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Christmas 2020: will events at Norfolk attractions go ahead?

PUBLISHED: 09:55 20 September 2020 | UPDATED: 09:55 20 September 2020

A previous Santa steam train ride on the Bure Valley Railway between Wroxham and Aylsham. Picture: Bure Valley Railway

A previous Santa steam train ride on the Bure Valley Railway between Wroxham and Aylsham. Picture: Bure Valley Railway

Bure Valley Railway

Norfolk attractions are trying to think on their feet to keep their lucrative Christmas events going this year.

Wroxham Barns general manager Ben Marshall. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYWroxham Barns general manager Ben Marshall. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The coronavirus epidemic has bitten a huge hole in the profits of many locations, with some already effectively cancelling Christmas because of Boris Johnson’s rule of six.

One boss said families should expect some changes but was determined for its Santa experience, which has been going four years, to go ahead.

Susan Munday, business manager of the Bure Valley Railway. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLYSusan Munday, business manager of the Bure Valley Railway. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Ben Marshall, general manager of Wroxham Barns on Tunstead Road in Hoveton, said: “We are trying to adapt to the situation. Trying to make the experience socially distant and financially viable for the business has been hugely challenging.”

Last year’s event, which sold out, attracted 500 people each day, and included 75 people going into three different barns every 30 minutes for activities as well as meeting Father Christmas.

The Norfolk Lights Express in Sheringham in 2019. Picture: Victoria PertusaThe Norfolk Lights Express in Sheringham in 2019. Picture: Victoria Pertusa

This year’s event will feature four separate areas where bubbles of up to six people will include watching an animal nativity, learning how to be an elf, making reindeer food, choosing a toy from the shop and walking through a decorated-barn for a new snowstorm experience.

All areas will be thoroughly cleaned and extra staff will be employed.

Trevor Eady, marketing consultant for North Norfolk Railway. Picture: Miles JermyTrevor Eady, marketing consultant for North Norfolk Railway. Picture: Miles Jermy

Mr Marshall added: “We did debate not doing the experience this year but so many people were looking forward to the tradition. We had to do it. There seems to be strong demand for early bird tickets.

“We are about making memories. The Christmas event is a big part of the business.”

The North Norfolk Railway Santa Special in full steam in previous years. Picture; STEVE ALLENThe North Norfolk Railway Santa Special in full steam in previous years. Picture; STEVE ALLEN

He said this year’s event would be different to previous years but remain a good attraction.

Mr Marshall said the venue, which features shops and a junior farm, benefitted from people on a staycation after the coronavirus lockdown but the winter period for the business was scary.

The general manager said: “We have got to be reactive. We have realised we can be flexible. We have been here for 38 years and are determined to be here for another 38. We are confident we will get through to the other side of the pandemic.”

MORE: Christmas spectacle Polar Express train ride cancelled

At the 30-year-old Bure Valley Railway, which runs from Aylsham to Wroxham, families and visitors can travel in groups of four in screened off compartments on the Festive Express steam trains.

Passengers will travel between Aylsham and Brampton before returning to Aylsham, receive a festive treat box and a gift from Father Christmas - handed from a safe distance through the train compartment window.

Business manager Susan Munday said: “We are not charging as much. We realise that times could get harder towards Christmas but everyone would still appreciate this. That is why we put on these events. We want to cheer everybody up and people are prepared to come back.

“We are experienced around social distancing policies and know we can do that safely. If they become stricter we will look into that.”

MORE: ‘People will suffer terribly’ – Thursford’s cancellation to hit tourism sector hard

On the North Norfolk Railway, between Sheringham and Weybourne, the Santa Special trains have been sprayed with anti-viral disinfectant which lasts for 30 days, as well as regular cleaning being carried out.

A maximum of six people can also book a compartment on the trains.

Trevor Eady, North Norfolk Railway marketing consultant, said: “We are trying to keep social distancing as a key element of what we provide for the people. Our concern is that we can do these special events safely. We are very keen to do them. It is very important.”

The Norfolk Lights Express, which started last year and attracted 12,000 people over several days, will also be running with Covid-19 security measures.

Taverham Nursery Centre, on Fir Covert Road in Taverham, on the edge of Norwich, is not putting on its usual Santa’s grotto attraction this year and has spread out its festive items around the shop to give customer’s more room.

Manager Matthew Steel said: “We felt people wouldn’t feel comfortable. We thought it wouldn’t be practical.”

And a National Trust spokeswoman said: “We know Christmas is a special time of year at our places, but like many charities, we’re facing unprecedented challenges due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Unfortunately, at this stage, we aren’t committing to running Christmas events but will be reviewing this during autumn and sharing more information with members and supporters in the coming months.”


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