Lesmahagow Village Centre: Events Review
Report for South Lanarkshire Council March 2012 EKOS Limited, St. George’s Studios, 93-97 St. George’s Road, Glasgow, G3 6JA Reg 145099
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Events and Regeneration
Delivering Activities and Events
Links with Local Businesses
Organisation and Volunteers
Is the Event Viable
Advertising and Promotion
1. Events and Regeneration This report presents an outline review of the purpose, rationale and benefits of hosting activities and events within village, town and city centre contexts, with a specific focus on lessons for the future regeneration of Lesmahagow village centre. At present there are two primary events that happen in Lesmahagow:
the Highland Games – mid June, Craighead Park, 1,500-2,000 attendees; and
the Christmas event ‘Doors Open Day’ – early December, town centre properties, c. 1,000 attendees.
Consultations were held with the organisers of both events, but due to study timing this review focuses on the Christmas event (Chapter 3). There are also a number of specific activities that happen throughout the year e.g. Craft Fairs, Coffee Mornings, etc. Consideration is being given to the potential to develop new activities and events in the centre. There are a number of reasons for hosting events – this review focuses on the economic and community rationale associated with town centre regeneration. Where an event has town centre economic regeneration aims there a number of key factors that need to be considered:
the primary purpose of the event is to showcase the centre, and attract spend that would otherwise not occur within that centre – this could be entirely new spend that would not happen at all, or more likely, spend that would otherwise occur in a competitor centre;
consideration therefore should be given as to whether the event has sufficient appeal to attract visitors into the centre, or residents that are currently going elsewhere;
the event should not simply focus on attracting people on the day of the event, but should also consider ways in which repeat visits can be encouraged – introducing the service and retail offer is therefore critical;
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consideration should be given to the location of the event and its proximity (and visual/pedestrian access links) to the retail/service core of the centre. This will remove any disconnect and encourage people to come into the centre before/after the event, and also promote repeat trips;
ideally, activities and events would be held in the centre itself, at a time when the retail/service businesses are open (or businesses extend normal opening hours to complement the event timing);
an event on a specific site will often offer food & drink, retail opportunities, etc which may conflict with the interest of those in the centre. Where this is the case the event could potentially have the opposite impact to that intended where people attending the event spend money with businesses from outwith the area that are only there for the event. Once again it is about establishing the links and trying not to duplicate what is offered in the town; and
consideration needs to be given to how the retail/service businesses and general environment of the centre can link with and support the event. While the event itself may attract visitors if the retail/service offer is not attractive, or where the general environment of the centre is not appealing, people may leave with a negative impression of the centre, which may be passed on through word of mouth. Events need to go hand in hand with an attractive/appealing physical environment.
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2. Delivering Activities and Events This chapter presents a general review of activities and events within a town centre context.
2.1 Rationale It is important to be clear about the motivation for hosting activities and events. It may be for sporting, cultural, historical, entertainment, community or economic reasons or, more likely, a combination of these. There is not one right answer for why activities and events should be developed. Rather it is about recognising why you are hosting it to ensure that it is delivered in the right way and targeted at the right audience. The aim of hosting events in Lesmahagow is to sustain and safeguard the retail and service business offering by encouraging a greater number of local residents to visit more regularly, and to attract visitors. This is very much a town centre economic regeneration rationale, but the community aspect (i.e. nurturing community spirit) is also important as a primary motivator for event organisers.
2.2 Links with Local Businesses If the aim of the event is to help regenerate a town centre then there needs to be a good working relationship between the organisers of the event and local businesses. Ideally representatives from the businesses will be part of the organising committee. Businesses have an important role to play in helping support events through promotion and advertising, sponsorship, encouraging visitors into the town centre, adjusting their opening times, and linking with events, etc.
