Harrogate Christmas Market: How evolving terrorism threat forced organisers to adapt

If this year’s Harrogate Christmas Market does takes place in the town centre after concerns were raised over security at its Montpellier Hill location, it will be the first time the event has moved since its early years.

Friday, 13th August 2021, 3:49 pm
Flashback to a previous Harrogate Christmas Market - Times were already changing before the new fears and restrictions of the Covid pandemic hit the UK in 2020.

But it is not the first time in its history that it has changed site over the years.

Its relocation nearly a decade ago to Montpellier Hill in 2012 proved to be its salvation after more precarious times.

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Born of the desire to raise money toward the town’s Christmas Lights during the festive shopping season, an idea which had always been supported in spirit but had not always received sufficient financial backing, the Christmas Market had to overcome an early threat when a professional company withdrew its backing in 2008.

But the event’s founders Brian and Beryl Dunsby to then-Mayor of Harrogate Coun John Fox refuses to give up.

Within a few years of its move to the Stray in 2012, the home-grown mix of festive gift buying, food and drink stalls, fun rides and real-life Santa’s reindeer proved irresistible to thousands and the sight of coach loads of visitors streaming down Montpellier Hill had become normal each year.

Such has been its success, it has also generated cash for local good causes.

Organisers give at least 50% of the event surplus to local charities and they still support the Christmas Lights.

An overall total of £91,425 has been shared out by the Christmas Market over the last five years to the following local charities and community groups:

Citizens Advice Bureau, Crown Hotel Lights, Destination Harrogate Awards, Friends of Valley Gardens, Gilbert & Sullivan Festival, Harrogate & Ripon CVS, Harrogate in Bloom, Harrogate International Festivals, Horticap, Local Fund for Harrogate, Rotary Club of Harrogate, Visit Harrogate (W2H), Volunteer Oscars, Welcome to Yorkshire, Yorkshire Air Ambulance.

But times were already changing before the new fears and restrictions of the Covid pandemic hit the UK in 2020, especially in the aftermath of the horrors of the Manchester Arena bombing in 2017.

Consultation has been ongoing this year at a national level on possible stricter new anti-terrorism legislation for venues and events in memory of the 22 people killed.

Called Martyn's Law, the proposed law is named after Martyn Hett, one of the 22 people killed in the Manchester Arena terrorism attack.

So far, without formal legislation, venues can only be asked to voluntarily comply.

In response to the evolving picture on terrorism in recent months and years, the organisers of Harrogate Christmas Market have tried to adapt to the pressures, introducing new safety measures.

In 2018, security was increased at the site with the Montpellier area closed off from 9.30am each day.

For this year's event, which has already been substantially planned, they decided to install barriers on all footpaths across the site during build-up and breakdown.

But, having overcome so much, the jury is still out on whether the latest challenge for organisers may prove to be one hurdle too many.