Sunderland's Festival of Light suffers dramatic fall in visitor numbers as bosses still deem the event a success

Sunderland’s Festival of Light has been deemed a success by council event bosses – despite falling visitor numbers.

Thursday, 12th March 2020, 3:44 pm
Updated Friday, 13th March 2020, 3:30 am
The Festival of Light in Mowbray Park, Sunderland.

Last year, the flagship council event was moved from Roker Park to Mowbray Park in a bid to compliment the city centre Christmas offer.

The event was also held a month later than usual, with light installations and entertainment in the park between November 21 and December 22.

According to 2019 figures, the event attracted 40,000 people compared to more than 120,000 the previous year.

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“It was a reduction but what we can’t do is compare apples with apples, because both events were in different parks and at different times of the year,” Assistant Director of Culture and Events, Victoria French, said.

“As part of the review, debrief and anecdotal evidence, which is really valuable in the month leading up to Christmas, there’s an awful lot going on, an awful lot of asks and spend that takes place and a lot of choice in that month.

“This is compared to mid-October to mid-November in the region where there’s less choice, there aren’t nativities, pantomimes and Christmas parties that are pulling on families’ time.

“We think that played a role in the [Festival of Light] numbers being reduced from where they were in previous years.”

The council officer was speaking at a recent meeting of Sunderland City Council’s Economic Prosperity Scrutiny Committee on March 10.

She added: “The people who did attend reported that they preferred Mowbray Park as a location but obviously it’s difficult to then get the data from the people that didn’t attend.

“We’re disappointed in the numbers but [the festival] contributed to the economic impact within the city still.”

Councillors heard that the overall economic impact to Sunderland from the Festival of Light was £162,000.

Surveys taken at the event revealed that 87% of visitors preferred Mowbray Park to Roker as a location.

Around 40% of visitors were from Sunderland, comparable to 2018, with the event generally attracting more non-residents.

The average resident spend was £8.75, with day visitors (excluding residents) spending £11.03 and overnight visitors shelling out £45.81 on average.

Surveys also found many Festival of Light visitors planned to visit other offers in the city.

This included the Sunderland Empire, Bridges Shopping Centre and Hadrian’s Tipi and the Keel Square Ice Rink organised by Sunderland’s Business Improvement District.

Details on the wider economic impact of the winter programme on Sunderland are expected in future.

But council bosses admitted more could be done to encourage Sunderland residents to attend the Festival of Light as an “event on their doorstep.”

They added they were looking to attract more sponsorship and inward investment into their 2020 events programme.

Highlights include the Sunderland Food and Drink Festival in June, Sunderland Airshow and Kubix Festival in July and the Lamplight Festival in August.