Creating fairy tale Christmas memories for families in the North East.
A pop-up elf village with Christmas surprises in giant tipis. Produced by the team at Tainted UK, we talk to director Ken Wallace about going above and beyond with ‘Elf and Safety’ and how, after a year off, the 2021 event is predicted to attract 12,000 people over 10 days.
Describe your event and how many people it attracts?
Believe Christmas is an immersive magical world brought to life in a theatrical production within an elf tipi village. It is an outdoor Christmas attraction taking visitors on a journey through theatrical performances and interactive activities. The experience is designed to create memories with loved ones to treasure for a lifetime. Joining each group are elf guides that lead visitors around the elf tipi village where actors bring fairy tales to life.
This adventure is based in the grounds of Hardwick Hall Hotel in County Durham. New this year, considering Covid-19, the Believe Christmas spectacular is being planned and delivered with social distancing in mind, managing the amount of people on site at any one time.
In December 2019, Believe Christmas attracted around 1,200 people per day over nine days. This year, we are anticipating roughly the same figure; 1,200 per day but over a 10 day period, which would see the attendee figures around 12,000 for the event period.
What is the event’s history and what made you decide to run it?
We have been working in the events industry for over 15 years and, in addition to working alongside both private and public sector clients to deliver their own regional and national events, we also create, devise, manage and produce our own self-financed events such as Believe Christmas and other seasonal events.
Every day is different and seeing families smiling and making memories is what makes Believe Christmas worth every second, plus we get to become elves once a year!
How does the relationship work with the venue?
Hardwick Hall Hotel (run by Ramside Estates) is one of the leading luxury venues in the North East. Set in 120 acres of parkland, the venue lies in the heart of the beautiful County Durham countryside.
Believe Christmas is held in partnership with Ramside Estates, Metro Radio, TFM Radio and Greatest Hits Radio. Attending families and our elves absolutely love working onsite at Hardwick Hall Hotel as the expansive grounds and views are remarkable and such an amazing setting for this traditional family Christmas adventure.
How did you find applying for permission to run the event?
We work closely with the health and safety department at Durham County Council, Public Health England, our own insurers, and an appointed health and safety organisation to ensure that the relevant licenses and permissions are put in place.
When we attempted to deliver this event in 2020, we worked side by side with the same suppliers and departments to ensure that attending families would be as safe as possible during the Covid-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, due to UK government restrictions and national lockdowns, we were forced to postpone this event until 2021. Due to our extensive health and safety procedures we were awarded the AA Covid Compliant Award.
Although social distancing and elements to Covid-19 have changed in the UK within 2021, we will still be adopting a huge number of elements from those health and safety procedures and will ensure our families remain safe.
How have you planned the layout of the event?
Luckily as our event is based within the extensive grounds of Hardwick Hall Hotel, we work with the venue to establish what space is required on an event by event basis. As we have the flexibility to build the event around specification and needs, every Believe Christmas event site layout is slightly different. As this is a traditional outdoor Christmas event we contract a regional tipi supplier to deliver our elf village.
How did you research and source your infrastructure?
We have been within the events industry for over 15 years and have worked with many suppliers for both regional and national events. We tend to be very loyal to suppliers that are based locally and have worked closely with them to build this event into a much loved North East Christmas attraction.
What entertainment do you offer?
Believe Christmas is one big, huge outdoor Christmas pantomime where every year there are different characters (actors) employed to surprise the attending families. Some other Christmas attractions tend to stick to the same format and activities but as we have loyal families that attend every year, we like to keep things fresh and exciting.
Again, we like to use local talent and work with regional organisations that manage actors’ careers. We also work very closely with educational bodies to allow up and coming talent to be involved and kick start creative careers.
What provisions do you make for power, lights and sound?
To be honest with you we absolutely adore the supplier we work with on an annual basis. Andy and his team at Alrose Productions (based in the North East) know exactly what we need and most of the time have already envisaged every element before we approach them with our plans.
They work tirelessly to make sure that the ‘magic’ is created and fulfilled for the attending families. I think it helps that Andy and his team have families of their own, so they know how special it is to see that glint in both children’s and adults’ eyes.
How do you manage admissions and visitor safety?