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2.3 Organisation and Volunteers Organisation is a key aspect to the success of any event. In many cases events are run by volunteers, particularly in the case of small, local and community events. In order for events to work on this basis they require a core of dedicated volunteers to oversee the management and delivery of the event. They can be supported by a larger group of volunteers to provide support on specific tasks, however, it is important to have a core group. Therefore in developing new events it is vital to identify a core group of volunteers who are prepared to manage the organisation and delivery of the event. Where people have an interest in the event then this may encourage greater engagement and willingness to volunteer their time. Therefore a good starting point for generating new ideas for new events is from the community themselves. Where there is a committed group of people involved from the outset, there is greater likelihood of them taking ownership of, and responsibility for, the event on an ongoing basis, rather than simply as a one-off.
2.4 Is the Event Viable Viability is a key consideration for events, particularly in the current financial climate. It not necessarily the case that events need to be viable from the outset, indeed it can often take time to establish an event. There may be a need for initial investment in capital assets for the event as well as revenue funding. However, from the outset there should be a plan in place to move the event to a point of financial viability, and sufficient funding to cover the initial period until the event reaches this point. One potential solution is for the town or village to purchase equipment that can be shared by a number of local events (and potentially hired on a commercial basis to other event organisers). This could include A Frame advertising boards, organiser bibs/clothing, PA equipment, furniture, floats, staging, etc. Prior to purchasing any equipment, stock should be taken of what is already owned by the various groups that could be shared at no additional cost.
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2.5 Sharing Knowledge Given that most local events are run by non-professionals on a volunteering basis, there is significant potential for those involved to learn from other places that have delivered successful events. While some events do compete with each other, in the local context this should not be a major issue. Event organisers (whether for established or new events) should seek out other places to learn more about what work and, equally if not more important, what does not work. To maximise the impact of this, there should be a single person facilitating this process to ensure that a number of people participate in the process, and that lessons are shared as widely as possible.
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3. Christmas Event 3.1 Background The Christmas event in Lesmahagow is called ‘Doors Open’ and usually takes place in the first week of December. It normally takes place on a Wednesday night (in 2011 it took place on a Thursday due to a clash with another event in the village). The fundamental aim of Doors Open is to promote the main street shops in the village. The inclusion of stalls in the halls provides the public with a more attractive offer through a broader range of retail and entertainment. Over the last few years it has been estimated that about 1,000 people have attended the event each year, with an estimated split 70% adults and 30% children.
3.2 Content The event takes place between 6.30 and 9.00pm and comprises a number of specific activities:
a range of shops are open in the village centre;
the Library: Santa Claus’ Grotto and a mix of stalls selling products, providing information on local groups and fundraising;
Masonic Hall: a mix of stalls selling products, providing information on local groups and fundraising; and
Lesmahagow Old Parish Church: entertainment and mix of stalls providing information on local groups and fundraising. The junior pipe band played in the Church Square.
The results from the in-street survey, on the night of the event, shows that there is a very positive rating of the event. Therefore, we would conclude that there is no need for any fundamental change to the event, but rather there are ways to enhance it, encourage more people to attend and increase spend in local businesses.
