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Opinion: So was PrestFest on the Flag Market a success?

Posted on - 31st January, 2016 - 8:00pm | Author - | Posted in - Business, City Centre, Events, Nightlife, Opinion, Preston City Centre
Looking towards the DJ balcony at the Harris

Looking towards the DJ balcony at the Harris

As fewer than half of those with tickets to Saturday night’s PrestFest turned up I thought I’d take a look through what needs to be tweaked if the event happens again.

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There’s been a few comments flying around on social media about why the Purple Party took place on a bitterly cold weekend in January.

We need to dig into the reasons for why it happens in the first place to understand this.

Funded by Preston’s Business Improvement District, which is paid for by city centre businesses with a 1 per cent additional levy on their business rates, the event is there to get people into the city centre as well as providing entertainment for the public.

The set up of the event itself was strong. There was a clearly defined area, a strong light show and audiovisual set up and the sound was decent. It showed Preston can do the logistics of these types of events right in the heart of the city centre.

And the backdrop of the Harris Museum is superb, Craig Charles gave it the big thumbs up in terms of a place to come and play.

Craig Charles doing his thing Pic: Paul Melling

Craig Charles doing his thing Pic: Paul Melling

What was lacking was the crowd. Those who were there, I estimated the peak crowd was about 1,200 watching the acts at one time or another, were dancing and having a good time – but the fenced off area was all set for a capacity 5,000 punters.

Doing it at the end of January goes against every idea of putting on an outdoor event in the UK, let alone Preston. It’s cold, it’s miserable, there’s reality shows on the TV and it was a free event – so no commitment from those who had signed up.

In pictures: PrestFest has crowds on the Flag Market despite the chill

What PrestFest did prove though is the city can get about 2,000 people (people could go in and out during the night so admission figures look higher than reality) out to a public event when temperatures are just above freezing. So if the organisers choose to do this again on a warmer night they should see an increased crowd.

They are also hamstrung by licensing laws. If you want to hold a ticketed event you need to say what your capacity is. In this case 5,000 people. And you have a list of names of those people, and you can’t let anyone else in – even if more than half of those people don’t turn up. Something to be looked at for the next time it is held, I saw plenty of people coming out of bars and clubs, hearing the music and wanting to come in and throw some shapes. But they had to go elsewhere. Could a nominal admission fee be charged on the night and fewer free advance tickets given away? This would have boosted the crowd by most likely another thousand or so if it was say £1 or £2 in.

It was also a dry event. No bar. Just brews and cans of pop. Two sides to this, it meant the event was trouble free and while people had been drinking the lack of alcohol in the fenced off area meant there was a nice party atmosphere focused on the music – no drunken brawls, no vomiting and no pissing up lampposts. Adding a bar increases the cost, complexity and no doubt the strain on city centre policing on what would already be a busy night. However, having a beer certainly makes you more likely to dance.

Craig Charles and MistaJam themselves were good value, a nice contrast with Charles going down well with the older earlier crowd and then Jam mixing it up for the younger crowd later on – and the dancing Grandads as he dubbed them.

So was PrestFest a success? If you look at it purely on the number of people there at the event, then it is questionable. But in terms of drawing in people and creating thousands of extra ‘nights out’ then it was on the money. Many bars, restaurants and clubs reported their footfall was up compared to usual payday weekends and as I walked through the city centre at about 7.30pm most places were already buzzing – when normally they would be in that lull period between people having finished shopping and then coming out later for their night out.

One thing learned from the event is just how popular the drumming group Spark were. Lit up and marching through the crowd they were brilliant, and had that ‘gasp’ factor as they caught the crowds by surprise. This kind of pop up entertainment is the kind of thing needed to get people talking and delight them on a night out, Charles and Jam were good, but it’s those additional entertainments that give you something you can’t get elsewhere.

Drummers finishing off #prestfest #preston

A video posted by Blog Preston (@blog.preston) on

PrestFest showed the city can attract decent names, can put on a good outdoor show and hopefully paves the way for future events following a similar set up in the future. It didn’t quite ignite the night as it would have hoped, but it did provide a flicker and a spark for what’s needed in the city.

Did you go to the event? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below

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