A Dickensian Christmas Market

(Event management experience and words from a Top Venues Intern)

Dressing for the part!

As part of the International Events Management course that I am currently on each student is tasked with attending a week long placement working on a real life event, helping out from the preparation stages to the management of the event whilst it’s on. I was assigned the Dickensian Christmas Festival held at Lightwater Valley in Ripon North Yorkshire which is a Victorian themed four day event that offers a huge range of high quality contemporary and traditional merchandise. Originally I was apprehensive as one of the first things I learnt about the event was that everybody involved dresses up in traditional Victorian Clothes and stays in character whilst the event is on. On top of this the event is aimed at elderly cliental and I wondered whether this would put me outside of my comfort zone.

Upon arrival at the event venue, Lightwater Valley Amusement Park, the events manager gave us a brief description and history of the company and the event we would be working on. The event has been running for 7 years and has grown in size each year; it now has over 100 stalls exhibiting over the four day period with thousands of people visiting during that time. As well as high quality services and merchandise the festival also offers entertainment with carol singers, a school choir, bell ringers and a magician all featuring. The event has a real Christmas feel to it with the whole thing being Dickensian themed, the decorations and the opportunity to meet Santa and his Reindeer. The Dickensian theme extends to the exhibitors and the people working on the event such as myself, during the course of the event I wore a fetching traditional Victoria outfit consisting of a waistcoat, neckerchief, jacket and top hat.

The first couple of days spent at the event were focused on the exhibitors and it was my job to ensure they all arrived and got set up in their area as smoothly as possible. Having spoken to the event manager I learnt that a huge amount of planning had already gone into the event for something as basic as the layout, the whereabouts of each exhibitor had been meticulously planned for a number of reasons. The first was the type of stall; they had to ensure that stands selling similar things were not placed near to each other. The second was the exhibitor’s requirements as each exhibitor had different needs, some required electricity and so had to be placed round the outside of the halls or marquees to ensure this could be accommodated. Some required additional tables so they could correctly display all their products.

Before a single attendee had walked through the doors I had already experienced numerous problems which gave me a real taster of what it’s like to be hands on at an event. The first was a dispute between two exhibitors over boundaries; each exhibitor is given a certain space which they must stay within and a gentlemen selling shortbread believed that the lady next to him was taking up part of his space. Having consulted the regulations and the master plan for the event I was able to reach an agreement that both exhibitors were happy with and the conflict was settled. The next problem came from a gentleman in the corner of one of the marquees who wasn’t happy with the space he had been given, in a large exhibitor event such as this there are sometimes people who don’t turn up or have to cancel, in this case I was able to swap the man to a table which had been cancelled leaving him pleased with the new space he had been given.

Once the event had begun I was assigned the task of ensuring the entertainment went smoothly, something I was very happy about as it is something I can see myself doing in the future. I greeted the entertainment as they arrived, relayed the information to them regarding where and what time they would be performing and ensured they had everything they needed. Again I was faced with the kind of problems that arise frequently during events involving live performances; some of the acts were running late and so with the help of the event manager we shuffled round some of the other performances to ensure that there was no area left quiet for too long.

Whilst there I was involved in all aspects of the planning and management of the festival from the setting up of the stalls to organising the entertainment during the event and I left with a real sense of satisfaction that I was taking some invaluable experience away with me. Working on this event has given me a great insight into how events work from an operational point of view and the problems that are faced by event planners during the course of a live event, the best thing I will take away from the past week is that events truly are unpredictable and it’s the way you react to the things that occur that define you as an event manager.

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