We spoke to Abbi Ollive, Head of Marketing, Sales and Programming at Castle Howard about the much-awaited, magical outdoor event: Christmas at Castle Howard. Following an epic story through icy Winter Wonderlands and enchanted worlds aglow with lights and sounds under the starry, Yorkshire skies as you embark on a journey to help Santa Clause save Christmas. With world-class installations and illuminations from The Projection Studio, you cannot miss the wonderful Christmas at Castle Howard this festive season.
What makes Castle Howard such a unique/special venue to host a Christmas event at?
Castle Howard is a Stately Home set within the most exquisite designed landscape in the rolling Howardian hills of North Yorkshire. It's such a spectacular setting to host a Christmas event and feels like you have entered another, magical world. At its heart Castle Howard is a lived-in family home, so Christmas is a special time for the family and for the thousands of visitors they welcome through the gates during the festive season.
What can we expect from the event?
Visitors will arrive at the historic courtyard, where the Farm Shop and Christmas gift shop will be open. They'll then go on a journey through the Castle Howard walled gardens and experience Jack Frost's icy kingdom, meeting live characters along the way who have been frozen in this land of eternal winter.
Lighting installations and immersive soundscapes will transport audiences of all ages until the huge climax, a projection mapped light installation on the huge South façade of Castle Howard’s iconic House. Along the way there'll be street food catering vans, plenty of hot chocolate and toasted marshmallow stations and then the walk up the Christmas tree lined drive will take visitors back to the Courtyard.
Father Christmas is in residence both in the house itself and in a cosy grotto, so families can enjoy making their own Christmas wishes with the big man himself.
You have joined forces with The Projection Studio to help with the illuminations – what made you choose to work alongside this team with the production of the event?
Castle Howard is a very large and architecturally very significant building and we needed a partner at the top of their game to produce a projection mapped spectacular story on the house. Having seen the scale and quality of work that The Projection Studio had produced on the likes of Buckingham Palace, The Houses of Parliament, Durham Cathedral and York Minster we knew they understood both scale and architectural detail.
We wanted a piece that was narrative driven, not simply a light show, something that will engage visitors of all ages and will leave them feeling uplifted and joyous after what has been a hard year for many people.
What part of the event are the team looking forward to the most?
Christmas in previous years has focused on the inside of the house and there's a real opportunity this year to shine a spotlight on the outdoors as the gardens, statues, fountains and exteriors of the building are just as spectacular as the indoor spaces. We are looking forward to giving audiences something to look forward to, and to share 'live' after a year of lots of virtual events.
We think the idea and concept for this special outdoor Christmas event has the potential to be blockbuster brilliant and just can't wait to have our audiences and our members and staff experience a Christmas like no other! And of course, we always look forward to Father Christmas, who is the real deal!
What measures have been put in place in relation to social distancing and COVID-19 this year?
Moving to an outside event was driven by COVID and the need to spread people out, in the great Yorkshire outdoor space that we have available. Ticketing is designed so that capacity is limited and bubbles of audience will set off at 15 minute intervals.
Our hosts, along with a team of actors, will keep the flow of audiences moving along the light trail in the Walled Garden and then the space opens up and we have worked out the capacities for watching the projection mapping piece on the main House from the huge lawn space we have available. There'll of course be protocols in place at the catering units and retail outlets and plenty of hand sanitiser available.
It is important to give visitors confidence that everything has been though through and we work closely with the safety advisory group at our district council who sign off on the event management plan. From our point of view it is about making magical events happen and using the new rules and guidance to enhance the experience rather than inhibit it.
What food and drink will be on offer at the event?
There'll be a range of hearty Yorkshire food options along the trail and in an outdoor food court, ranging from Castle Howard sausages in buns, to local scampi and chips and wood fired sourdough pizzas. Of course, expect the winter warmers of hot chocolate and mulled beverages and we'll have braziers where you can toast marshmallows. Our Farm Shop will be open and this is a great chance to pick up some local produce for your Christmas dinner, place an order on locally sourced and estate reared meats and stock up on festive essentials and foodie gifts whilst you are here.
We're looking forward to the shopping outlet at the event – what items will be available to purchase?
Baubles, baubles and more baubles! The Christmas emporium will be bursting at the seams with decorations and gifts and our Garden Centre will be offering Christmas Tree pick up and delivery services. This year you can pre-order a range of bespoke Hampers packed with local produce. We are proud to support local, Yorkshire suppliers in all we do and for this Christmas we are working with Sloemotion, our nearest distillery, to produce a Castle Howard signature gin. The perfect Christmas gift!
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