HOWICK KINDLES LIGHT THE FALLS HOLIDAY FESTIVAL
Umngeni Tourism chairman, JP Prinsloo, ran out of Christmas trees a week ago.
But this was more than a simple inconvenience before Christmas. He was planning the inaugural Light The Falls Holiday Festival and had underestimated the enthusiasm of the local community.
A simple appeal to residents to pitch in three weeks ahead of the event injected an inspiring spirit into what seemed to be a fairly lackluster festive season this year.
“What a roller coaster the past two weeks have been. Trying to organize the first ever Light The Falls Festival in just three weeks was absolutely crazy. But we have defied the odds and have been able to pull together an event that will create lasting memories,” he says.
Umngeni Tourism managed to purchase close to 15 kilometres of festive lights of all shapes, colours and sizes, 400 to 500 large decorations and more than 300 metres of cable to supply electricity to the entire festival.
Five local musicians performed at the festival and 50 stalls manned by local entrepreneurs and crafters provided plenty of opportunities for people to buy some interesting Christmas presents.
JP explains that the whole idea for the festival was hatched after he’d seen Facebook posts talking about how people remembered the Christmas lights of yesteryear and how they remembered the good times that they had had with their families.
He responded by asking if people would like to have the lights back and if the local community would help Umgeni Tourism to put on a Christmas carnival this year to begin creating memories all over again.
Locals more than rose to the occassion. The somewhat tired and dilapidated precinct surrounding the Howick Falls was transformed. Grass was cut, trees pruned, rubbish collected, weeds removed and gardens prepared.
The organisers also worked with African Spirit, a group of lady crafters who, he says, have turned the iconic artefacts building into something of a Christmas decoration workshop.
Early on Friday morning, the precinct was cordoned off and volunteers began hanging lights and setting out the decorations ahead of the opening at 4pm.
JP says that a single access point was created to ensure security at the event and the companies that have been patrolling the Howick Falls area provided the security on the evening.
Friday also saw the delivery of a giant Christmas Tree that was placed in Goddard Park. This was donated by forestry company, SAPPI.
Looking back over the past frenetic weeks, JP admits that he is something of a dreamer. “Originally we planned to run the festival over two days but, after consulting with a few more realists, we decided to do it on a single evening for a shorter time. We hope that we can extend this to a longer period next year,” he says.
He admits that when he was forced to accept that he probably wouldn’t be able to get the amount of lights that he wanted within such a short space of time, the organisers had to quickly decide what they could do instead to maintain the momentum of the original idea. Sponsored Christmas trees was the alternative.
He views the Light The Falls Holiday Festival as something of a coming out party for the newly branded Umgeni Tourism which has big plans for the region over the next year.
“We decided that, because there are already so many things happening in the precinct in terms of its development in the next few months that this would be an ideal opportunity. It will give Umngeni Tourism a platform to share the ideas and vision that it has,” he explains.
Umgeni Tourism is the official private sector community tourism authority with which the local municipality needs to interact in terms of a legislated service level agreement. It represents all tourism related business found in the KZN Midlands area, stretching from Hilton to Nottingham Road with the town of Howick at its core.
Previously known as Howick Umngeni Community Tourism Organisation (HUCTO), it was renamed, restructured and rebranded after JP took over leadership in December.
He says that the Light The Falls Holiday Festival was also a fitting start for broader redevelopment plans for the Howick Falls precinct.
The implementing authority – the uMgungundlovu District Municipality – recently received R5 million from the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism and engaged and architect two months ago to come up with conceptual designs.
If what has been achieved this Christmas is anything to go by, there are interesting times ahead.
Other local communities could also take a leaf out of Howick’s book.