Judging by feedback from traders, visitors, and local businesses, the seventh Harrogate Christmas Market (HCM) was the best yet. This didn’t just happen by chance; the organisers and volunteer committee dedicate themselves to tweaking the event until it’s as good as it can possibly get. This undoubted success makes it even harder to accept that 2018 could be the last year this version of the Christmas Market is held. The reasons for this will be explained later in the blog. So why was this year’s Harrogate Christmas Market the best?
The right mix
While most of the 200 stallholders ask to come back, each year the organisers like to introduce a fair percentage of new traders and products to keep the selection fresh and interesting. The predominantly Yorkshire businesses sold everything from hand-made dog biscuits to catalytic lamps. Delicious fragrances wafted from Christmas garlands, handmade soaps, and candles, and of course from the hot food sellers. Alcoholic gifts proved popular, such as locally distilled gin, plus flavoured vodka from Doncaster. The craft and gift marquee was full of hand-made and unique items from micro-businesses that couldn’t otherwise afford to trade at a successful large event like HCM. The edible gifts in the food and drink marquee included a great range of gluten-free and vegan items. There was something for everyone, and one visitor remarked that she’d done all her Christmas shopping at the market. If you’d like to know more about some of our new and familiar traders, read the blog.
As with all popular Christmas Markets, HCM got congested at peak times on Saturdays and Sundays. After considering feedback about overcrowding, the stalls were pushed further back to allow people to step out of the thoroughfare and browse. The organisers do admit one tweak this year wasn’t a complete success. Because some traders said they did very little business after 7pm on Thursdays and Fridays, the decision was taken to close the market at 7pm on these days. Opening times on Saturday and Sunday were extended by one hour. On reflection, when HCM is held next year, closing times will probably revert to 8pm on Thursday and Friday.
Our ‘caped’ Market Markers
Without exception, every trader has made it clear to the organisers that Harrogate Christmas Market is the only event where volunteers roam the site assisting traders and the public. Having Market Makers meant that stallholders could take comfort breaks or fetch new stock, all the while knowing their goods were secure. These cheery volunteers were on hand to direct around 80,000 visitors to the nearest toilets or ATM, and to help those with disabilities when they needed assistance. Local businesses signed up as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility programme.
The organisers met with North Yorkshire’s counter-terrorism unit and Harrogate Police to discuss safety measures in the unlikely event of a hostile vehicle attack. As a result, a large number of concrete barriers were installed, plus two roads were effectively closed for the duration of the market, except for pre-booked coaches and the free shuttle buses. The HCM team worked closely with county and local police to mitigate the effects of any possible attack.
NOT the last Harrogate Christmas Market?
There’s no doubt that HCM is special; it was even chosen as a romantic spot for a marriage proposal! The entire Harrogate Christmas Market team are adamant that HCM 2019 will take place on the current site, as they have one more year left of a three-year licence issued by Harrogate Borough Council. While the organisers and committee accept that the current site on The Stray in the Montpellier Quarter of Harrogate holds a few challenges, it is by far the most suitable place for an event of this nature. This part of the Stray has a high concentration of footpaths and roads, which are vital for easy access to the 200 stalls.
In 2015, Harrogate Borough Council hired an independent consultant to examine the following sites:
- Existing site
- Victoria Avenue and Victoria Road
- Cambridge Street and Oxford Street (town centre precinct)
- West Park and Oatlands Stray
- Dragon Road Car Park
- Valley Gardens
- Yorkshire Showground
When the logistics and other criteria were considered, the current site was the only one deemed viable. As the main purpose of the event is to benefit local businesses by bringing visitors into Harrogate, holding it further from the centre, either in the Valley Gardens or on the Yorkshire Showground, aren’t options.
Despite the success, it appears there are some moves afoot to stop HCM running on the Stray next year. The Council have raised concerns over safety, yet the organisers cooperated fully with the Police, Harrogate Borough Council, and North Yorkshire County Council.
There is also a new organisation suggesting they will take over and run the market on the pedestrianised streets in the town centre. In view of the consultant’s report, that is an ill-conceived idea that would result in a much smaller, diluted market that couldn’t compare to the original. The photo below of Bath Christmas Market shows how congested their town centre event gets, despite being situated on a large square. Imagine these crowds in Harrogate’s precinct.
After seven years of investing a significant amount of time and effort honing a tremendously popular Christmas market ‘with a Yorkshire flavour’, there is no chance the Organisers and Committee will be bowing out gracefully. They know how Harrogate businesses, visitors, and traders all benefit from HCM, and they know how to run an incredibly special Christmas Market. The feedback from traders and visitors is testament to this fact. Indeed, many traders and visitors have said that Harrogate Christmas Market is the best in the UK. If it ain’t broke….
Author: Sue Scarre, Adrenaline Content Marketing