Christmas Market Update – Q&A

Christmas Market Update – Q&A

Through the Chamber and Lincolnshire Food & Drinks closer working relationship with Lincoln BIG we have shared the views of our members following the Lincoln Christmas Market news and these were put forward and discussed in a meeting with the City of Lincoln Council, who have taken them away and provided some detailed feedback in the Q&A.

What sort of considerations were taken into account before making the decision?

The decision is based on a number of factors that were evident at the 2022 Christmas market and will be exacerbated at the 2023 market. These factors are:

1. Whilst the event was safe in 2022, all areas of the market operated at full capacity on the Saturday and other times over the four days. Projections for growth, developed over the last few years, show a significant uplift in visitor numbers year on year. This shows that safe capacity limits will be breached at the 2023 market.

2. Advice from Safety Advisory Group (multi agency partnership involving police, fire and rescue, ambulance etc), is that whilst the market is exceptionally well planned and operated (a model of best practice nationally) – no plans will be able to accommodate any further uplift in visitor numbers within the current footprint of the market. This view is supported by officers of the council with over 25 years collective experience of operating the market.

3. The market has grown too big (in terms of visitor numbers) for the area it occupies. Any increase in visitor numbers in 2023 will overwhelm the physical safe capacity limits of the market.

Could the market be made smaller?

1. To make the market smaller will reduce the income available to pay for all the infrastructure (lighting, stewards, policing, first aid, PA system, etc). In total there are 19 contractors providing resources to make the market work. The only income available to the council is through stall fees and park and ride income.

2. A reduced market footprint would significantly reduce the income for the event. It will also impact on the willingness of traders to take up a stall if they perceive it to be smaller (as they will feel footfall will be less). Additionally a move to local, artisan, craft etc traders (‘back to its origins’) further impacts on the income as these types of traders are unlikely to afford higher stall fees.

3. Conversely any organiser would need to consider the very real risk that significant volumes of visitors could still come expecting a full Lincoln market and hence overwhelm the scaled back infrastructure put in place. This scenario would need to be planned for.

4. It is better to allow the market to “bow out” and then build/evolve a great experience over the whole 6 weeks of Christmas covering both downhill and uphill Lincoln.

Could the market be stretched out or ticketed?

1. To extend the footprint of the market within the Uphill area was not possible as it quickly takes it into nearby residential streets that are not suited to large crowds and significantly increases the inconvenience to residents in that area.

2. Alternatively for the event to be stretched over more days- it would need to be over a full week with both weekends either side. The fact roads have to be closed, causes significant disruption in the uphill area over the four days. This prevents the city council stretching the event over more days in the existing footprint.

3. The costs to put the market on already amounted to £750k in 2022 and were predicted to increase further in 2023 due to inflationary factors. To spread the event over a wider area/ more days would further increase those costs. The market was already predicted to make a loss of £260k in 2023 – making it unsustainable financially.

4. This is a free to enter event and all are welcome. Ticketing the event in its entirety is impossible due to the many entry and exit points into the market footprint. Castle Square remains the hub of the market. Due to street design and hierarchy, many people either start their exploration of the market from here or arrive in this area quite quickly on their journey around the footprint. This is one of the main areas where crowds develop. By ticketing the Castle – it would limit numbers into the castle and reduce volumes on the ramp at the exit – but it will significantly impact on crowding elsewhere as visitors will ‘back up’ into castle square and beyond. It takes time to check tickets/ take payments/ answer queries at the gates – this impedes flow and would cause safety concerns at busy times. This is also the case at The Lawn entrance -ticketing here would lead to queues backing up the castle ramp into the castle.

5. Many traders could not afford to trade, don’t have the staff or ability to trade for a longer period of time, some have other commitments on other weekends at other events so extending the period of time is difficult. This would further reduce the ‘pool’ of traders from whom we receive applications, at a time when applicant numbers are already diminished.

Was last year a one off in terms of exceptional footfall?

1. There are many theories as to why visitor numbers topped 320k visitors in 2022. These theories included:

• People may have chosen to come on Saturday and not Sunday – England playing on Sunday in the World Cup, but we saw a significant uplift in numbers every day.

• As the market occurred early this year – 1st December, it was pay day for many people

• Radio Lincolnshire for weeks before the market were promoting the event constantly

• Other markets across the region had either closed or downsized

• Increasing popularity and awareness of Christmas Markets on social media

2. However, the reality is that market attendance has been escalating since 2018. Between 2019 (last pre covid market) and 2021 visitor numbers increased by 20%. Then in 2022 it increased by a further 15%. Overall since 2019 footfall has increased by 38%.

3. This has impacted the visitor experience. Typically, the market in previous years has attracted approximately 250,000 to 270,000 visitors over the four days. This is viewed as the maximum attendance the market can accommodate without impacting on customer experience. Such volumes offer a good balance between being busy (to create a great atmosphere) but also allowing sufficient space for people to flow around the market in their own time, visiting stalls and hence being able to meander around the footprint. The 2022 market significantly exceeded that, making the market feel very uncomfortable for visitors at various times.

