Winterval!

It’s not often we have a genuine celebrity visiting the comments boxes at the Virtual Stoa, especially now it’s in it’s post-only-once-a-month-or-thereabouts mode (sorry about that, these things happen), but Mike Chubb — the man who invented the Winterval, no less — just dropped by to comment on the Winterval-themed thread below, and because his remarks address important Winterval-related issues, I’m rescuing them from the obscurity of the comments thread and posting them over the fold. Oxford’s WinterLight event is on Friday: they’re going to re-open Bonn Square and stick up a funny solar system in Broad Street, or something. (Details over here.) And continue on for Mike Chubb’s thoughts on his magnificent creation…

hi there thought you may be interested in the following which I wrote re Winterval.
ps I was the person in Birmingham that first coined the phrase

Birmingham should celebrate “Winterval”
By Michael Chubb

Google Winterval and you get nearly 18,000 results. Investigate further and you have an amazing array of personal comments from pukka boardsheets to off the wall blog sites to Birmingham’s own Mail, “Christmas has been rebranded Winterval”.

Oliver Burkeman in the Guardian at the time, (headline, “The Phony War on Christmas” ) undertook extensive reportage and found that “There’s only one problem with the PC campaign against Christmas – it’s pure nonesense”.

He goes on;

“Perhaps the most notorious of the anti-Christmas rebrandings is Winterval, in Birmingham, According to an official statement from the Council, Winterval – which ran in 1997 and 1998, and never since – was a promotional campaign to drive business into Birmingham’s newly regenerated town centre. It began in early November and finished in January. During the part of that period traditionally celebrated as Christmas, ‘there was a banner saying Merry Christmas across the front of the council house, Christmas lights, Christmas trees in the main civil squares, regular carol-singing sessions by school choirs, and the Lord Mayor sent a Christmas card with a traditional Christmas scene wishing everyone a Merry Christmas’. None of that, though, was enough to prevent a protest movement at the time, whose members included the then Bishop of Birmingham, Mark Santer, as well as two members of UB40”.

Burkeman speaking to Julian Bond of the Christian Muslim Forum when asked about the de-Christianisation of Christmas, Bond admitted that evidence was hard to come by and further he said “You know, we were in Birmingham for a meeting the other day, and there’s a big Merry Christmas banner in the middle of New Street.” So is anybody at all trying to abolish Christmas this year? “I haven’t come across any examples of anyone doing it this year,” he replies. “No”.

I think it is now time to put my head above the parapet and declare why I have been asked to write this article . Pretty simple really, I was the one that coined the term “Winterval”.

I was head of events for Birmingham, responsible for over 400 events a year from St. Georges Day to Fireworks Fantasia, international Street festivals to… yes Christmas.

As an events division (the largest in the UK at that time) we were always seeking to improve the service to the Birmingham community and whilst we aided specific communities to develop their own festivals, Diwali, Chinese New Year, St. Patricks Day to Gay Pride (mainly because we had the professional expertise to help those communities realise their ambitions) our remit extended to all festivals and events. All were to be totally inclusive and the majority free or at an affordable price.

In my first Christmas, Birmingham received national coverage, Blue Peter launched the Christmas Lights Switch on and Eamonn Holmes “How do they do that” show closed their Christmas edition with a burst of flame projectors on the town Hall, “and a happy Christmas from Birmingham!”.

As Head of Events with such a professional team behind me, it was always important to deliver bigger and better events more often than not though with reduced funding.

The imperative for delivering these events was to maximize the quality of the experience, increase our audiences and deliver Birmingham as a forward thinking energetic city. Promoting the events to a local, national and international audience and thereby gaining recognition was vital to the Councils overall aims and objectives. Recognition of a city’s innovative approach reflects on all. To businesses considering relocating, to increasing bed nights to the hotel sector, to marketing the city’s retail offer all these are factored in.

So to Winterval. The events division were charged with putting on 41 days and nights of activity that ranged from BBC Children in Need, to the Christmas Lights Switch On, to a Frankfurt Christmas Market, outdoor ice rink, Aston Hall by Candlelight, Diwali (Festival of lights) shopping at Christmas, World class theatre and arts and of course New Year’s Eve with its massive 100,000 audience. With funding from sponsors and with very many more events to market, the decision was to bring all the events together under a generic banner under which they could all sit. Whilst marketed as Winterval, each event had its own marketing plan but clearly it was Winterval that drove the initiative.

Leaving Birmingham (to another job!) I started to notice the ridiculous banshee that pervaded Winterval. Through Wikipedia I contacted Polly Toynbee of the Guardian re the (now) long running Winterval saga, and she suggested that as the originator of Winterval I should stand up and put my name to it.

So as originator, what are my thoughts?.

Rather like Oliver Burkeman of the Guardian, it’s nonsense and I feel like many stories around the festive season when news is fairly thin on the ground the media seek out what they term “Silly season stories”. Political correctness was never the reasoning behind Winterval, but yes it was intended to be inclusive (which is no bad thing to my mind) and a brand to which other initiatives could be developed as part of The Winterval offer in order to sell the City at a time when all cities are competing against each other for the seasonal trade.

Each part of Winterval had its own marketing plan, the same as, for instance, the marketing of a brand whose sub brands (ie chocolate)have their own niche marketing. I do believe that those who took umbrage did it for their own reasons, to peddle their own message and of course, everybody got on to their own hobby horses in the process. I am amazed that no-one could see the simplicity of The Winterval brand, but read into it what they wanted, to further and give voice to their own aspirations/prejudices.

It is time for Birmingham to be proud of Winterval and stand up for an innovative initiative that befits an outward looking city.

Maybe, perhaps, the opportunists will now put away their righteous indignation and reflect on what the city has lost, a unique festival that celebrates what Birmingham is world famous for, a city that shares and celebrates with a sense of style and adventure.

2 Comments


  1. The imperative for delivering these events was to maximize the quality of the experience, increase our audiences and deliver Birmingham as a forward thinking energetic city.

    You seem to have linked to Dilbert.

    Quote | Posted 26 November, 2008, 8:40 am

  2. hi there
    not sure re celeb status just thought it’s only proper that Winterval and what was behind the brand had a fair airing..what people make of the truth.. will out..as they say
    mike Chubb

    Quote | Posted 10 December, 2008, 7:25 pm

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