It was a very, very cold day when I first met Connaught@Christmas organiser John Radford in Sidmouth’s Connaught Gardens on my birthday last February to discuss providing event PR. Fast forward 10 months and what a roller coaster of a ride!
This was the first time the gardens were going to be illuminated this way, and I knew from the start it was going to be amazing. Quite the best location, on the clifftops above the sea. Connaught@Christmas combined a paid visit to the gardens with a free-to-visit Food & Craft Village in nearby Manor Road car park. Only on for 6 days, it promised something new, exciting and affordable for visitors of all ages.
After an initial press release to announce the event, all was quiet for many months as the branding and website were developed. With the event starting on December 7th, we decided September was the time to start the push for ticket sales. After introducing John to Hannah Hocking of Six Degrees Marketing to (very successfully) manage the Facebook advertising, I created a series of press releases announcing various aspects of the event, including:
- Tickets on sale
- Design team plans coming together
- Showcasing 30+ local traders at the Food & Craft Village
- Build begins
- Gardens light up
I also wrote editorial for the East Devon Resident for its November and December issues, negotiated competitions to win a family ticket with Devon Life and Radio Exe and populated a list for the press launch.We received masses of coverage, interest and support from local media. I was delighted that Radio Devon came to interview John the day before we opened, and when ITV Westcountry responded to my suggestion for a weather report from the gardens. The stage was set! And then came Storm Barra.
We had all been watching the weather, which had looked pretty reasonable until this storm turned up, due on the first day of the event – also the day of the press launch. John and I spoke the day before, then the morning of the storm. I had already contacted everyone on the press list with a ‘watch this space’ message. At midday, the call was made and the first day of Connaught@Christmas was cancelled. I duly cancelled the VIPs. John decided simply to refund all the tickets rather than make people rebook. This was a top decision, as everyone appreciated it and the majority booked for another day. Westcountry were still going to come, as the storm had died down in the afternoon, but then called me to say that we’d been bumped by the resignation of the Plymouth Argyle manager! They did come the following day, all the better as the lovely Kate Haskell did the report – Kate and I both write for Devon Life so it was good to catch up with her.
As for the event, it was a huge success. The feedback was incredibly positive, with only a few visitors being disappointed that they couldn’t bring their four-legged friends. I have an idea about that for next year! Some people asked why it only ran for 6 nights and want it to run throughout December next time. I went twice, once to liaise with ITV and the second time to enjoy it just as a visitor. Both times I fell totally in love with the event, the location, the moon rising over the sea, the projections over Jacob’s Ladder beach, seeing Father Christmas chat with children, the choirs singing on the bandstand, the cactus greenhouse lit up with so many colours.
I’m proud to have been involved providing event PR for Connaught@Christmas. I was totally bowled over too, to receive a gorgeous bouquet from John thanking me for my efforts. Well John, that’s my job. I really hope to do it all again in 2022.
Plans coming together
Keeping it local
Where to see Christmas illuminations
Event begins – a day late!
- https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/gallery/connaught-gardens-finally-gets-christmas-6345632 (rewritten as retrospective)