Hampstead Christmas festival cancelled

Hampstead Christmas Festival 2014. Vincent, 3, and Amelie, 4, Von Weber. Picture: Polly Hancock

Hampstead Christmas Festival 2014. Vincent, 3, and Amelie, 4, Von Weber. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

This year’s Hampstead Christmas Festival has been called off, the Ham&High can reveal.

Hampstead Christmas Festival 2014. Vincent, 3, and Amelie, 4, Von Weber. Picture: Polly Hancock

Hampstead Christmas Festival 2014. Vincent, 3, and Amelie, 4, Von Weber. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

The date had been set for the last weekend in November but previous organisers have confirmed no one was available to take charge this year. That means there will be no Christmas market stalls in Hampstead Village, no Christmas grotto and not a reindeer in sight.

Hampstead resident Martha Smith, 32, said she was “upset” by the news. “It’s one of my Christmas highlights. It does create a real sense of community spirit. People of all ages come and I just think it would be really sad if it didn’t happen.”

“London has a lot of Christmas fairs and markets, but there’s something special about Hampstead.”

Hamsptead campaigner Jessica Learmond-Criqui said she was “disappointed” the festival had been called off but thought it had become unwieldy. “It had traditionally been an event funded mostly by the traders for a celebration of Hampstead to encourage people to visit the high street and to get to know their businesses.

Cartoon by Ken Pyne

Cartoon by Ken Pyne - Credit: Archant

“It has now become too big and needs to get back to its roots.

“A radical rethink needs to take place of what the festival should be and and how it is funded.”

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The festive celebration started out small in 2003 - but it came to attract over 40,000 people, as well as celebrity guests switching on the lights such as TV presenters Fiona Bruce and Jonathan Ross and actress Barbara Windsor.

The festival was run by a committee ofvolunteers, which was a part of the NW3 Business Association, a voluntary membership organisation. The organisers had warned in recent years that the festival was becoming too much work and too time-consuming for volunteers alone to run.

NW3 caused a stir in July when it became Hampstead Village Business Improvement District (BID), a non-profit limited company that collects a compulsory levy from 243 local businesses in the area running from the top of Heath Street to Rosslyn Hill. It uses the money to improve shopping and trade in the village.

Caroline Goldsack, Hampstead Village BID’s chief executive, said of the Christmas festival: “As it’s got bigger year on year it has increasingly been an enormous undertaking and a big challenge to put the day together. There isn’t a person to run it. People involved in the past have fitted it around another work schedule.”

“One possible way of delivering a Christmas event in future is with the support of the new BID. There are 243 businesses in Hampstead whose contributions might support a Christmas event. We will set up meetings and consult with the community and once we have funds in place we will be consulting with our member businesses and residents’ groups with a view to seeing if there is support for a Christmas Festival for 2017 and who should be involved in running it.”

The transition of NW3 into a BID has divided opinion, with some welcoming the BID as a more sustainable option, and some complaining it is “undemocratic”.

A local referendum in July came out in favour of the transition, with 73 votes for and 38 against. Businesses will now be forced to pay between £225 and £6,000 a year, depending on the rateable value of their property. Regardless of how or whether they voted, business-owners in the area are not allowed to opt out.

Mehmet Latif has managed Heath Dry Cleaners on Rosslyn Hill for seven years and voted for BID. He said: “NW3 wasn’t sustainable. It is a lot of work trying to organise everything here, the council doesn’t do everything. If something like BID wasn’t created now, many things we take for granted would be taken away. For instance [some elements of] refuse collection.”

“I believe that the added services we receive mean that the fee we pay will be recouped. It offers a collective vision for business owners.”

Sebastian Wocker is the publisher of Hampstead Village Voice. He’s been running an “awareness campaign” in the local satirical magazine to show there is “something fundamentally wrong with the BID system”. He said: “Since when could we make businesses do something without signing a contact? It’s undemocratic. You can’t force people to do something they do not want to do - that’s called fascism. We should have freedom of choice and liberty - they are taking a liberty.”

Hampstead Village BID has confirmed that although there will be no festival this year, the village will be lit with more Christmas lights than usual.

See more in this week’s Ham&High out today

Additional reporting by Jamie Prentis.