Look out, it’s Christmas

Winter Wonderland at Hesley Wood Scout Camp: Santa's helpers, elves Georgia Denham and Nick Baldwin-Turner looking at the gathering crowds outside their snowy grotto
Winter Wonderland at Hesley Wood Scout Camp: Santa's helpers, elves Georgia Denham and Nick Baldwin-Turner looking at the gathering crowds outside their snowy grotto

Nearly 650 children and 1,000 parents and leaders were at the scouts’ and guides’ Winter Wonderland in Sheffield. David Bocking joined them.

THE 15th annual Winter Wonderland festival saw younger members of the local scout and guide movements don their woolly hats, tinsel and reindeer antlers last weekend to head into the woods at Chapeltown.

The Hesley Wood activities camp originally hosted the event as a means for beavers, cubs, rainbows and brownies to visit Santa’s Grotto in a wintry woodland setting.

But it was felt that parents of under 10 guides and scout movement members might appreciate a bit more than just a visit to Father Christmas at a busy time of year, so the local scout movement geared up to provide a full early Christmas entertainment.

“We put on some craft activities, and lights too, and we got such a good response that we made it bigger and bigger each year,” said Sylvia West from the South Yorkshire Scouts Winter Wonderland committee.

The event started with about 100 young scouts, but now caters for 500 children (along with two accompanying adults per youngster) each day, from all over South Yorkshire. Winter Wonderland also offers a big event for young people to match the summer Crewboree event for older scouts.

“It’s one of the few events where guides and scouts can come together,” said Sylvia, “and the main aim is just to come and have fun”.

She added that the Wonderland attracts a 30 strong team of local dignitaries, including mayors of all the South Yorkshire towns and cities, who take the fun message to heart.

“It’s our way of saying thank you to the councils for their support.

The dignitaries go round in groups to see Santa and the campfire and the craft activities, and some get really interested, so to get them back out again can be a problem.”

The event is in preparation from July, with an organising team of six and around 65 adult volunteers over the weekend, added fellow organiser Elaine Lewis. There are also teams of 14-18- year-old explorer scouts, who assist on the Nativity display, the trail quizzes and within Santa’s grotto, where many remembered the fun they had themselves as seven or eight-year-olds.

Wonderland takes place in most weathers, with plenty of frosty Decembers in its history, and has only been cancelled once, in the heavy snowfall a couple of years ago, when the volunteers had already spent two days putting up the lights and tinsel before the snow fell and brought the city and Hesley Woods to a halt.

Visitors were down a little this year, said Elaine, who felt parents had less money in their pockets at present to cover the entry fee, but she reckoned there’d still have been nearly 650 children along with 1000 or more parents and leaders over the weekend.

The craft centres still seemed full of volunteers, parents and youngsters cutting and sticking delightful Christmas ornaments and gifts honed by the 20 or so veteran craft genies and fairies over years of experience. Up in the woods, campfire leader Dave, in his tinselled shorts, was still telling the story of Cecil the Spider and his disturbing eating habits to crowds of frenzied youngsters.

Interest in scouting and guiding continues to grow as parents appreciate the importance of allowing their kids to do exciting outdoor activities, even in the depths of winter, said Sylvia. The movement may have invested time in hooded uniforms and communication skills badges, but campfires, mud and woodcraft are still vitally important.

“There’s a big push for bush craft type things, parents are saying: ‘Let’s get them back out there.’”

She noted that since children will generally only attend one or two Wonderlands before they move on to more grown up scouting and guiding things, the traditional Christmas fun can be retained for generations.

“While there’s a need and a want we’ll go on as long as we can,” said Elaine Lewis. “If it works, why change it?”