Stephanie Peachey, Head of Visitor Engagement

When I joined the Trust as Head of Visitor Engagement in October, I was really excited about our first ever big winter event at Ferry Meadows. Our office was filled with conversations about garlands, fairy lights and our volunteer Father Christmases. I would come in and find my laptop covered in baubles - and then there was the great day when no less than three Christmas trees were delivered! 2022 was the first year that we had delivered large scale events in Ferry Meadows - firstly Peterborough Celebrates Festival in May and then Christmas at Ferry Meadows from the end of November to the start of January, complete with ice rink and Christmas Market! This was a big experiment for us as a Trust and there were some real successes but also lots to be learned. It feels very important that we share what we learned with you.

Winter can be a quiet time in the Park and so the aim of a winter event was to give our visitors another great reason to enjoy the Park in the run up to Christmas and to see whether our Gift and Farm Shop could help you with your Christmas shopping as well!  If we just look at these elements then the event was a huge success. We know that you were as excited as we were about having a winter event in the Park - just under 50,000 of you visited the Christmas pages on our website, for example and when we announced the news on Facebook, we received 1,600 likes, 1,900 comments and 760 shares! Compared to the previous year we saw 5,107 more cars entering our car parks in December. 7,500 people skated on the rink and 199 children visited the Park as part of school skating sessions. Our shop saw a significant increase in sales too.  

However, we also know that people’s experience of the event varied a great deal. We were proud of our hugely exciting launch weekend where the lights twinkled and the Christmas Market cabins were full, when you could smell the hot chestnuts and everything felt fresh, different and magical. We loved hearing smaller children on the rink – there was lots of laughing and we had lots of comments about how great the event was as an introduction to skating. There were very few accidents and overall lots of families reported having a great time.

We also received lots of feedback from families who had not had such a great time. Initially your comments were about the synthetic nature of the ice rink, the lack of slip and glide-ability, and its small size. Although we did our best to advise families, both in our communications and rink-side, on the best way to deal with the synthetic surface, we know it was not the same as skating on real ice. We stand by our decision to go synthetic for eco-reasons but due to a very short planning time, we hadn’t had the opportunity to see and experience the rink beforehand ourselves and we weren’t completely aware of the different skating experience it would offer. We also didn’t realise the decision to keep the rink open to the elements would have such an impact. It was lovely on those cold starry evenings but it meant that when it rained, the surface of the rink flooded and we had to close the rink to ensure your safety and indeed your comfort.

The size of the rink was perfect for younger children, however lots of you had booked pre-Christmas meet-ups with other adult family members or had older children. We had already dropped the number of skaters that could be on the rink at one time from the number recommended by the provider. We have learned that a longer lead in time would have helped us to notice some of those challenges beforehand, to be clearer in our marketing from the outset and to understand the core things that would make the experience the best it could be, no matter the weather.

We have also asked lots of questions about the decision to run the event from the end of November to the start of January. It was a long time and it took a lot of energy from our team and from the vendors, most of whom were family-run businesses and were hit by the various illnesses which were around at the time. If you visited mid-week the experience was not as Christmassy as it was at weekends and lots of you commented that when you visited, not all the Christmas Market cabins were open. The Park felt really Christmassy when there were lots of people and there was a buzz of voices and laughter around the ice rink, when people were walking around with steaming cups of coffee or mulled gin, or with plates of delicious food. Towards the end of the event, we noticed that it lost some of its magic and so maybe in the future, we’ll look to run an event over a shorter time period and create a more consistent experience for you.

So our winter experiment had some huge positives and some real negatives. We have learned loads and are very proud of our Event Team who were solution-focused and filled with energy throughout – even when the temperatures dropped to minus figures for days on end! We would like to keep running large scale events in Ferry Meadows and are really excited to be planning Peterborough Celebrates Festival 2023 from 19th – 21st May this year. We are also beginning our planning for Winter 2023, taking all your feedback and all of our learning into account. Watch this space!

Thank you to everyone who skated with us, to everyone who bought Christmas presents in our shop, and bought from the market stalls. Your feedback both positive and negative has been so helpful. Please do keep telling us what you think via our rangers, the staff in our Visitor Centre, by taking part in our annual Visitor Survey, and by making the most of all the activities we offer throughout the year from Pay and Play at Nene Outdoors to our holiday trails. We do listen!