In the build-up to CBBC’s inaugural three-day Summer Social at Croxteth Country Park, much of the chatter on the local parental grapevine was about one subject: cost.
At £30.80 for a day ticket, including fees for adults and children alike, the excitement about Liverpool’s coup in securing this national extravaganza was tempered by irritation that a children’s festival organised by the national broadcaster would exclude many from attending on financial grounds, notwithstanding various discount ticket offers and giveaways, and represent a three-figure outlay for any family of four who could afford it.
When affable hosts Sam and Mark joked on stage about the event budget having been spent on helicoptering in US teen star Mackenzie Ziegler, therefore, the quip felt a little close to the knuckle for some of the mums and dads whose young children had no earthly idea who she is. The issue was, perhaps, that older kids want the tween chart-toppers who cost the big money and need the fancy lighting rig of the main Summer Stage, while younger children were only too delighted with the low budget tent-and-a-banner affair of the CBeebies village, and yet everyone was paying the same. Quite honestly, even some of the bigger kids looked as thrilled by the presence of Swashbuckle’s Cook and Line, and the gleaming teeth of Dr Ranj, as they did by the fleeting sets from Bars and Melody and the aforementioned Ziegler across the park, raising a question about whether paying pop stars is really what this event should be about.
This was the first time that CBBC has put on an event of this scale, and there was a certain sense of trial and error in places. Early on at least, a fair few of the extremely friendly staff and volunteer helpers were visibly unsure of what they should be doing. The lovely but low-capacity Bedtime Stories tent had long queues and disappointed punters over the weekend after giving up on Friday’s timed ticket system after that also provoked complaints, while other popular attractions, like the Worst Witch Academy, were well received but also highly restricted in numbers and left many feeling left out. One gets the sense that lessons will be learned, and details tinkered with, before the Social is repeated.
Ticket pricing – along with what the money gets spent on – should be up for discussion as part of that process. But it is to be hoped that the organisers do not lose heart as a result of such teething problems for this was an enormously warm-spirited, fun and truly family-oriented day out. Andy Day (of Andy’s Wild Adventures fame) and his Odd Socks band were a riotous joy, while the Royal Albert Hall band and Opera North provided higher-brow fun with excellent workshops and family-friendly classical and opera performances.
CBBC presenters had their starry-eyed young fans in fits of laughter, while the pop stars did generate a respectable number of screams along with a healthy quantity of merchandise sales. Croxteth proved a perfect venue, with the walled ‘Clangers’ garden providing some calm respite for over-stimulated little brains and the old hall serving as backdrop to both a Horrible Histories tour and the Worst Witch academy. Mr Tumble – a toddler’s answer to Mick Jagger – would have brought the house down had we not been outdoors in the glorious August sunshine, and in the best traditions of BBC programming there was plenty to inspire and educate, from dance lessons with the Northern Ballet to Art Ninja’s creative madcappery and a chance to read the news to learn about fakery.
Some of the performances based on TV shows translated better to the stage than others, but while parents might have noticed the rough bits round the edges, few smaller people seemed to mind. But then, they weren’t paying.
By Fran Yeoman