We have had a Firework Display in Upchurch for more than 30 years. Initially this was organised by the Upchurch “One O’Clock Club” – some of who still meet in the local pub today.
They raised a great deal of money for various good causes in the village over many years.
Unfortunately, escalating insurance costs in 1996 prevented the One O’Clock Club from continuing what was a very successful event. Jim Harman was Group Scout Leader and also a member of the One O’Clock Club at the time and managed to secure the display for Upchurch Scout Group. It was then a small local display centred on the Paddock in the middle of Upchurch but could attract in excess of 2,000 people on a good year.
In 2005, a requirement for a larger safety zone under new regulations meant that the Paddock had to be ruled out as a location – we had to make a tough decision. A suitable location was not available in the village and the committee were reluctant to move the display outside the village. Cancellation of a popular and successful event was looked inevitable.
However, just 3 weeks before Fireworks Night, we were very fortunate to secure the use of our current site at Westmoor Farm. The race was on – 3 weeks to arrange and set up a public event on a totally new site. The arrangements were different – Westmoor Farm is just over the border from Swale Borough Council on Medway Council land, meaning that different police, fire and council approvals were needed. Our aim for 2005 was simply to move the existing display to the new larger site in the very short period of time available. We were delighted to be able to do it and have subsequently worked to improve our display and arrangements on this site.
There have been many successes over the years and we can only recall making a loss twice when we had exceptionally poor weather. We have successfully fired in the rain with a large crowd several times but on the whole we have been very lucky with the weather. We have only had to cancel part of the display once, when the firing team decided that the high wind and changeable direction posed a threat to the health and safety of the public and we suspended the display. We did however use the remaining fireworks for the following years’ display!
The event was growing and costs were increasing. For the first time we had to pay for professional waste clearance from the site as the volume of waste was too great to take home and put in our own wheelie bins! We had to pay for improved toilet facilities and invested in new lighting and fencing. This coupled with ever increasing insurance costs meant that 2007 made just enough money to keep us going as a Group for the year. Although we were still providing a value-for-money event that was much appreciated by the public, we had to keep an eye on the reason for the event; to fund the Scout Group. The amount of effort being put in by all of us yielded little more than we used to make as a small display in the village.
So with the credit crunch starting to bite at home and the world in financial turmoil, we embarked on a display in 2008. It was our 13th year and was to prove very unlucky. During the build-up to the event it rained solidly for 3 days. On the day of the event the rain was still falling heavily but we were all optimistic as forecasts were suggesting the rain would clear in the evening and the winds, which would have prevented us from firing, were not high. So, cold and wet, we struggled on to ensure the preparations were as good as ever.
For most of us, we didn’t have time to think about whether we should have cancelled the whole event or not. It wasn’t really until the countdown to the firing of the first rocket had started that we were able to take a step back and realise that with just a few hundred people in the arena, it certainly wasn’t going to be a good year financially.
Ironically the forecast was right and the rain had stopped just before we started firing but it was too late for most people. Those that did brave the earlier poor weather commented that the display was spectacular and what a pity that it had been seen by so few people. However, financially, we lost many thousands of pounds.
In 2009 we re-grouped whilst we gave careful thought to the future but in 2010, with careful control on costs and measures in place to protect the Group’s finances, we brought the display back. For the first time we used an external firing team rather than our own crew and what a year we had! We had a highly successful year and made up the deficit in funds from our poor 2008 display. People also commented that they thought it was our best display ever!
Our focus for 2011 was to ensure more money was available to the young people in our various sections and ensure we minimised the risks to the Group should we have poor weather again. With persistent rain in the run-up to the display, the conditions in the field were very soft, with the likelihood of vehicles (delivery vehicles and possibly emergency vehicles, as well as visitors) getting stuck in the mud. Although the forecast for the Saturday was good, the field would not have a chance to dry out. We therefore decided three days before the event, to cancel the 2011display and to save the effort of setting up and minimise the potential losses by taking an early decision. This paid off for the Group and we remained in a position to run the display in 2012.
And again, we tried to give the public what they wanted. Our committee and all the volunteers pulled together to create an even better event. With the worry of the decision in 2011 and the risk of cancellation again still on our minds we worked tirelessly right up to the event.
Success! A highly successful and enjoyable evening for all!
And we managed to raise a healthy profit even after paying off our losses from the year before. Thank goodness for that – it proved to be just in time. In the depths of winter (you remember how cold it was in 2013?) the heating boiler, which was second-hand when first installed, finally gave up the ghost and we could afford to have a new one installed.
The Groups that use our Hut had to struggle with temporary heating whilst the work was carried out but were able to carry on. We also bought a gas water urn and new tentage, which allowed children from all sections to attend the Big Adventure Camp this year. And the ability to quickly replace the freezer when needed was great.
In 2013 we faced another challenge. We have a dedicated team of volunteers that work tirelessly to make sure the display is safe, well-organised and fun. Due to work and family commitments not all members were able to help as usual. With their support, other members stepped into their shoes and helped the event to go ahead.
On the morning of the event the weather was unpredictable. The wind was gradually building. We decided to compact our main stalls into one tent. It took everyone involved to pin the tents down. One tent was missed initially and our intrepid Beaver leaders found themselves buried beneath a tent protecting the tea and coffee!
The event went well, regardless of the weather. We made a modest profit in 2013 and began to think about how much work goes into the event. Our team met early in 2014, we discussed the value of the event as a community event as well as the value to our Group. We started making plans to make the event in 2014 even better.
In 2014 we had another successful year raising funds for Upchurch Scout Group. We were very lucky to have the additional support of the Scout Adult Support (SAS), to help with many aspects of the event. For the first time we supplied some of the stalls with power for lighting which came with its own difficulties but our excellent team of electricians worked throughout the day to make sure the evening went without a hitch. We saw an increase in the number of new stalls and the money raised was used to keep the Hut running and to help provide adult support for trips the Group has attended. The money raised was as crucial as ever with the Scout Group needing to do some electrical work on our Scout Hut.
Conditions on the field in 2015 were very difficult to say the least, but our dedicated team of volunteers worked hard all weekend setting up what was to be one of our busiest and most successful displays to date. The disco tent was set-up, then moved again as the wind howled across the field. A large tractor was called upon to pull the lorry and fire engine out after they both became stuck in thick mud, and emergency bales of straw were delivered to keep entrances passable. Workers were treated to a hot meal provided by leaders from Upchurch Guides, then right on cue the wind and rain stopped and we were relieved to see family’s arriving in their 100’s. Once again we received fantastic feedback and raised enough money to pay for more essential repairs to our Scout Hut. Plans for our 2016 display began immediately.
Our Family Fireworks Evening would not be possible without our loyal band of helpers and we’d like to say a heart-felt thank you to every one of them. We hope to see you all again this year!
We’re back at Westmoor Farm on Saturday the 4th of November 2017 raising more money for Upchurch Scout Group.
Once again we would love your support!