Covid: How Christmas markets adapted to regulations or moved online

By Nicola Bryan
BBC News

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Image source, Katherine Jones
Image caption,
Artist Katherine Jones sold her work at Cardiff's German Christmas market before it was closed

The coronavirus pandemic has seen the cancellation of many of Wales' annual Christmas markets, forcing traders to adapt to new ways of selling.

Before Wales brought forward its level four national lockdown - meaning only retailers selling essential items can remain open - some markets went ahead with smaller, ticketed events.

Others moved to newly established online marketplaces.

Some traders said the restrictions hit them hard but others said through adversity they found an "amazing community" of shoppers and sellers.

'Blew me away'

Image source, Jodi Voyle
Image caption,
Jodi Voyle founded the Big Welsh Virtual Christmas Market while on maternity leave

Jodi Voyle set up the Big Welsh Virtual Christmas Market during the pandemic.

The 36-year-old from Rhondda is on maternity leave from her job as marketing manager of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.

She has two children, aged 20 months and seven weeks.

"My husband and I were saying we love this time of year, going to the Birmingham Christmas market and Aberystwyth Arts Centre's craft fair and it was rubbish that a lot wouldn't run or if they did wouldn't have the same attendance," she said.

"We have friends and family who have craft businesses and Christmas is really crucial.

"We just thought 'how could you get that community feeling of a craft market online?'

"A Facebook group seemed like the best place to do it."

Image source, Agnieszka Runa Kolaczyńska
Image caption,
The annual Christmas fair at St Donats, Vale of Glamorgan, was one of many cancelled this year

She began by approaching friends and family and it grew to 265 virtual stalls and 12,000 customers.

"It blew me away," she said.

"Most people who post every day or every other day have sold more than they ever expected."

Image source, Diana Oliveira
Image caption,
Artist Katherine Jones has been selling online and at Cardiff's German Christmas market

'Online isn't the answer for everyone'

Massage therapist Rhian Pitt, 36, is the founder of Cardiff Indie Collective, a group of about 50 independent businesses based in and around the city.

She said the hospitality businesses were having a difficult time but some makers had been flat out.

She said many traders who had stalls in the capital's annual German Christmas market before it was forced to close on 19 December reported it was not as profitable as in previous years.

"They've found there's not the same footfall," she said.

"People like to go shopping and have lunch and a glass of wine but with the changes in hospitality people have done more online shopping."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The German Christmas market in Cardiff city centre went ahead

But she said online markets did not work for everyone: "Some makers' products are so tactile, people need to see them, feel them, so online it doesn't really have the same effect.

"At the same time with online markets people can shop from their sofa so there's the potential for more customers - and even if people don't make purchases they get more followers."

In a bid to boost traders' income the collective has launched a gift voucher that be be used to buy from many of its members.

Image source, Vin Van Caerdydd
Image caption,
Sara Hobday launched Vin Van Caerdydd during the pandemic

Alcohol ban 'ridiculous'

One member of the collective is Sara Hobday, 30, from Cardiff.

She launched Vin Van Caerdydd, an events company that specialises in Welsh wine, during the pandemic.

But when pubs, restaurants and cafes were banned from serving alcohol from 4 December it put paid to her plans to sell at Christmas markets and other events.

Speaking before Wales went into lockdown on 20 December, she said: "It seems ridiculous that the hospitality industry, the only industry implementing track-and-trace, is being punished with the new measures banning the consumption of alcohol.

Image source, Vin Van Caerdydd
Image caption,
Sara Hobday usually runs her outdoor events at the Bridge Studios in Cardiff

"You are not more likely to catch Covid whilst eating out if you have a glass of wine, and you're certainly not more likely to catch it after 6pm, especially in a clean and regulated environment," she said.

"A lot of places might not reopen in January now. This won't just affect us, our small businesses and the local economy but also people's mental health that have already taken a beating."

Announcing the move in November, First Minister Mark Drakeford said there was evidence the virus was spreading in hospitality.

"When people meet together in a hospitality setting, you're not just having a glancing encounter with somebody as you do if you're going round a supermarket," he said.

He also said firms hit by the restrictions would be offered £340m of support.

Image source, Sully Friends of Ty Hafan
Image caption,
Sully Friends of Ty Hafan's annual Christmas fair was unable to go ahead this year

'Raising a pittance'

Community fundraising group Sully Friends of Ty Hafan holds several events throughout the year to raise money for the nearby children's hospice in the Vale of Glamorgan.

The group was formed 25 years ago when the hospice's founder Suzanne Goodall visited what was then Sully Young Wives' Group.

"She blew us away with her vision," says chair Linda Francis.

But this year has been difficult for the fundraisers.

The most recent event to be cancelled was their annual Christmas fair that takes place in the village's old school hall.

Image source, Sully Friends of Ty Hafan
Image caption,
The group have been raising money for the hospice for 25 years

"We're raising a pittance now... we've had to cancel everything we do," said Mrs Francis.

"There're 18 of us in the group and several of us are in the position where we had to shield at the beginning.

"I couldn't as chair ask people to do things I can't do myself, putting themselves at risk.

"It would have been impossible to run a proper fair in the old school hall - it wasn't really an option."

She said the group had turned to the internet to run a raffle live on Facebook.

'Amazing community'

Image caption,
A small number of stalls have been spaced out at Rosedew Farm's Christmas market

Wedding and events venue Rosedew Farm in Llantwit Major, Vale of Glamorgan, hosted a small weekend Christmas market before the lockdown.

Visitors had to buy a ticket in advance and were given an hour-long slot.

One of the stall-holders, Karen Williams, 59, founded her company Tufties Clothing during the pandemic.

Image source, Tufties Clothing
Image caption,
Karen Williams (centre) launched her business after making clothes for her grandchild and scrubs for NHS workers

She has worked for a local authority in children's services for 27 years and was planning to retire until she began making clothes for her grandchild and scrubs for NHS workers.

"I hadn't sewn for 30 years but people started asking me to make things for them - I did some market research and started business in lockdown," she said.

She said what was already a movement towards people buying local really gained momentum during the pandemic: "I think it's a cultural shift back to the corner shop that did everything - that kind of mentality... I really like this ethos," she said.

"I've just found an amazing community of people all supporting each other."

But she had been apprehensive about attending a Christmas market: "I'm not a young thing, I isolated properly and adhered to every [Covid] rule... so it does make you very nervous...

"I needed to know about spacing, ventilation, face masks but they had worked with environmental health and I felt very reassured...

"Customers have been very sensible and people have been very mindful."

Image caption,
Jon Bowles said traders trying to operate during the pandemic had all looked out for each other

Jon Bowles, 38, from Dinas Powys in the Vale of Glamorgan, used to own a motorcycle shop but concerns over the environment and work-life balance led him to turn his hobby for creating custom items from a range of materials into a business JonAnthony Designs two years ago.

He also took part in the Rosedew Farm market.

He said: "I just want to say a big thank you to the people who have put in the effort to be able to make it Covid-compliant.

"We've all looked out for each other. We've got a lovely little community. Everyone bought off each other and traded gifts.

"Craft is all about your local community."