Festive markets and skating experience slammed by visitors and its own traders
An ‘enchanting’ Christmas markets and ice skating experience has been slammed as anything but by traders and customers who are demanding their money back. The Unreal Xmas event is the first of its kind at the rebranded Trafford Palazzo site, formerly Barton Square, across from the Trafford Centre. It was billed as an ‘immersive Christmas experience’, letting skaters wind through a ‘multi-sensory snow-capped forest’ with a skate-up bar and offering stalls and food outlets in the festive markets upstairs.
But the event has been dogged by complaints – from both customers and traders who say it’s ‘nothing like was promised’, with some of the stalls making it look ‘like a jumble sale’. : The ultimate guide to Christmas events for kids in Manchester There is no skate-up bar and the decor that is there, including a giant mushroom, they say is ‘not what anyone expects’ from a festive event.
Organisers say health and safety put a stop to the plans for the bar, so they had to separate it from the rink with a barrier, and as far as the decor’s concerned, they were asked ‘not to do your tacky, run-of-the-mill Christmas stuff’ which ‘would have cost a 10th’ of what they actually spent.
A picture of one of the stalls taken by a trader on Saturday (Image: Manchester Evening News)
Some traders have already walked away from the venture and are now demanding refunds from the event organisers Oobe Global Group. And The Makers Market, which had planned to be there every weekend in the run-up to Christmas – as an addition to the event’s own stalls – has also pulled out from its last four dates there. Visitors to the ice rink have also told us it was ‘nothing like the pictures’ that were used to promote the event, with one describing it as ‘an absolute shambles’.
The main image used to show what the skate-through forest was supposed to look like was actually taken from an event elsewhere and the owners have contacted the Manchester Evening News to say it was used without their permission.
Traders say the footfall has been nothing like was promised (Image: Manchester Evening News)
But those behind the event say there was no attempt to mislead anyone and insist there have been many happy customers since the event opened on Friday. Kerry and Natalie Lobel own the Grounded Mcr speciality coffee trike, which is usually in Levenshulme’s Cringle Park, but signed up for one of the stalls as ‘it seemed like a great opportunity’.
They say they were promised a footfall of 80,000 people across the event, but on the first three days they alone served just 80 customers. Kerry said: “It’s so bad that traders have formed a WhatsApp group and have banded together to ask the organisers for an explanation and a refund.
Decor has been criticised but organisers say they were told ‘not to do your tacky, run-of-the-mill Christmas stuff’ (Image: Manchester Evening News)
“The Christmas market is not Christmassy at all, and the ice rink is nothing like what was advertised.
Punters are unhappy, traders are unhappy, it looks like a jumble sale and the ice rink itself has had to be closed at times because of issues. “There’s no signage downstairs at all to indicate there’s a market upstairs and most people don’t even know it’s there. Not enough has been done to promote the event.
It’s an absolute joke.” The couple shared a stall with Mattia Paradiso, from Italian dessert place Paradiso Authentic Italian, paying more than GBP1.1k between them to trade for two weeks. He said: “The description of the event as a ‘magical Christmas village’ in no way represents the reality of the event which has been organised – decoration is woefully limited and, for the most part, completely inappropriate to a Christmas-themed event.
The other traders and myself believe this has failed to attract customers who at this time of year are looking for events in keeping with the festive spirit.”
Some customers say the skate-through ‘magical’ forest is anything but (Image: Manchester Family / MEN)
The traders – many of whom are small, independents – claim they were ‘misled into taking part in this event’ and say none of the companies involved, including Oobe Group, event consultancy firm Entertainment 51 and Trafford Palazzo, ‘are prepared to take responsibility for the unequivocal failure that this event has become, and are instead intent on simply blaming each other’. Skaters too have complained about the experience, including Stacey Slavin, from Cadishead, who visited with her family on Saturday and said she ‘can’t even begin to tell you how bad it was’.
“It doesn’t look a thing like the pictures,” she said. “The lumberjack has been and stolen all the Christmas trees. It’s tiny and it’s an absolute shambles.