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3.3 Event Context Interestingly the event does not coincide with the switch on of the Christmas lights. Whilst the event has a good range of activities it lacks a focal point around which to promote and structure the event. The switch on of the Christmas lights could act as that focal point. Indeed they could be switched on at the start of the event to give a clearly defined starting point. Given the date of the event (early December) it may be that the Christmas lights are already installed and lit, but hosting an ‘official’ switch-on (perhaps by a local celebrity or competition winner) would create a PR opportunity that could be covered in the local press (providing coverage before and after). Ideally the switch-on would coincide with Santa arriving in the village. Part of this approach would also include changing the name of the event. As a brand ‘Open Doors’ does not convey that it is a Christmas event, people searching online for a Christmas event (whether specific to Lesmahagow or the wider South Lanarkshire area) may not find it. Whilst this is not necessarily an issue for those that attend on a regular basis it may be when trying to attract new visitors. In particular the name may cause confusion with the ‘Doors Open’ event which is a recognised brand for an event held throughout Scotland that allows people access to buildings that they would not normally be allowed in. The name of the event should be changed to something that conveys Christmas. Additional marketing could be achieved by running a competition to name the event, with the winner chosen to switch on the lights. Whilst most Christmas events are hosted on Saturdays or Sundays, we believe that for Lesmahagow it is appropriate that the event should continue to take place on a week day evening. Even with a major expansion of the event, and substantial regeneration of the village and its retail offer, Lesmahagow will never be in a position to compete with large shopping destination so near to Christmas (whether Hamilton, Glasgow and the host of indoor shopping centres). Based on the findings from the residents survey it is clear that many of the people would be out shopping in other locations, particularly Hamilton and Glasgow, and would be unlikely to attend a Christmas event in Lesmahagow. Lesmahagow Village Centre Events Review: South Lanarkshire Council 7
The event may benefit from some investment in equipment e.g. Santaâ€™s Grotto, Christmas items for the treasure hunt (as discussed later). Key to any investment in the event at this time would be purchasing equipment that would not result in increased operating costs of running it in the future. Whilst funding is potentially available at present it is unlikely to be available in future years. It is important not to saddle the event with a burden that it would struggle with in the future.
3.4 Organisation The event is organised through the Community Council and an organising committee. Whilst a number of village centre businesses open on the evening, they are not really involved in the organisation of the event. The event would benefit from stronger co-ordination between the organising committee and local businesses. The organising committee would like to apply for a licence to have live music in the street but the individuals involved do not have the technical know-how. This is an area which South Lanarkshire Council could help through the provision of advice, guidance and/or training. Ideally, this knowledge would be shared with the organisers of other local activities and events.
3.5 Advertising and Promotion The Christmas event is advertised through the local press, radio and a leaflet drop of local houses. The organisers would like to apply for funding for banners, A Frame boards, etc to enhance their advertising efforts. Advertising is an area that should be considered in a co-ordinated way across events in the village. In doing so the most appropriate equipment/materials should be purchased which would allow use across a number of events. The event includes a window spotting competition in the weeks running up to the event (this also happens with the Highland Games event). However, the number of entries has not been high. Feedback from organisers suggests that it is difficult to attract people into the village in advance in this way. We believe that the focus of the competition should be on the night itself. A key aspect of the event is encouraging people into the village shops on the night. It might be more effective to run a Christmas themed treasure hunt competition on the night where people have to go into the shops to find the clues. Lesmahagow Village Centre Events Review: South Lanarkshire Council 8
Some re-usable Christmas items could be purchased that are placed inside shops on the night. These could be moved around to different shops in successive years to refresh the event.
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4. Recommendations Based on EKOS experience in the review and evaluation of a wide range of events we have identified a number of key recommendations that are applicable to the Christmas event, but are also appropriate for other local events. Recommendation 1: Change the name of the event to something that conveys Christmas. Recommendation 2: Include the switch on of the Christmas lights and arrival of Santa to create a focal point for the start of the evening. Recommendation 3: Business representatives should be more directly involved in the organising of the event. Recommendation 4: Purchase equipment that allows advertising across a number of events, where possible. Recommendation 5: Run a treasure hunt competition on the night with Christmas items in the shops. Recommendation 6: Bring together different events in South Lanarkshire to share knowledge. Recommendation 7: Organise a ‘learning trip’ for key individuals involved in the Christmas and Highland Games events (and others as deemed appropriate) to meet with organisers of successful events in other towns. Recommendation 8: Consider the opportunity to develop new activities and events in Lesmahagow – ideally establishing an annual calendar that coincides with festive points – e.g. Christmas, New Year, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Summer Solstice, Highland Games, Autumn Harvest, Halloween, Bonfire Night. Any new event should take cognisance of the issues outlined in Chapter 1. Not all events will require formal activities, but be more simple around shop window displays and local press coverage.
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