The National Bowl is one of Britain’s most iconic music venues,
having played host to some of the biggest names in music, from Michael Jackson to U2. Yet in the past few years it has faded from the public eye; the famous yellow barred gates to the horseshoe arena are now padlocked and the intersecting bridleways lay disused and overgrown with wild-flowers and weeds. Save for the odd cyclist or weekend car-boot sales event, the national bowl, it’s sad to say, is a shadow of its former self.
Luckily, that is all set to change, as Milton Keynes’ much loved music venue, is in the pipeline for regeneration; so says, Matt Bowler, MD of Vantage Event Structures, the events company behind Winterland MK, his latest venture, which will take place at the bowl this Christmas 2019-2020.
Matt isn’t a stranger to large-scale public events having built bespoke event structures and overlay for Chelsea Flower Show, Wimbledon, Kate and William’s Royal Wedding and most recently media platforms for Trump’s State Visit. But a Winterland, isn’t that too ambitious? “Not at all” he says reassuringly “We’ve built ice rinks for Birmingham and Hyde Park Winterland and have a vast amount of experience in the building, design and logistics of events to make this a success. I’ve been wanting to do a Winterland for several years and this year feels right, Milton Keynes is smashing it right now, the MK Dons have been promoted, the new MK Gallery, which we were involved in, has been opened and big acts like Take That are coming back to Milton Keynes, albeit to The Arena.”
Like many people growing up in MK, Matt remembers going to see Oasis and other big bands at The Bowl. “It’s sad that it’s so under-used. When I approached the council with my plans for Winterland I wasn’t sure how they’d respond as the event will run over several weeks from 22 November to the 5 January. But after some nail-biting negotiations they finally gave us the go-ahead, so now we’re signing up the attractions and vendors and getting the word out about it.”
We joined Matt and his young son Fred to check out The Bowl where Winterland MK will take place and to get a better understanding, for what Matt promises will be Milton Keynes’s “biggest, most exciting Christmas event to date”.
“The Bowl is a natural choice for a Christmas Winterland” enthuses Matt “the venue was purpose built to cater for 100’000 visitors and they built it within its own grid square with four road entrances, lots of pathways and intersecting bridle-ways, so it will be very easy to get to by foot or car.”
I’m struck by the greenery surrounding the 9 hectares of Car Park, where many of the big attractions such as The Big Wheel, Ice Rink and Live Stage will be stationed. The location has tree lined avenues and even a babbling brook as it’s situated in the Laughton Valley Linear Park. “This is actually a wildlife corridor” enthuses Matt, “it’s really a hidden gem and a gift for an event like Winterland MK. It’s flat, vast and has great access, so for me it was the perfect choice for Winterland MK.”
Matt is brimming with ideas for the venue and walks us through the tree-lined byways and groves which surround the space. “The lighting will be a key feature and will illuminate the trees and walkways. Plus, there’ll also be an audio-visual element giving it a magical feel. There’ll be spaces for kids face painting, lots of areas for eating and drinking and we’re building a Bavarian Market with individual trader chalets, which will give it that really traditional feel. A lot of our food and drink’s traders will be selling prosecco, mulled wine and German hot-dogs from their converted vans and vintage vehicles; so there’ll be lots of flavour and interest and of course there’s the big attractions, a large ice rink, snow slide, big wheel, pop-up cinema, Grotto and much more. People will be able to either walk or if they’re disabled drive right up to the entrance.”
Matt is enthusiastic about Winterland MK having national appeal but reflecting the fact it’s in Milton Keynes and drawing upon that.
“We want as many local people and companies to be involved as possible. For example, our Grotto is being managed by Great Grottos an award-winning events company but we’re working with its director to recruit staff locally. Milton Keynes acts as a head office for many big corporations and we want their involvement too, particularly for sponsorship as it will be a great opportunity for advertising.”
And the word is certainly out, Matt assures me the big attractions and vendors are signing up thick and fast. “I think from the response we’ve had from vendors and the public alike, a Winterland event on this scale is very welcome in Milton Keynes. This city has a population of over 260’000 people, who currently have to travel to London or Birmingham to get to a really good Christmas experience, so I’m thrilled to be delivering this on my doorstep and at the same time breathing a bit of life into this venue.”
To find out more about Winterland MK, go to their website at www.winterlandmk.com. If you’d like to be involved contact firstname.lastname@example.org.