Monday, 20 September 2021

We’re sorry, say fireworks flop organisers

THE organisers of a fireworks display in Henley that was cancelled at the last minute have

THE organisers of a fireworks display in Henley that was cancelled at the last minute have apologised,

writes David White.

Thousands of people were left disappointed when the show at Swiss Farm, off Marlow Road, didn’t happen due to a technical hitch.

The crowd waited 45 minutes for the display to start on Saturday evening before being told it was being called off.

There were boos from the audience, which contained many children, while others took to social media to express their anger and frustration.

Henley Round Table, which organised the 42nd annual display, said it couldn’t offer refunds but that anyone who had a bought a ticket would be able to attend next year’s event for nothing.

The organisers had tried in vain to solve the problem but were eventually forced to announce to the 1,800-strong crowd that the 20-minute show couldn’t go ahead because of a problem with the computer-controlled firing system.

In a letter to this week’s

Henley Standard
, Round Table chairman George Thomas said the group was “deeply disappointed and sorry” that the display did not happen.

He said: “We take great pride in organising what is usually a fantastic evening for our local community. The event has been running for 42 years and this situation has never happened before. Our volunteers put a great deal of time and effort into organising the event and proceeds go to local charities and good causes.

“We took the difficult decision not to provide refunds as we felt this would be impractical to administer. Instead we will waive next year’s entrance fee for all those who attended this year. Since this will also be challenging to administer, it will be based on trust.

“We are reviewing the plans for next year, paying particular attention to contingencies, to ensure this does not happen again. We are grateful to all those who have contacted us with words of support.”

Alan Christie, director of firework company Skyburst, said: “This is the first time in our 33-year history that we have had to cancel a display due to a technical failure. The system we use is one of the best and most respected firing systems in the world and complete failures of this nature are unheard of.

“My team and I are all devastated to have disappointed so many people and to have let down the organisers who worked so long and hard to stage the event. I hope our failure does not tarnish their good reputation and future fund-raising.

“My sincere apologies to all the people of Henley. We are very sorry to have spoilt everyone’s bonfire night.”

The bonfire had already been lit and was roaring away by the time of the expected start of the fireworks at 7.40pm.

Henley Mayor Lorraine Hillier performed the traditional countdown from 10 but nothing happened.

Then Mr Thomas did the same but there was still no sign of the fireworks. As it became obvious there was a problem, he provided regular updates for the crowd but some children were becoming increasingly inpatient and some shouted: “Get on with it!”

Mr Thomas announced there was a “bit of a problem” with the computer that controlled the fireworks and said: “I think they are going to turn it off and turn it back on again.”

A little later, he said that “safety checks” were being were being carried out but was eventually forced to break the bad news just before 8.30pm.

He said: “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, I am really sorry that we are not going to be able to let the firworks off this evening.”

He then handed the microphone to John Pitcher, senior supervisor with Skyburst, who told the crowd: “I’m really sorry about this but the show is controlled by a computer. From what we can make out the computer has actually died on us.”

Visitors were quick to express their disappointment.

David Walker, of Greys Road, Henley said: “I’m absolutely furious, really disappointed. I come every year and this is the first time this has happened. To be told after 45 minutes and to be offered a free display next year is completely unacceptable.”

Jo Wilby, of St Mark’s Road, Henley, said: “I feel sad and disappointed because it’s the first year I’ve ever been. I feel for the organisers, they must be gutted as well. I feel deflated because it’s once a year and you look forward to it.”

Nine-year-old Thomas Ordish, of King’s Road, Henley, said: “I was excited but then I was unhappy that they didn’t do it. Good luck for next year.” His father Dan said: “Not long after we arrived they ran out of beer and when our friends arrived they’d ran out of all drinks, except soft drinks.”

Lynne Day, from Devon, who was visiting family in Henley, said: “I came especially for this evening. The fire’s almost out and they have run out of wine at the bar.”

Swiss Farm resident Tamsin Borlase said: “It’s a great shame when at an event like this something goes wrong because lots of people look forward to it. We support it every year because it’s a lovely thing to do but it’s not the end of the world, it’s just fireworks. We shouldn’t be angry, it’s just how it is.”

Her son William added: “Our friend’s children were crying.”

Frenchwoman Christelle Pontico, who lives in Maidenhead, said: “It’s a bit of a letdown because it was the first experience I’ve had of bonfire night.

“I was very much looking forward to it. I came with a bunch of friends just to enjoy the evening and it would have been a nice end.”

Simon Lloyd wrote on the Henley Past and Present Facebook page: “Computer says no. What’s wrong with a box of matches and a can of petrol? Utterly disastrous.”

Guy Hutchings wrote on the Henley Round Table Facebook page: “It was a great disappointment to us that the fireworks did not take place and I am desperately sorry for all the volunteers who organised this event but the people to blame are the hired firework company.”

Amanda Christie added: “So sorry for all the volunteers. I’m sure there will be lots of us keen to pay next year so do allow donations.”

Round table member Ronan Carter wrote: “I was one of the many who dedicated blood (literally), sweat and tears to the event. Naturally, we’re all very disappointed and sorry for this situation, especially for the children.

“I’m really enthused to see that 95 per cent of attendees are understanding and forgive us. The remaining few acted deplorably, especially the lady who grabbed bank notes from my collection bucket at the bar and ran off. Such a shame.

“Please stand behind us, don’t lay blame and let’s make next year a success.”

Andrew Gosby took his two-year-old daughter to the event.

Writing on the Henley Standard Facebook page, he said: “So really I took her out in the cold (wrapped up, of course) got muddy, lost £6 for nothing, so thank-you so much once again, Henley.

As usual, the people who actually make this town work get screwed out of something again. Bet the regatta would have back-up firing systems for this sort of thing. Don’t get me wrong, I know they’re volunteers... but an upset, let-down child is the last thing I wanted.”

Peter Buckingham wrote: “This was going to be my daughter’s first proper firework display too. She was just as disappointed as I was. Shame they didn’t have a back-up laptop. Maybe something to think about for next year.”

Gemma Witts said: “What a disappointing night. No funfair, no fireworks and one upset child on the way home who doesn’t understand about when things get cancelled (due to him having special needs). Altogether it was a shocking evening. Glad to say that we will not be returning.”

But Louise Pegley Ilett said: “We had fun! Of course it was disappointing that the fireworks didn’t work but I’m really proud of the Henley community, where the majority have been completely supportive of the Round Table, recognising how much hard work they put into this event and all the other events they have put on over the years to raise money for local charities. They are a fantastic, selfless group of volunteers.”

The Mayor said: “I just feel so sorry for the Round Table because these things happen and it’s just very unfortunate. I think they did their best in handling the situation. We have got to remember that all the money people pay goes to a very good cause.”

Mr Pitcher said:“The firing system is effectively computer-based. The programme is loaded into the box and there’s a sequence that you need to go through for loading that programme, arming that system and then it fires the programme.

“There’s a problem in that box. It will go back for testing and we will try and analyse what the problem is.”

Mr Pitcher said he’d personally been in charge at the Swiss Farm display for the last four or five years with no problems, adding: “I’ve been doing it close on 30 years. I’ve never had a failure like this before.”

The event was in aid of local charities and next week, Henley Round Table will present £10,000 to Bishopswood Special School to go towards a new minibus.

Tickets to the event cost £6 for adults, and £4 for children with £1 discount if they were bought in advance.

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