Ahead of the Harrogate Christmas Market, we spent some time talking with the organisers.
Brian Dunsby OBE said:
The Soroptomists were coming to the end of wanting to do the lights and that was potentially going to be the end of the Christmas Lights in the town. Funds were needed to support the lights as they are only supported in part by Harrogate Borough Council
I spoke to Councillor John Fox, the then Mayor of Harrogate, about a Christmas Market and how that could raise money for the lights – the idea was born for a market.
Although the lights continued with public funding, the market didn’t happen until 2012.
Brian and Beryl Dunsby along, with Maggie Hall undertake the significant task of the management and administration of the event. As the market has been running for a number of years, many of the traders come knocking early in the year to get a place.
Brian and Beryl have a background in new business, having successfully run and then sold a perlite business. Brian was also awarded an OBE and a Queens Award for Enterprise Promotion.
We had explored a number of options and researched other successful markets, including a ready made market, where we would just do the publicity.
There was a company that was organising continental markets in the pedestrianised centre and we initially started to work with them to provide the market.
In July of 2012 they withdraw, saying that they couldn’t put a market on given the interference from Harrogate Borough Council.
That left us in a position to either cancel the market or to forge ahead and put a market together ourselves.
It was a difficult decision, but we took the decision to make a market happen.
We managed to get 100 traders for the inaugural Christmas Market but lost £10,000 – the loss was made up from the surplus from the successful Yorkshire Business Market that I also co-operated.
The market has certainly had its problems along the way, but the organisers have just tackled them one by one. As the event contributes back into the community they are lucky to have a loyal team of supporters, including the Harrogate Lions.
The trees and grass were a problem, but over the years we have worked to improve drainage in areas where it was needed.
The area also doesn’t have any mains power, water or drainage. We even have to provide mobile wifi for the traders to allow card transactions.
I know much has been talked about the location for the market and we are aware that many have views on where it should be located.
We have looked at the location at length and in a very structured way, we believe that Montpellier remains the best place for it. Places like the Yorkshire Showground just wouldn’t work for us as it is too disconnected from the town centre.
Part of the conditions for using the Stray, under the Stay Act, is that it gives back to good causes. To-date it has given £58,000 to local charities.
The market is a Yorkshire-themed event, aiming to support local producers and traders. It’s also about bringing many more people to the town and benefit local businesses.
In the early days of the market there wasn’t food for consumption at the market, but that changed.
From the 100 stalls in the first year they now have 200 stalls and attract about 75,000 people into Harrogate.
A particular challenge for this year has been to increase the security of the site. So for the first time we will be closing Montpellier from 9.30am, to all but coaches dropping off.
There will also be physical barriers in key locations.
This year we will have wider walkways, so will have to put down walkways to protect the ground. That will make it easier to get around and easier to stop and browse.
The whole site is disability friendly and has 150 coaches over the 4 days.
Bookings continue to come in for coach visitors and there were two stall spaces available.