Well, Elf Sparkle is head elf and makes sure that all her elves are running around busy and that customer satisfaction remains high. All our attending families know that when they arrive on site in the morning that they must look out for their designated Christmas group name elf. This elf stands underneath a Christmas flag displaying the chosen group name picture and leads them around for the duration of the experience. This elf has been trained in ‘Elf & Safety’ and reports back to the Elf Booking Hut on a regular basis to ensure safety is at its highest.
Our appointed health and safety organisation works closely with us in the planning of this event and corresponds with all other departments to gain a mutual ‘elf and safety’ sign off prior to the event start date.
What measures you have undertaken specifically for Covid-19?
Our team closely monitors the evolving situation regarding Covid-19 and, following the most recent guidance from Public Health England and the UK government, we feel confident that we can safely welcome visitors to Believe Christmas this winter.
In order to adhere to government directives, we have appointed a health and safety advisor to oversee risk assessments, standards of practice and equipment to ensure we are operating safely to protect staff and visitors alike. Aspects that may be required to be in place include:
Limited capacity – we may be required to restrict and control the flow of people throughout the experience and to allow for social distancing.
Rebuilding – Believe Christmas is well placed to do this as each event is designed and rebuilt from scratch every year. We thoroughly assess all structures within the production and rebuild and redesign where necessary to provide appropriate space for all our guests throughout the experience.
Hygiene – we may be required to introduce enhanced cleaning measures throughout the production, to disinfect high-frequency touch points such as tables and chairs, service counters and work benches. We will install hand sanitiser dispensers throughout the experience for guest use. All areas including portable toilets will be cleaned regularly by both staff and appointed suppliers.
What ground protection do you use for cars and footfall?
Believe is an outdoor event and has a series of slight bumps and slopes however we do put down rubber matting walkways etc across as many areas as possible to make sure it is as pushchair and wheelchair friendly as we can possibly make it.
How do you publicise the event?
We are partnered with Ramside Estates, Metro Radio, TFM Radio and Greatest Hits Radio so we gain a huge amount of advertising and publicity. We ‘believe’ that radio advertising and social media are key, and therefore we partner with Bauer Media (which owns the stations) as many families tune into local radio whilst on the school runs and they are our intended audience. We also make use of established North East bloggers that have a huge presence as their opinions matter to us and reach the masses.
What challenges have you faced?
Every year is a major challenge. From getting the website live, going on sale, ticket sales, the planning of the event, research/finding both elf and actor costumes, gaining quotes, appointing suppliers, the site build, the mud, the rain, the snow and the long hours that go into making this event a huge success. But every uphill challenge is worth it when you see children skipping away with their families holding their present from Santa. Every challenge is worth it when you know that you have helped make a child’s or family’s Christmas magical.
How have you financed the event and how profitable is it?
Believe Christmas is a fully self-financed event based on ticket sales. Without the tickets selling there would not be an event. Every event is as good as the last one so if you don’t make it magical people won’t come, plus it’s not all about money! The event can be profitable but from these profits we reinvest into other events and future Believe Christmas events.
What are your plans for next year?
Oh, 2022 is going to be a very exciting year for Tainted and the Believe Christmas attraction. Due to the success of past Believe Christmas events we will be launching other magical seasonal events such as Believe Easter etc.
What advice could you give to someone coming into the industry?
Where do we start? There are so many things to take onboard: be organised, expect the worst to happen (as it usually does at some point), have weatherproof clothing and shoes, find suppliers that are loyal and you trust, ‘believe’ in yourself, double check every detail (like Santa) and, most importantly, love what you do as it makes those long hours worth it in the end!
The Tipi People – www.thetipipeople.co.uk
STAGES, AV, POWER
Alrose Productions – www.alroseproductions.co.uk
FLOORING & GROUND PROTECTION
Teesdale Event & Site Services – www.rentatoilet.co.uk
Teesdale Event & Site Services – www.rentatoilet.co.uk
Speedy Services – www.speedyservices.com
Safe and Sure Fire Protection – www.safeandsurefire.com
Wristbands Plus – www.wristbandsplus.co.uk
Rent a Reindeer – www.rentareindeer.co.uk
NTH Solutions – www.nthsolutions.co.uk
NE14TV – www.ne14.tv
Hiscox – www.hiscox.co.uk
4-23 December 2021
Hardwick Hall Hotel
County Durham TS21 2EH