At the end of 2019, 11th Hour and Sayer Events met up with StandOut magazine to discuss what goes into bringing Cardiff Winter Wonderland to life. Check out the full story below.
Cardiff Winter Wonderland comprised a new alpine ice trail, a tweaked site layout and opened a week early. The organising team discuss the changes.
Cardiff Winter Wonderland opened its gates on November 8 and was an instant hit with the city’s residents. For years, Cardiff has hosted a central festive attraction, situated in the heart of Cardiff’s civic centre, but the 2019/2020 winter event had a new star; a 250-metre long ice skating trail that wound through the trees in Cardiff’s Gorsedd Gardens. It was the first time that the city council had allowed the gardens to be transformed. Cardiff Winter Wonderland – which ran until January 5 – is organised by Sayers Events.
In 2018, the company won a 10- year contract to organise a festive event within Cardiff city centre. The 2019/2020 event was year two of a 10-year deal that also saw 11th Hour, the production company, work with Sayers Events to deliver a fresh new and exciting element to the winter spectacular. Andy Hopkins, director of 11th Hour, oversaw the project with Peter Morgan, project manager for 11th Hour, who project managed the delivery of the rink and the ice trail. Both reported to Norman George Sayers, director of Sayers Events, the event’s overall organiser.
Hopkins explained the new addition: “The changes to Cardiff Winter Wonderland are not a result of lessons learned; it has changed because of opportunities being given to us by a longer term contract. It was more a question of how can we develop what we give to Cardiff. “We also had the ability to expand into Gorsedd Gardens – the council granted us permission to use them, which we have never had before.”
In 2018, the Cardiff Winter Wonderland site measured approximately 4,250 square metres.
In 2019, this rose to 9,800 square metres. With such an increase in space, the site comprised a tweaked layout. Hopkins continued: “Cardiff Winter Wonderland had been done in the same way for quite some time so it was nice to have a blank piece of paper and to have the ability to sit there and go ‘what do we want to do?’ “We decided to come up with the ice trail as an addition to the whole project and the only way to do the ice trail was to re-orientate the site so that we could get the trail into Gorsedd Gardens.”
The trail used a rubber mat piping system filled with a freezing agent to ensure the ice remained frozen over the festive period, with chillers able to react and adapt to the ambient air temperature. The trail was in addition to the winter event’s 23m x 25m ice rink, which allowed up to 300 people on the ice per session – a number that was reduced for the ice rink’s twice-weekly relaxed and accessible sessions.
“When we looked at layout, we had to consider infrastructure,” Hopkins added. “Where do you put the infrastructure to generate the ice rink? Because you have generators and chillers. Also, we had an internal chilling system and an external one. So the ice trail, which was outside, was frozen completely differently to the internal ice rink.
“This brought its own challenges because you had to fuse the two systems together and you had to maintain it. It was twice the amount of work and hardware.”
Do something fresh
Cardiff Winter Wonderland’s three big attractions – the ice rink and trail, big wheel and alpine bar – were placed on the map first. There were only certain areas where these items could go. But the resulting impact on crowd flow was a big plus. Sayers confirmed that wide aisles around the site worked well and that there was a marked improvement on busy weekends. It seemed that the slight tweak to the site layout – forced by the addition of the ice trail – benefited everyone.
Sayers commented: “Year on year, we have always tried to do something different to freshen the event up. Since we have taken on the contract, we have wanted to do more alpine-style bars and food, to get the atmosphere right for this kind of Christmas event. “In 2018, we brought in a 90-metre drop tower from the Netherlands, which was a unique piece. We always try to bring in something new. This year, the ice trail worked well.”
The build for Cardiff Winter Wonderland began on October 20. The small site, in a busy location, meant a tight and challenging load in, Sayers confirmed. Hopkins added: “Cardiff Winter Wonderland takes place in front of National Museum Cardiff and government buildings. It’s in the civic centre and in the middle a capital centre. Therefore, it’s always busy. “At certain times, we had to load in at 2am and 3am. We had to keep parts of the site – public land – open so when you’re trying to bring in two or three artics, and a forklift, it’s logistically hard work.”
The site featured four entrance points and four exits and had the ability to host 2,500 at any one time. “The interesting thing about this event was its proximity to the city centre, and what we had to do, logistically and operationally,” explained Hopkins. “It was incredibly tight because of where we are.”
However, its proximity to venues such as National Museum Cardiff resulted in positive ticket sales, with families visiting Cardiff Winter Wonderland during the day and couples and students visiting later in the evening.
Hopkins continued: “With it being new and fresh, people visited Cardiff Winter Wonderland because it was not the same event. There was something else on offer. From a social media and PR point of view, the images were different and it made people come down and have a look. “To me, personally, it felt like more of a destination than it has been before. You didn’t have to go on the ice rink, or the big wheel, you could come and have a drink and walk into town.”
Sayers Events took the decision to open Cardiff Winter Wonderland a week earlier than the previous year. “Historically, the ice rink would always be open at the same time as the Christmas lights switch on in Cardiff to pull people in,” Hopkins added. “But Cardiff did not have a Christmas light switch on. In 2018, the event opened a week later and we felt like we missed a week’s trade so we opened a week earlier. The demand was there.”
Morgan explained further: “Cardiff Winter Wonderland was not purely a Christmas event. It was a winter event. We worked hard to make it Christmassy for the festive period but it had reach beyond that. It would have been a shame to have lost that extra time when people do enjoy coming to the event in November and not just December.
“Now, we’re a destination as opposed to just an ice rink. You go to lots of cities and they have just an ice rink. Here, you had Christmas markets, a bar, ice skating, shops, amusements, food and entertainment all within walking distance of the city’s train station and parking. It’s a destination for individuals and families and it’s accessible to all.”
Morgan was keen to expand on the trail’s bespoke elements, and the fact that the trail was manufactured by 11th Hour. Designed and built by 11th Hour, the ice trail comprised 160 pieces of Litedeck, with the ice on top of that. The organic shape and flow was dictated by the gardens’ flora and fauna, which meant a huge amount of work, as the feature did not fly “off the shelf”.
“There really was something for everyone at Cardiff Winter Wonderland,” Sayers commented. “We had lots of different people visiting us; people on dates, families and students. There was a proper atmosphere and everything just gelled to create a nice atmosphere overall. “As for the future, people expect a high standard. So, we’re always thinking of the future. We will have to bring something special out to top this and I think we’ll have a hard job to improve on it,” Sayers concluded.