local council, who will expect a detailed proposal which they may modify. Don’t expect to gain approval for several months.
Meanwhile you need to contact and book suitable traders and collect their fees. Apply for street trading licences for each trader, and a Temporary Event Notice (TEN) for those selling alcohol.
It’s vital that you liaise with the emergency services to ensure the site is easily accessible, should the need arise. The Police, including anti-terrorist officers, together with the Council will want you to do a risk assessment and create a detailed health and safety plan. You may be required to install security barriers and other mitigation protocols.
Managing traffic and visitors
Will there be adequate parking and how will you let visitors know where the car parks are? Remember to get road signs from the AA/RAC/SEO to direct vehicles to the site. You may also need to close roads that border the market, which will require permission. Encourage visitors to use public transport or a Park & Ride scheme. Crowds are a given at a Christmas market, particularly on Saturdays and Sundays. While most people expect this, it’s best to include some weekdays for those who prefer to walk around when it’s quieter.
Depending on your preference, you will need to find suppliers of large marquees, wooden chalets, marquee booths, and/or heavy-duty market stalls which are suitable for November/December weather conditions. It’s a good idea to add lighting towers to aid visibility, as well as non-slip matting for the grass in case of rain or frost. Signage to the various attractions in the Market is important too.
You’ll need power for the lights and music system, as well an electricity supply for the traders. Generators can be hired to supply power, but you’ll have to make sure traders don’t overload the circuit by using kettles and heaters. Water stand pipes will be required for food and drink traders. As most traders take card payments, they’ll need Wi-Fi to enable their card machines. Rubbish bins will need to be placed throughout the market and emptied several times times a day, with bags being placed in hired skips on site. Public toilets need to be located and signed for both traders and visitors – including disabled facilities.
It’s no good organising a Christmas market if you fill it full of poor-quality products. You need to find reputable, experienced traders selling appropriate, top quality items. Be aware that many successful traders book events a year in advance. You may wish to include a beer tent, however this could make the market less appealing to families. (Mulled wine stalls are a great compromise.) Create a very straightforward application process and decide how and when to collect payment. Traders should receive regular bulletins including all dos and don’ts.
It is vital to keep proper records of the large number of trader invoices and receipts and to pay for numerous expenses and sub-contracted services, so that HMRC are satisfied in terms of VAT and Corporation Tax.
Sellers will demand your event is well publicised. You could consider newspaper, radio, and online ads, as well as press releases, leaflet drops, and a constant social media presence. Social media is particularly good for increasing your brand’s profile and gaining followers. You’ll also need to print publicity posters and leaflets, as well as visitor guides with a plan of the market.
Many coach companies love to offer trips to Christmas markets, so don’t forget to send details to various travel firms. You can’t totally control the number of coaches coming, as companies who haven’t booked can still bring visitors. You will have to designate suitable drop-off and pick-up sites and have someone on hand to manage arrivals and departures, and also arrange and supervise off-site coach parking.
Engage a security firm experienced in handling large events. The site will need 24-hour cover to prevent theft and criminal damage to the stalls. You will need to have at least one first-aider on site and some security firms include this as an added service. Any qualification will need to be current.
If space permits, it should be worthwhile inviting Santa to come on a sleigh pulled by real reindeer to open a grotto during the market. Funfair rides are also popular with children, whilst musicians appreciate the opportunity to play Christmas music and carols on a ‘busking’ basis.
Now comes the fun part. You can’t have everything happening at once, so an in-depth plan of action must be drawn up. A specific timetable of stages is necessary to make the process as smooth as possible, from the chalets and/or marquees being erected and dismantled, to staggered slots for traders to set up.
Once every trader and contractor has left the site, there will inevitably be some clearing up to do. An inspection is always prudent to determine if any damage has occurred, such as to the grass or the tarmac, which will then need rectifying at your expense. To find out what traders thought of your event, send out feedback forms.
Pat yourself on the back for a successful event and go put your feet up. The process starts all over again tomorrow!
If you think you could organise a better Christmas market in Harrogate, please send your proposals to: organiser@HarrogateChristmasMarket.org.