Fireworks Cancellation – Your Questions Answered

It was hugely disappointing for visitors and our wonderful volunteers when a severe and unexpected squall meant there was no option but to abandon the fireworks display on Sunday 8th November on safety grounds. We all share how sad this is, the event is one of the highlights of our year at the club.

We’d like to thank the 100+ volunteers and our professional support who worked so hard to provide the event, and battled to help as many people as possible in very difficult circumstances on Sunday evening.

We realise that this has caused a great deal of inconvenience and disappointment to a number of people, and have been inundated with questions in the last couple of days about the reasons behind the cancellation, the process for refunds, and so on. We’ve answered as many of these as possible below.

– Who made the decision to cancel the event, and when was this made?

The independent and highly experienced (20+ years) Safety Officer always has the final call.

The ground conditions and weather were quite acceptable when the event opened at 5pm, in fact the ground was firmer than usual thanks to the excellent summer we’ve had. But when the squall hit, it was so severe that the Safety Officer was immediately concerned. A decision had to be made quickly and he held a meeting with the club organisers and the decision was made.

The high wind speeds during the squall put the safety of spectators in danger. The potential for incidents involving spectators in the ground during the display, as well as entering and leaving the ground, support our view that he was absolutely right in recommending the difficult decision to call off the event just before 5.20pm.

– How was the decision communicated? 

There was an immediate announcement on Facebook, followed up by messages on the club website, Twitter and Smooth Radio. On the ground we used the radios to tell all stewards who then informed those visitors who had already arrived. We did our best to help reduce inconvenience for as many people as possible, both in attendance and those on their way.

Given the forecast and showers throughout the early evening, a lot of local people hadn’t even set out at that stage and had planned to arrive much closer to 7pm. We were therefore able to prevent a significant number of wasted journeys. We also had volunteers answering the phone and Facebook and Twitter queries as best we could; of course not every call could get through and every message was not answered instantly, and we know that must have been frustrating. We can only apologise.

– Why wasn’t it called off earlier in the day?

The ground conditions and the detailed weather forecasts were monitored hourly throughout the day and they were well within the safe guidelines for the event.

Apart from the severe squall, the conditions were in fact better than several previous events. It was the timing of that unpredicted spell when wind speeds were very high so close to the start of the display that caused the difficulty for our event and also others around the region.

– Didn’t you look at the weather forecast?

When you spend a whole year planning an event, you do little else! We obviously watched the longer term forecasts as soon as they were available and then for the last fortnight we had more detailed forecasts. We always hold a special weather contingency meeting in the week leading up to the event, and at that stage the predicted conditions were fully acceptable.

From then on we monitored every few hours, and on the day of the event itself we constantly checked the actual state of the weather as well as constantly monitoring the forecasts. There was no indication that conditions would be beyond light winds and showers until the squall hit.

– When the weather improved after the downpour, could you not have ‘uncancelled’ the display?

Unfortunately, cancelling such a huge event is like turning an ocean liner, you have to announce as rapidly as possible across all forms of media as soon as you can to try to save people from wasted journeys. Having done that announcement, it would cause chaos if you then changed your mind soon after.

There was also no guarantee that we wouldn’t have been hit by a second unexpected spell of severe weather.

The other practical consideration was that the winds were so strong during the squall that there was a risk of some damage around the site, so we would have had to go round and inspect the whole ground before any decision could be made.

– Why is there no shelter out on the ground for visitors to the display?

The event has more than 4000 visitors and it is physically impossible to create cover for them. Pretty much all Fireworks Displays are in the open air and that is why our tickets and posters have always advised people to “dress for the weather”.

– Why can visitors not shelter in the Pavilion?

The fire safety capacity for the two Bars is just over 200 – to ensure that the event is safe, we have to keep within those numbers. It would clearly be impossible for the 4000+ visitors to all cram into the Pavilion.

At our first display we tried a “first come, first served” approach but this was totally inadequate and led to lots of disappointment as people didn’t know whether they would be inside or out. So we introduced wristbands which people could apply for and this has worked well since.

– Will there be a ‘make-up’ event? 

We have always planned for a repeat event should the display be called off. All our volunteer helpers enjoy this as much as the visitors, it’s a real highlight of our year, and we looked at every possibility to set up a new date. Unfortunately, circumstances this year mean it is less feasible than usual.

We are refurbishing the Pavilion and the building work will vastly reduce our available capacity and ability to organise and run a second event.

We also started ground improvements on the drainage in October – we worked around this for the event this weekend, but the work is ongoing and in an area that would be required for an emergency exit for a mass event. A further event later in the year would cause significant problems with this work, and could see a vastly reduced capacity if we were unable to use this exit.

Under these special circumstances we could not guarantee that all ticket holders would be able to attend a ‘make-up’ event, and so have sadly had to take the decision to not hold a second event this year.

– Can I get a refund?

Absolutely. We intend to refund all ticket/wristband holders for the cancelled event this year. We’d advise all people to retain their tickets/wristbands in order that we can process these refunds where possible.

– How do I get my refund? 

The full refund process will be announced as soon as possible (before the end of November) on our website, social media feeds, and the noticeboard outside the club on Osborne Avenue. We’ll also spread the word through all the groups who are regularly involved with the event, and to the traders around Jesmond who sell tickets on our behalf.

We’re sorry that there is this delay, and promise that we are working as quickly as we can to find the best way to ensure that all refund requests are processed in the fastest possible timeframe. We need to ensure that the process is robust, and for a largely volunteer-run organisation processing up to 4,000 refunds is a major undertaking. We want to get it right, and thank you for your patience.

– What should I do if I bought a ticket through a third party, like Groupon or NEoffers?

Regardless of how you bought your ticket – whether directly from the club, from retailers in Jesmond, or from third-party/online providers, you will still be entitled to a full refund, and should await the full details of the claim process which we’ll publish as soon as we can. We would advise all customers to keep their tickets, and/or their proof of purchase (confirmation emails or similar) to help us with the refunds process.

– What if I don’t want a refund? 

The purpose of the event – apart from to see the tremendous display – is to raise funds towards the costs of providing sports participation and community engagement, as well as looking after the historic Jesmond Ground. This year’s disappointment means that the club has obviously not been able to raise these funds, and so if you felt able to donate some or all of your ticket cost, it would be greatly appreciated, and going towards a good cause.

– What if I don’t have my ticket/bought on the door? 

The ticket wording does advise retention of the ticket should the event be postponed. We do appreciate there may be special circumstances in some instances, and request that people outline those details when they make their application for a refund. We will be as sympathetic as we can in such cases.

– Will the event go ahead next year? 

Of course! As always we will need permission from various authorities to run such a large scale event, but we fully intend to be back on Sunday 6th November 2016, and hope that the weather is kinder to us.

We’d also like to put on record our thanks to those who’ve sent messages of sympathy/support to the club who share our disappointment at having to cancel this year’s event. After four terrific years it was set to be the biggest and best we had hosted, with some great new attractions. We fully intend for next year to be even better.

– What lessons have been learned? 

We always hold a review after every major event at the club, and the suggestions and feedback from visitors are very helpful for adding in improvements every year.

If you have any suggestions or comments to feed back about the event, please use the contact details below.

– What if I have any further questions?

We will be updating this information page as other questions come in.

In the meantime, if your question hasn’t been answered above you can send an email to fireworks@newcastlecc.org.uk. We will reply to all emails as soon as we can, but again ask for patience as we expect to be inundated over the coming weeks.