Christmas Event at Town Hall Gets Mixed Reviews

Indoor market was disappointing but lights much admired

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After Ealing Council organised a Christmas Fair in Acton Town Hall last weekend, the event was given a mixed response from local businesses and residents. The Christmas Market was billed as the beginning of the process to develop long term relationships with businesses in Acton leading up to the regeneration programme.

We spoke to Alex Watson who was one of the stallholders to ask her whether she felt the fair had achieved what it set out to do. Alex was instrumental in starting and developing Acton Market, organised three craft fairs - including two at Christmas - on Churchfield Road, is a community representative of the Mums4Mums Group and currently works in a design studio.

Alex said she felt the Fair was a lost opportunity. "There is such an amazing community in Acton. Many artists - some extremely commercially successful - have their homes here - it is just a matter of contacting them and making them feel that they will be participating in something exciting. There is A.P.P.L.E. based in the Art Hut in Acton Park, we have the Acton Community Forum which attracts loads of different artists to participate in its events and has excellent links with exciting art projects around Acton including the South Acton estate. There is also the CCA which participates in lots of Acton events and Mums4Mums which is keen to be involved. There are already established networks all over Acton ready to be tapped into.

"I can't help wondering," continues Alex, "whether the Christmas Fair in the Town Hall last weekend really was the best use of £25,000 of regeneration money."

Resident Jill Williams said she thought the idea of having musicians outside the front was a good one, "But once I got inside the Town Hall there were no signs at all that there was anything going on there. Various people were wandering around on the ground floor, and eventually some of us ventured upstairs - but if you didn't live in Acton, you wouldn't have known that most events take place upstairs in the Town Hall. There were people wandering around near the library looking for the Market!"

Jill said a couple of the stallholders had said to her at around 2.30pm that unless things changed dramatically, they wouldn't even break even.

Jill also remarked: "I object to someone outside the area who doesn't know what the area has to offer being given the task of running a fair in Acton. Apparently the organisers went to Spitalfields to recruit market stalls and I object to people outside coming into Acton to take trade away from the existing businesses here."

Alex Watson was one of the Acton-based stallholders at the Fair and before the event was pleased to be involved with something which seemed to have a good amount of financial backing. "The best thing which came out of the Town Hall Fair has to be the lights on Churchfield Road, which are festive and pretty. I do hope we get them again next year. But how do the lights tie in with an event in the Town Hall which not many people, judging by how poorly attended it was, knew about? Although the Town Hall was lit up with a blue light outside, there were no posters around to tell people it was happening."

Others disagreed: Soula Zavacopoulos, who ran a stall selling original artwork from her business The London Studio (see commented: “This was the first time Acton has hosted this type of Christmas fair and I hope it will be the start of an annual tradition which will grow and become more popular year on year. I was selling my artwork and cards to raise money for people with Parkinson's Disease and I found the visitors to the fair very receptive, particularly keen on buying framed prints of my Pop Art Pets. The organisers were on hand during the day and I think they did a good job of making the event appeal to families, as children were well entertained by carol singers, face painters and there were performances on stage in the Town Hall which were repeated throughout the day.”

Others said they thought the entertainments were a distraction: Terri Smith, also a stallholder, said: "I definitely think the Fair is something to continue. It's nice to have something for children but it was very loud having it in the actual hall & I think it made us less busy if anything when they were on. Proceeds form our stall went to charity, but still!"

Not much appears to have been known about Acton businesses offering special deals last Saturday, plus events at Acton Library (story telling, Christmas card making and other great-sounding activities.) Promotional brochures were available in the foyer at the Town Hall. Inside, several Acton businesses were offering good discounts.

Miguel Onofre of Kalinka restaurant in Churchfield Road told us: "We were busy on Saturday, but to be honest I had no response to our offer in the Christmas Fair brochure of a 20% reduction for anyone spending over £9.95 last weekend. Nobody asked for it at all. Actually, I didn't see the brochure. Does it look nice?"

Sara Nathan, who helped to organise a successful stall for the Churchfield Community Association in the Market Square on Saturday said: "We had the brochures on our stall, but no one showed any interest in them. Personally, I would have crammed everyone into the Market Square and put all the events on there. That's what it's for, after all. I think having an event at the Town Hall and elsewhere distracts from the main events at the Market Square and Churchfield Road."

Back to Alex Watson: "If the aim of this Fair was to be kicking off the development of a long term relationship with businesses in Acton, I don't see how it did that. The Acton community needed to be more involved in something like this.

"The lights, window display competition, everything which took place on Saturday was, in its way, fantastic but it needed to hang together in a more co ordinated way which I'm sure would have been possible if people in our community had felt as though they were responsible in some way for the event."

Alex really hopes that something positive will come out of this experience: "This Saturday's Town Hall Fair was a missed opportunity. Let's hope that if it is to happen again planning can start earlier, more community groups can be directly involved, and then local residents and businesses can benefit and this may even encourage people to come from outside Acton, too."


December 12, 2008