The weeks from late October until mid-December always seem to be some of the most hectic of the year, and this is especially true for researchers looking at events like myself. My PhD projects aims at understanding the social and economic impacts of the Paisley urban regeneration programmes. One of the flagships of this investment scheme is the public events programme, and that is thus one of the major cases studied. In a period of only five weeks in duration, four big events are on in Paisley:
The Spree festival,
The Halloween festival,
The Paisley Fireworks extravaganza, and
the Christmas lights switch on.
Halloween is by far the biggest event. 41,000 people (in a town with – generously speaking – some 74,000 inhabitants) participate in a two-day celebration spread out all over town. This also means researchers and consultants administer questionnaires and interviews. My questionnaire revolves around the willingness-to-pay on the demand side, and perceived impact on the supply side.
Measuring willingness to pay for a service which is free of charge indicates the worth of the service provided. Adding this up with travel costs, shopping, and sometimes other costs, shows us what people are willing to spend to experience a night out in Paisley. In this case, a large majority thought that it was important that the event programme was mainly free, but they would still have come if there had been a fee: the fun fair, the only part of the programme where more or less everything had an entrance fee, was the place where most people asked for an increase of the available programme.
Though the demand-side of the survey is arguably the most important, earlier evaluations did not ask local shopkeepers’ opinions (though there are other ways to measure that, such as dialogue with the opinions of the local Business Improvement District). Understanding whether, and which, businesses benefit from the events programme brings an important piece of information to understanding the economic impact on the area. Interestingly, most of the shopkeepers who stated that their business suffered as a result of the closed roads and crowded streets rather than gained from it, said that they still wholeheartedly supported the event programme as such, as it brought life to the town.
The Halloween festival attracts people from all over Scotland, and earlier evaluations show that around 40 % of visitors come from outside of Renfrewshire. In the coming weeks, there will be two events attracting a predominantly ‘Renfrewshirian’ crowd. Performing the same survey with these participants and shopkeepers at smaller, more local events provides an interesting insight in how hosting the sheer volume of 41,000 people affects the community. Is being a big event venue the road forward for Paisley?