‘People will suffer terribly’ – Thursford’s cancellation to hit tourism sector hard
PUBLISHED: 06:30 15 July 2020 | UPDATED: 17:23 15 July 2020
The cancellation of the Thursford Christmas Show for the first time in its 44-year history will have a “huge impact” on Norfolk’s tourism sector, it has been warned.
The festive event pumps about £15m annually into the county’s economy, but organisers say it would be impossible to stage in 2020 due to the coronavirus safety measures they would have to take.
John Cushing, the show’s producer and director, said it was one of the most heartbreaking choices he had ever made.
Mr Cushing, 80, said: “The show was going to be the best we’ve ever done, so this is such a sad, heartbreaking decision to make.”
Mr Cushing said they had cancelled three Thursford performances in the past, due to snow, but never an entire season.
But he said social distancing would be impossible, given that the show brought around 2,000 people - including the audience, cast and backstage and front-of-house staff - together in the same building.
Mr Cushing said: “We’re probably the only place in England that has two shows a day with less than an hour between performances, so we would never have enough time to clean the building.
“Our show is also unique in that we sing among the audience, and that is forbidden. If we had to reduce our seats we would have to ring 300 to 400 people for each performance and say they couldn’t come. Where would we even start with that?”
Mr Cushing said they would now have to cancel the more than 100,000 tickets they had already sold for this year’s event. He said around 55,000 nights’ accommodation had also been booked in connection with the show, so the cancellation would send a shockwave through the economy.
He said: “I’m so sad about the hotels, the coach companies, the catering businesses and everyone who is going to suffer terribly because it.
“And I also feel for our performers, who are all freelance and are facing such difficult times this year.”
MORE: This year’s Thursford Christmas Spectacular postponed until 2021
Mr Cushing said only around 25pc of visitors to the show were from Norfolk, with most of the remainder coming from elsewhere in Britain. He said cancelling seemed like the “only responsible thing to do” given the potential for spreading the virus to other parts of the country, if a visitor was infected.
As well as those who make their own way to the site, more than 50 coach-loads of visitors come to Thursford every day during its six-week run.
Pete Waters, executive director of Visit East of England, which includes Visit Norfolk, said the cancellation was “terrible for tourism”, but understandable given the circumstances.
Mr Waters said: “The Christmas Spectacular is a totem for developing our year-round visitor economy, a brilliant out-of-season product that demonstrates visitors can be brought here in the winter if we have the right offer. It will be sorely missed this year.”
Jason Loates, the owner of Wensum Lodge Hotel in Fakenham, said he had dealt with “nothing but” cancellations following Thursford’s news.
Mr Loates said: “On top of everything else that’s happened this year it’s clearly a bit of a blow. November and December are quiet months for us otherwise. But some are rescheduling for next year.”
But there will still be a reason to visit Thursford when winter comes this year.
Instead of the usual show, the venue is hosting an Enchanted Journey of Light where visitors will be able to explore a maze of steam engines, fairytale characters and a fantasy forest of animals.
This immersive experience of light and sound will be put together with more than seven million light bulbs. This event will run from November 19 to January 3. Visit www.thursford.com for more. The traditional Christmas Spectacular will return in 2021. The show was started in 1977 by Mr Cushing’s father George as a way of drawing attention to his steam engine and organ museum, the Thursford Collection.
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