A mother and daughter are picking up the pieces after the Milton Keynes Winter Wonderland fiasco - organised by a Bedford man - put their business in jeopardy.
Sarah and Amelia Eacope run the Lollipop Girls mobile sweet shop as a way to make money for the Papworth Trust charity, which runs youth clubs for disabled youngsters in Bedford, and had hoped to raise between £2,000 to £3,000.
Mrs Eacope said they are now in “long-term debt” after the business invested about £3,000 in stock and an extra candyfloss machine to keep up with demand after she was told a predicted 20,000 people would visit the wonderland.
She added: “We put a lot of planning into this to make it festive and extra special. The money is everything I’ve got. It wasn’t just for us, I thought we could make a lot for the Papworth Trust.”
Amelia, 12, who has cerebral palsy, is devastated about the impact the cancellation has had on her business and fundraising activities, but the pair are now working round the clock to sell their stock in other ways.
Mrs Eacope said: “While Facebook has been blamed for the wonderland being cancelled, it has been amazing for us. Word is getting out and people are coming forward with orders.”
The pair, from Caddington, have started posting out online orders and have been invited to set up their stall at events in their village and St Albans.
Mrs Eacope added: “I haven’t even bought my husband a Christmas present yet, and I’m still in a lot of debt, but as soon as we’ve made back our investment, we will carry on fundraising for Papworth. There is no way we will let this beat us.”
The Winter Wonderland Milton Keynes event was cancelled after just one day. It’s website promised ice skating, a Santa’s grotto, and reindeer, along with other quality attractions. What people found was a small plastic ice rink, a skinny Santa in a cheap costume and two reindeer in a pen, set in a muddy park.
Mrs Eacope said: “I saw elves smoking outside the tents, the Santa in what looked like a pound suit and reindeers without any horns that the children couldn’t even get near.”
Organiser Lorenzo Franco, who lives in Bedford, has since apologised to visitors for the fiasco and says he has also apologised to stall holders.
He said: “I am very sorry to disappoint people. It was not my intention. It was meant to be a family fun event. I have apologised to Amelia in person and to other stall holders. We set out to raise money for the charity and failed in doing that.”
Mr Franco, who runs a catering business in Bedford, says he is now “carrying on with what I do best”.
A spokesman for the Papworth Trust said: “We are sorry to hear about people’s experiences at Winter Wonderland MK. We were concerned to hear the public’s feedback on the opening day, and we decided to withdraw our volunteers and our association with the event.
“As the benefiting charity, we were hoping that this event would raise at least £7,000 for our work helping disabled and older people. Our focus now is on fundraising to replace that money.”