Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Village's festive torchlit parade cancelled amid safety concerns

AN annual festive torchlight parade has been cancelled for health and safety reasons.

Thousands of people take part in the event in Goring every Christmas Eve, marching along the village high street and over the bridge into Streatley while carrying flaming torches. The procession ends with carol singing on Streatley Meadow.

The tradition has been going for more than 25 years but this year’s parade has been scrapped because the volunteers who organise it say the event has become too big and is an “accident waiting to happen”.

A few years ago, fewer than 3,000 people took part but the event’s reputation has attracted more visitors every year and last year more than 4,000 people were involved.

The organisers fear that people could be trampled or burned with so many people together in the village’s narrow streets. They are also concerned that the event could become a target for terrorists following a number of attacks in Europe involving vehicles being driven into crowds.

Keith Jackson, chairman of the volunteers, said: “The Heart of Streatley Trust, which manages the field, first sowed the seed of doubt in our minds a few months ago when they called a meeting to question the health and safety aspects of the parade.

“We were able to assure them that we’d done everything properly, carrying out the necessary risk assessement and having a more than adequate number of stewards on hand to control it. However, it’s definitely becoming more challenging. For example, there’s a greater risk of attacks of the kind we’ve seen in the news and last year we had to block the roads with tractors as a precaution.

“We’re now getting more than 4,000 people with flaming torches in what is a pretty confined space, especially in parts of the high street. It’s growing exponentially and we just feel it’s an accident waiting to happen.

“We investigated alternatives to flaming wax torches and naked flames but we couldn’t find anything which wouldn’t affect the traditional atmosphere and character of the event.

“It is a great shame but in many ways it has become a victim of its own success. When you’re out there on the night, you hear various different accents and it’s clear that it’s become popular across a much broader area.

“It gets very busy and inevitably people are in a hurry to get to the field so there’s a bit of jostling and when you add flaming torches to that mix, it’s a pretty high-risk. It is also becoming increasingly difficult to find enough volunteers to manage the event satisfactorily on an evening when many understandably want to be with their families. That’s not to mention the issue of clearing up on Christmas Day.

“This is not a decision that has been taken lightly but we feel the increasing safety risks now outweigh the benefits.”

Mr Jackson said the organisers hoped to come up with a new, safer Christmas celebration event for next year. “We need to have a year off so the village has a chance to breathe but hopefully it will be back in some guise or another,” he said.

“We would like to express our very deep thanks to everyone who has helped to make the event the wonderful evening that it has become. They are far too numerous to mention by name but their help and support over the years has been deeply appreciated.”

Goring parish councillor Mary Bulmer said: “It’s sad in a way but I fear that it’s rather inevitable. There were more numbers coming into the village every year and they pass a few properties with thatched roofs, which was causing concern.

“It would be nice if we could have something that the community could enjoy without attracting the rest of the world. We had a concert at the end of the Queen’s diamond jubilee year and that was a beautiful evening. There could be a very small charge to raise money for good causes in the community as well.”

⚫ The parade was almost cancelled in 2015 amid safety concerns. Organisers were struggling to find enough volunteer marshals until villager Ron Bridle rallied enough people for it to go ahead.

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