How do we know this is not just cost cutting?

1. The report for consideration by the City Council’s Executive on 20th February makes the recommendation that the full £260k budget allocated to the Christmas market is retained to deliver the evolution of “Christmas in Lincoln” and then support a year-long programme of arts and event activity.

2. We have officers starting work on that programme now and we believe such a programme will offer better value than investing £260k in a single four-day event

How can businesses influence any future spend proposed?

1. We are at the earliest phase of developing that programme (as we wanted to announce early the proposed closure of the market to enable businesses to reflect this in their Christmas stock orders asap).

2. We welcome any and all ideas – through Lincoln BIG – to help shape that programme.

Where can we find out more information about the rationale behind the City Council’s decision?

1. We would encourage everyone to read the Executive report that makes it really clear the rationale for the proposed decision

So what are we proposing?

Move to a model of “Christmas in Lincoln”. This will take place over the full 6-week period leading up to and including Christmas itself. This could see an offer across both the uphill area and city centre. Whilst this would not be a Christmas market, the final model will no doubt have a retail element to it, utilising key event spaces in the city, namely City Square, Cornhill and Castle Square. This will address two of the key criteria – delivering activity over a wider footprint to spread the crowds and over a longer duration.

Utilise partners to also organise activity – The city benefits from some very active partners in the city who produce events and activities themselves throughout the year. These organisations have already been in discussion with the city council wanting to develop more of their own offer during the Christmas period in the uphill area. Indeed, the market would have had to significantly change in 2023 anyway to accommodate their requirements. The new format will give them the space they have been looking for to develop their own full programme of activity. They will be approached to work with officers on a programme of activity for visitors and residents to enjoy across a range of sites and dates.

Invest in wider Christmas infrastructure – Officers will also explore the extent to which the Christmas lights in the city centre & uphill can be refreshed and replaced over the next few years to create a new display and extend to areas now re-developed within the city centre.

Develop and curate a range of cultural events throughout the year – Redeploy the Culture and Events team, who work primarily on the Christmas Market, to develop a new events programme for the city centre and uphill areas. The remit would be to develop and curate such activity to ensure a spread of attractions for visitors and residents alike throughout the year, supplementing (not replacing) the activity already undertaken by organisations such as Lincoln BIG, Cathedral, Lincoln Castle etc.

Support a re-emergence of the Lincoln Cultural Arts Partnership (LCAP) – Hence provide officer support to encourage and develop creative talent in the city who in turn will support the vitality of the city centre through that programme of attractive events all year around.

What are the benefits of this?

Christmas in Lincoln…

• Activity will be programmed in the city centre and uphill areas over the full 6 weeks of Christmas, not just focussed and concentred into 4 intense days of the Christmas market

• All retail areas within the core city centre/uphill will be covered so footfall will be spread over a wider area

• It is anticipated that wider partners will become more involved. This is an opportunity to harness their expertise and assets to make Christmas appeal to a much wider local audience – creating a more diverse offer

• It will maximise the use of those city council assets in the city centre that have been regenerated in recent years – places such as Cornhill and City Square

• It doesn’t draw heavily on partner capacity such as Police, EMAS, ULHT, Fire and Rescue at what is a very pressured and busy time of year anyway for these organisations

Move to an annual events and activities programme…

• The city will attract visitors to a range of events across the whole year. These visitors will be encouraged to make it a weekend stay in the city to enjoy all the city has to offer. This will benefit the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors.

• Social media exposure for the city will be across the whole year and hence will attract visitors at other times of the year, not just one weekend in December.

• The quality of the offer will be enhanced through a carefully integrated programme of activity in the city centre and uphill area so no one area is adversely affected by road closures etc, benefitting residents and businesses alike.

• Visitors will have longer to dwell and enjoy Lincoln at their own pace which will encourage repeat visits.

• It will support business and city centre vibrancy in a much more effective way and increase the associated economic spend.

• The city will experience fewer capacity issues be that available hotel spaces, parking, restaurant tables etc – the environment will be much more inviting & showcase our beautiful city with visitors spread through the year rather than concentrated over one weekend with the resulting elevated prices as demand outstrips supply.

• We will look to build charity opportunities across the full year of events so charities do not miss out on the opportunity to fund raise

• A diverse range of activity over the calendar year will provide greater value for money from the budget available, rather than it be spent on one 4-day event

• It will release significant staff capacity at all levels across the organisation. Approximately 60 staff are currently involved. The market takes a huge number of staff away from their day job -not just in the market period itself but in the weeks leading up to it and the week after the market. Use of large amounts of senior capacity at Director and Assistant Director level is a particular concern. Some of this will be re-deployed to areas of work currently under resourced such as events and culture activity more generally

What is the key message overall?

• ‘Christmas in Lincoln’ will continue to evolve into a new a varied programme over a much longer period than 4 days

• The council will encourage a spread of visitors over an entire year through a great annual cultural programme of events and activities attracting a much wider/diverse audience

• The budget will be retained but will offer much better value for money for residents – funding lots of event activity for the same budget as the current single four-day event

If you have further concerns or questions, please let us know.

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