Cancelled: York Festival Of Angels scuppered by lack of cash

A young fan at a previous Festival Of Angels. Photograph © Allan Harris on Flickr
1 Oct 2014 @ 6.46 pm
| News
Shot down… we won’t be seeing ice sculptures like this one in 2014. Photographs © Allan Harris on Flickr

One of York’s best-loved modern traditions, the Festival Of Angels, has been cancelled owing to a shortage of funds.

Little more than a week after confirming the dates of this year’s festival, founder Magdalena Chavez has told YorkMix: “Sadly it’s off.”

The festival, held in York’s Quarter, around Swinegate, Back Swinegate and Grape Lane, was due to go ahead on the weekend of December 13 and 14, 2014. The wintry celebration of all things frosty, featuring ice sculptures, fake snow, food, drink and stalls was a popular pre-Christmas treat for both residents and tourists.

Magdalena, who runs the restaurant El Piano, said a shortage of money was to blame, and felt City of York Council could have done more to support an event which brings in many visitors.

The council in turn said it did support the festival and is willing to discuss how to move things forward in the long term.

Magdalena told us: “No one is interested in doing it except El Piano and regrettably we don’t have the £10,000 it would cost to put it on. City of York Council took it off us some years ago, as you may know, and now no longer wish to continue with it.

“I think this is a great shame, and a mistake. It has always been a terrific draw bringing many extra people into the city which has economic benefits.”

About more than money

ice-angel-cutoutShe said the festival brought more to the city than just economic benefits. “Above all, Festival Of Angels brings something wonderful into people’s lives at a time of year when many families are so stressed.

“A wander through the streets without having to dig deep in the pocket for everyone to be enchanted is priceless.

“While it would be hard to quantify I can’t help wondering if this magical event might not have saved time and money for police, social services, marriage guidance and countless other agencies that mop up our lives when we get to the point where we just have too many stresses to cope.”

Magdalena said other traders who have previously taken part are “understandably disheartened”.

“One can’t blame them for not wanting to pay for the Festival of Angels and then also pay the council for the privilege of staging the Festival of Angels.

“York Festival of Food and Drink is another prime example. Not only do YFFD receive nothing from the council, not even staff support during the event, they have to pay thousands to occupy the public spaces in order to bring an event to York that benefits everyone.

“Someone in York council – or more likely a number of someones – are not thinking through the benefits to York of events.”

Traders ‘take income cut’

Cooking up a storm outside El Piano in the 2010 festival

Magdalena said a lot of businesses had seen their incomes fall.

“On a more human level, many traders have remarked to me that they hear a lot of [council] officers pleading poverty and cuts yet know that these same officers are still receiving their salaries.

“By contrast many traders have taken huge personal cuts in income in order to maintain their staff in post with ever increasing costs, many of these costs being to the local authority.

“From an El Piano perspective it’s disappointing that both the council and local traders are stuck in short term thinking about events.

“Arguably it’s this type of short term thinking that has contributed to the economic situation that we find ourselves in.”

‘We have supported the festival’

Gill Cooper, head of culture, tourism and the city centre, said: “It is disappointing that the Festival Of Angels won’t run this year, especially as it was set up originally by those businesses in the Quarter who benefit most from it.

“The council has supported the festival for a number of years free of charge and we remain willing to discuss how we can help and move things forward in the long term alongside our current programme of festivals which add so much to our vibrant city centre.”

‘Stronger and better Christmas’

The Festival Of Angels, which has run for 14 years, now brings in a lot of tourists. When this story went live at least one tour operator was advertising coach trips to the city on the back of it.

Kate McMullen, head of Visit York, said it was disappointing to lose the festival “and we hope a solution to running this event can be found for the future.

“However, we’re confident of offering a stronger and better Christmas festival in York than ever before.

“This year will see a step change in York’s offer, where for the first time the popular St Nicholas Fair, organised by City of York Council in Parliament street, will run for a full 25 days from Thursday 27th November through to Sunday 21st December.

“In addition to this a host of festive events at York’s visitor attractions, as well as the new-look market, Made In Yorkshire Festive Fayre at the medieval Guildhall and the Festive Market at Barley Hall, will all go to make up York’s new St Nicholas Christmas Festival programme.”