The Crowded Firework

November 7, 2017

The unlit firework waits patiently in its alloted place on the field, awaiting it’s moment of glory when it shoots into the night sky competing for space with other fireworks in a dazzling array, then dissipating into the darkness. Perhaps that’s stretching the metaphor of crowd studies too far, but my weekend visit to the Wimbledon Park display wasn’t too disimilar to wholly negate the comparison.

I treated my 13 year old niece to the ‘late show’ (popular music rather than Disney) of fireworks and annual effigy burning on Saturday. I am broadly familiar with the park, but couldn’t claim that I know it’s layout, entrances or exits with a degree of accuracy. My role as HR & Operations Manager at Movement Strategies has encouraged me to view crowd dynamics in a different way, and I was paying closer attention to crowd management details than I usually would. It struck me that Bonfire Night presents an interesting set of challenges for a venue: it’s dark, it’s full of children, it isn’t often used as a venue for this specific event.

This was made clear when we arrived at the gate.

Approaching along Home Park Road from Wimbledon Park tube, we were told to join the queue which was forming along the other direction – although the gate was more than wide enough to accommodate a flow of people from either direction, the park organisers deemed it prudent to expect us to join the queue by walking past the gate and down the (ever-growing) queue which filled the pavement. Given that they were also encouraging people not to walk on the road, this did not seem to me to be the most rational process.

Progressing into the (poorly lit) park we filed slowly down the gradiated path and heard faint shouting in the distance. It transpired that the shouting was to indicate that people with pre-paid tickets should move to the left-hand side of the path, while those who needed to purchase these should move to the right. These instructions were given ad hoc by a number of people, and it was truly challenging to hear (especially given the periodic booms from private displays in the local area). Added to my confusion was the fact that the gate to the park clearly advertised that the event was fully booked, and no further tickets could be purchased. I felt that a megaphone or clearer signage would have been beneficial.

As the crowd surged forward to get to the ticketing area, the difficulties of negotiating the space with a child became apparent – in the dark, adults sometimes do not see a body which is barely 2/3 the height of their own. Hands tightly clasped, we moved forward and were efficiently processed by the friendly staff (prudently not taking a bag negated our requiring a bag search).

Warming ourselves with hot doughnuts and drinks, the next hazard became apparent – what to do with our rubbish? Not willing to contribute to Womble activity in the area, we were reluctant to discard our empty receptibles in the same manner as many, but couldn’t see a bin after a 10 minute search. Fortunately, a passing litter picker was grateful to alleviate us of our burden, but the influx of people into the park made it challenging to look down and avoid other litter hazards as the crowd continued to grow.

Fortunately, the bonfire itself was spectacular – emitting an impressive degree of heat from a location 7 people back from the fence – and we thoroughly enjoyed the fireworks, singing along to an electic mix of Adele, Coldplay and Dolly Parton.

As we slowly wended our way homewards (mirroring the dissipation of fireworks into the darkness), I was glad I’d chosen a venue which was familiar to me – I have a new-found appreciation of the challenges of delivering successful events at venues not specifically designed for such large crowds, such as a fireworks display.