By the time you’ve got skates from the cattle market free for all, you get about 30 minutes on the ice. “The ice was horrendous, left with holes where people had chipped it during the day.” Further complaints have been made both on the Unreal Xmas Facebook page and the Manchester Family Facebook page, where we shared a first look at the attraction after visiting on Thursday evening, as the finishing touches were still being made.
A photo of an empty hut taken by one of the traders on the opening weekend (Image: Manchester Evening News)
“Would hardly call it a forest,” said Vicky Reedy. “The original photos showed completely different photos which did look like a forest which made me book, as it looked so different.
“I was disappointed when we arrived today. I have given feedback to them, as really felt they could have added more tunnels and trees to make it more like a forest.” And Sarah Jane Smith said: “So many people are being ripped off by this.
False advertising at its finest. Shocking customer service and also refusing to refund. “They’ve now stopped people commenting on their posts too so no one can give honest feedback.”
However, there were some people who said that despite it not being what they’d imagined, they enjoyed it nonetheless. “Definitely not as magical as it looks, we still had a good time though,” said Natalie Grandison. And Maya Kolodziejska said: “We went this morning.
It isn’t more expensive than other ice rinks in Manchester, the scenery might not have been as amazing as I had thought it would be, however, it’s nice. My daughter and I enjoyed our ice-skating session very much. “An additional free benefit – there are seals available for younger children/wobbly skaters.
Lockers are available, too. No extra charge.”
There is no skate-up bar as promised and the photo used to promote the event – of a festive experience elsewhere – was used without permission (Image: Manchester Evening News)
Gary Curshen, of the Oobe Global Group, told the M.E.N that ‘a huge amount of effort’ has gone into the event, with around 15 members of staff working extremely long hours to get it set up in time. “Everybody is entitled to criticise and everybody is entitled to their own opinion, but when it comes to things like the scenology, a lot of it is subjective and what one person likes another might not,” he said. “We have had lots of people who have told us they think it’s lovely.
“People have really enjoyed going round the circuit on the ice, it’s much more imaginative than most ice rinks which are basically like iced squash courts. “In every crowd you’re going to have people who don’t like what we have done, but there are also a lot of people that do.” He said the company ‘didn’t mean to mislead anybody’ and they are ‘working furiously to put anything right that people aren’t happy about’.
After a meeting with traders on Monday afternoon, he said: “We had a meeting and have discussed several initiatives which we believe will help the vendors to solve some of their concerns.” Event consultancy firm Entertainment 51 was contracted by Unreal Xmas ‘to source vendors and a venue for the event, and to some elements of promotional support’. Commercial director Ian Ferguson said: “We have no control over the day-to-day running and management of the event and are bitterly disappointed that the event bears little resemblance to what we were assured it would be.
“We have been on site trying to support the vendors and, as a family business, understand the disappointment and frustration of visitors.”
The Makers Market has now pulled out of the event altogether (Image: Manchester Family / MEN)
In a statement Trafford Palazzo said: “It is disappointing to hear any negative feedback following the opening weekend of Unreal Xmas. “The production is managed by two external companies, with whom we are relaying all messages to ensure complaints are addressed and necessary action is taken. We are confident Unreal Xmas will address to ensure all customers have an enjoyable time.
“Separately via our own external events agency Square Fish at Trafford Palazzo, we are delivering a series of festive Christmas events focusing on community, health and wellbeing, supporting local talent and festivities.” Victoria Crane, director of The Makers Market, confirmed they will no longer be part of the event. She said: “Unfortunately after the weekend and a number of unexpected issues at the site, we feel it’s best to cancel the other four days we were planning to showcase at this event.
“It’s been a very difficult time for small businesses over the last 18 months, and both the Makers Market and our stall holders were very excited to be part of this event at weekends on the run up to Christmas. “We were absolutely thrilled to be indoors especially with the difficult weather recently. We will work hard with the stall holders to either find other locations to showcase over the next two weekends or refunded.
“We hope you can come out and support your local markets, and shop unique and independent this Christmas and make a difference to your local makers, bakers, designers and artists.”
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