Creating An Online Christmas Festival in 2020

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In September 2020, the realisation that this would be a Christmas like no other was beginning to dawn. Hopes we had harboured in the Spring that we would be ‘back to normal’ by the end of the year were dashed.

It was clear that many were starting to crave the comfort of tradition and familiarity. Some reassurance that the world hadn’t changed out of all recognition.

The opportunity to ensure that our local and long-standing Christmas Festival wasn’t another casualty of the pandemic was too good to miss.

The Scunthorpe Festival Of Christmas Trees

In 2005, The Rotary Club Of Scunthorpe held their first Festival Of Christmas Trees in Old Brumby United Church.

During the weekend-long Festival, local businesses and organisations displayed beautifully decorated trees, and visitors were treated to some very special musical performances.

The event became an annual extravaganza. Since then, it has raised over £60,000 for Lindsey Lodge Hospice, a vital resource in the town.

The prospect of the Festival not taking place this year was hugely disappointing. The fundraising opportunities of the hospice had already been heavily compromised during the year. And for many in the local community, it heralds the start of the Christmas season. 

The First Scunthorpe Festival Of Christmas Trees, 2005.

How Did We Get Involved?

Knapton Wright has strong links with the Festival via Rob Jefferson, our Director of Marketing. His parents, Sue and George, founded the event. Their commitment, and that of all the other Rotary Club members, has ensured its success over the past 14 years.

Rob’s suggestion that we volunteer our expertise to the Rotary Club to make the event virtual was welcomed by us all. The benefits would be three-fold:

  • Most importantly, the Festival could continue, providing support to Lindsey Lodge Hospice.
  • Knapton Wright’s involvement would further strengthen our links with the local community. Supporting local initiatives is a big, and genuine, passion of ours.
  • Short-term end-to-end marketing campaigns are a gift (no Christmas pun intended). They allow us to flex our skills across the range of services we offer. Results are generated almost immediately, which is very satisfying.
A 2019 Festival Tree from one of the 2020 Festival Sponsors, Jason Threadgold

In the Beginning – The Website

The website, designed and built by Rob, started life in late September as a landing page for registrations of interest in the event. Visitors arrived there having been contacted by the Rotary Club, or driven by initial social media posts. 

As plans for the Festival grew and took shape, so did the website. A further page was added offering step-by-step guidance on how to upload tree photos and videos. The site was then populated with images and video footage from previous festivals. 

The website features a Christmas Rhyme page and local schools have been keen to submit their work. Some poems were performed by the children themselves, and some by local and national celebrities. The upload instructions via MailBigFile are clear, with no problems reported from any contributors. When the Festival opened on 5th December, the website displayed a YouTube playlist of all the submissions on the specially created Scunthorpe Festival Of Trees YouTube channel.

One of the crowning glories of the whole event is a performance by a virtual choir, singing ‘Looking For A Stable’, The Carol For North Lincolnshire. This was recorded by over 60 singers independently, before being edited together into one incredible performance.

The Virtual Choir

And crucially of course, the website is the means by which funds are raised for the hospice. It offers a ‘Shop’ with direct links to the Lindsey Lodge Hospice Ebay Shop. Banners are consistent across all pages encouraging donations to the hospice via Just Giving. By mid-December, the fundraising target of £3000 had been smashed.

The beauty of a virtual event is that it doesn’t have any time constraints, and therefore trees, performances, and competitions are being added right up to the big day itself. And the event itself can be preserved for posterity.

The Branding Of The Event

We knew that consistency in the branding of the Festival was going to be key to social media engagement and the gathering of momentum in the run-up to the event. Without the regular posters and flyers, all our eggs were in one digital basket. Tim Pritchard, Knapton Wright’s Creative Development Manager, really came up with the goods. 

Logo: Scunthorpe Festival Of Christmas Trees

He created a range of logos suitable for use across all media, and this one was chosen. He also developed a brilliant and useful range social media post graphics and templates. These made it quick and simple for us, and the Rotary Club, to promote the Festival across all our channels harmoniously. 

An Infographic for use on Social Media Channels

PR – Spreading The Word

We drew up a detailed PR Plan for the Festival in September, outlining our target audience, key messages, and necessary action. However, we had no idea quite how much it would have to be adapted over the following weeks. As the pandemic took hold in Northern Lincolnshire, it was increasingly hard to attract the attention of local media – reporting centred solely around the crisis. 

However, we are nothing if not flexible and tenacious. By the time the Festival began, local newspapers and websites were covering the event. BBC Radio Humberside has been very supportive, playing the carol, and interviewing Rotary Club members for updates. Celebrity re-tweets were and likes were boosting engagement every day, and we were delighted that many well-known names agreed to record Christmas Rhyme readings – from Look North’s Peter Levy, to renowned poet Ian McMillan, to children’s author and illustrator Nick Sharratt, and many more.

With the event being entirely digital, social media was always going to play a key role in telling the story of the event and driving people towards the website.

Lizzie Herring, our very organised and talented Marketing Executive, created a social media calendar for the Rotary Club, running from late September to December. It included suggested content, graphics, and hashtags, and ideal dates and times to post. The Rotary Club has done an absolutely fantastic job, posting and updating followers regularly.

The Result – Success

The Festival is going brilliantly and it’s not over yet!

There are now almost 70 trees on the website, very nearly as many as were physically displayed at the Festival last year. 

Over 40 musical and dramatic performances recorded especially for the Festival are available to view.

The website has attracted more than 2700 views, and the audience is worldwide, with visitors from as far away as Australia.

So far, the virtual choir performance has had over 1000 views.

The YouTube channel has had a staggering 4,200 views – over 80 hours of watch time. 

The fundraising target was £3000, and the total raised so far exceeds this. 

An Image sent from Verona, Italy. Buon Natale!

The whole project has been extremely uplifting at the end of a difficult year. Members of The Rotary Club of Scunthorpe have given huge amounts of their time willingly and enthusiastically to ensure the continuation of this wonderful Festival. Not only has it been a tremendous success, but it has demonstrated to me, and hopefully all of you, the vast amount of kindness, commitment, and generosity that exists in our part of the world and beyond. 

Last year, it would have been hard to imagine this Festival in any other format, yet its online debut has been an overwhelming success in which we are very proud to have played a part.

A Beautiful Tree Built and Decorated by Children at St Paul’s Pre-School in Ashby