The Christmas story you just couldn’t make up

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Milton Keynes is known for its concrete cows, roundabouts and now dreadful Christmas events – welcome to Winter Wonderland MK.

The event that promised ‘an exciting range of activities and attractions to surprise and delight your entire family’, but instead left kids asking their parents what they had done wrong to deserve such a ‘treat’, was shut down on Sunday, just 24 hours after opening.

Organiser Lorenzo Franco hasn’t just been dealing with a few angry parents, but every newspaper, radio station and TV company in the country – all wanting to know why a slim 20-something-year-old was dressed up in the worst Santa costume you are likely to find, handing out a few crayons to kids. You couldn’t make it up.

Nothing quite catches the media’s attention like children being messed around at this time of year and one national newspaper has described it as the worst Christmas event ever.

Milton Keynes has never known attention like it – and Mr Franco has never had so many phone calls. Like the reindeers on Saturday, his name has been dragged through the mud.

A spokesman for The Parks Trust, who own the land in Campbell Park on which MK’s reputation as a prosperous, up-and-coming city has been so publicly tarnished, told the Citizen they will ‘certainly not’ do business with cafe owner Mr Franco again.

Instead they will send him a bill for the cost of cleaning up after the mess left behind, which could be as much as £4,000.

It was the worst event The Parks Trust has ever seen, said the spokesman.

Mr Franco, who was quick to apologise for the shambles after being inundated with complaints, is now dealing with several angry suppliers, all left out of pocket after the show was so spectacularly and abruptly cancelled.

One small business owner, Andrew Darlington, of D&D Marquees, claims to have had more than £4,000 worth of his equipment stolen from the Campbell Park site because it was not secured after the event was cancelled.

“He (Mr Franco) was out of his depth,” said Mr Darlington this week. “I’ve been doing my business for 25 years and I’ve never seen anything like it.

“I want to get the message across that it’s not just parents and kids who have suffered through this, but businesses like mine have too.”

Many people have pointed the finger at the extravagant advertising campaign which led to hundreds of families visiting the Wonderland on its first day.

“If he had just called it a Christmas Fayre with a Santa’s grotto, then people wouldn’t have had the huge expectation they did,” said Mr Darlington, who stayed at the site all night on Sunday to try and prevent thieves stealing any more of his equipment.

Event management company HPSS, which worked with Mr Franco to put on the Wonderland event, said they withdrew their help before Saturday’s opening day.

The company said in a statement: “HPSS offered several recommendations of site planning, production and management on the specifications and requirements to ensure a safe and spectacular event could take place, but unfortunately, due to budgetary cuts, Lorenzo disregarded such advice and proceeded to plan the event independently.

“Subsequently, HPSS withdrew all services prior to the event, informing all bodies involved. We would like to confirm all concessions and attractions were contracted directly via Lorenzo Franco and have no association with HPSS Ltd. We do not hold and have never held any ticket money. All ticketing was done directly by Lorenzo.

“HPSS are very disappointed with this event and can only offer our empathy to all those who attended. What promised to be a seasonal highlight has clearly turned into a disappointment for all.”