Friends of Eastville Park: An incredible outpouring of generosity
News from the Friends of Eastville Park
AT any other time, the sight of eight pairs of legs dangling from a 12x6-metre marquee frame while 30mph wind gusts lifted us 2ft off the ground would have made for a great comedy sketch. Thoughts of ascending skywards under canopy across Bristol may even have been my idea of the ultimate great adventure (I can’t speak for the others!), while spectators below may have been thinking that the Balloon Fiesta had arrived in spectacular fashion, much earlier than usual!
Our preparations for setting up Santa’s Grotto on the Old Bowling Green started three days earlier than last year. We were expecting more visitors, we had increased the numbers of marquees and there was so much more we’d planned to be sure it was going to be the best ever.
Our Master of Marquees, Paul Lewis, had everything ship shape and Bristol fashion, ready to go for the build, while the creative, led by Chrissy and June, had been working tirelessly on bringing the Wildlife Winter Wonderland theme to life with elaborate Grotto backdrops, set-building, models, costumes and decorations that would reflect the wide variety of wildlife we find in our park.
Our catering team, with Alex, Julie and Mo, was as well-prepared and slick as a Michelin restaurant, with a menu to match.
Jo devised a tout-proof ticketing system and masterminded children’s presents, while Gill and Stef headed up our live music stage like the pros they are!
A team of Santas, Sarah’s spreadsheets, Jack’s wildlife knowledge and Joe’s site safety role meant we were headed for a sure-fire successful event.
We had an incredible group of over 80 volunteers in all, who had been involved in preparing and were due to help out on the day: artists, face painters, as well as games and activities folk who would all make this a day to remember for the children who would come.
The weather forecast during the week was uncertain but not causing us any major concern. Come Thursday, a calm day, we managed well, setting everything out ready to cover the structures on Friday. The forecast for the next few days was now shifting to moderate winds, with strengthening gusts.
As we set to work on Friday, we were doing well until midday, when the first of those gusts paid us a visit while we were halfway through fitting the canopies. Within the space of a few minutes, we had a battle holding on to anything and could only watch from 30m away as one of the canopies we’d already secured lifted and tore itself from its fixing, resulting in a 6ft gash. It whipped and whapped like a demented bed sheet, while we cursed and held on to this one for dear life.
A quick check on the latest forecast showed winds for Sunday expected to be over 40mph, which would take us way outside the limits for a safe site and event, so we made a decision there and then – while still hanging on – to cancel.
We worked in haste to bring everything down to prevent further damage and spent the rest of the day packing away as best we could.
The real impact of the decision we’d made only really started to sink in around about then, and a wave of sadness washed over all of us and lingers on yet.
As things go, that was a pretty rough week for us. What happened the following night left us wondering how things could possibly get any worse.
Our defences were down just as much as we were. We had stored Santa’s presents, food, provisions and equipment overnight at the bowling Club while we tried to make a plan to get back to some sort of normal.
Sometime during the night, uninvited guests burgled the premises and removed everything of value. The quantity of stolen items: six hundred plus presents, a large heater, catering equipment and a few trolley loads of food and drink, would have needed more than one person and a vehicle for sure - probably loaded up on the roadside, where the park drops down opposite Royate Hill. While we are not optimistic of recovering any of the stolen items, we are overwhelmed by the local community’s support and generosity in helping us to recover from this dreadful experience. Local and national news coverage has led to donations of some replacement gifts, which we will hopefully be able to use next year. Our GoFundMe page has been an amazing success - we are on course to cover our losses and make up for some of the lost proceeds from the event itself, thanks to an incredible outpouring of generosity.
The appeal is due to run until January 10 and any surplus raised will be put towards our continuing programme of community activities and support of maintenance and improvements around the park.
Our very sincere thanks to anyone who has supported us in any way through this difficult time and we wish you all a Very Happy New Year.
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