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Long Melford's Big Night Out fireworks event faces fight for future after National Trust withdraws access to Melford Hall



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A popular, long-running Suffolk fireworks night – described as a 'jewel in the crown' of its village – faces a fight for its future, after organisers were left reeling by the sudden withdrawal of its long-time host site.

For half a century, Long Melford near Sudbury has drawn enormous crowds to the annual Big Night Out, a community fun fair and fireworks display, each November, helping to raise thousands of pounds for local charities.

However, organisers were shocked to be informed by the National Trust that they would no longer be allowed to stage the occasion at Melford Hall – its host location for decades.

Long Melford's 50th annual Big Night Out on Friday, November 9, 2018. Picture credit: Steve Thomson
Long Melford's 50th annual Big Night Out on Friday, November 9, 2018. Picture credit: Steve Thomson

Project Seven, the community organisation behind the Big Night Out, warned that the 2022 event will not be able to go ahead, unless there is a swift reversal of the decision, due to the lack of suitable alternative locations locally.

National Trust, which leases Melford Hall to the Hyde Parker family, explained the decision was due to the significant impact caused by recent large-scale events on sensitive areas of the site.

However, Project Seven president Andrew Hagger said he could not understand National Trust’s reasoning, stating Melford Hall had successfully hosted the Big Night Out for 48 years without such concerns ever being raised.

National Trust leases Melford Hall to the Hyde Parker family. Picture: Mark Westley
National Trust leases Melford Hall to the Hyde Parker family. Picture: Mark Westley

“After all this time, it seems a bit strange that this would come up now,” he told Suffolk News. “If it was a festival that lasted for days, I could understand it, but the Big Night Out only lasts about four-and-a-half hours.

“We always thought we were the jewel in the crown of Melford Hall and we always thought we had a great working relationship with the National Trust. We always thought we made sure that any damage done to the grass was put right.

“In 2019, there were 54 organisations that benefited from the Big Night Out, and some of the money we give out goes to organisations that aren’t able to raise funds for themselves. I just can’t see how National Trust can justify this.”

The National Trust stated that the Big Night Out could not continue to take place at Melford Hall in its current form, but that it was open to discussing potential alternative arrangements.

The National Trust explained the decision was due to the significant impact caused by recent large-scale events on sensitive areas of the site. Picture: Mark Westley
The National Trust explained the decision was due to the significant impact caused by recent large-scale events on sensitive areas of the site. Picture: Mark Westley

Leigh Freeman, general manager at Melford Hall, said: “As our tenants, the Hyde Parker family are required to seek permission to hold third-party events within the parkland at Melford Hall. This is done on a case-by-case basis.

“The events in their current form take place in some of the more sensitive areas of the parkland and recent events have had a significant impact on ground conditions and the sensitive archaeological features within the grade II listed park.

“We have therefore made the difficult decision that some large-scale events held in the past, such as the Big Night Out, can no longer continue in their previous format or location.

“However, we remain open to exploring alternative locations and options within less sensitive areas of the parkland.

“We are open to working with the Hyde Parker family and the local community and the hope is that we can still find a solution that enables these local events to take place, whilst ensuring the parkland is protected.”

But, Mr Hagger argued that the current site was the only one that could accommodate an event of this scale, adding that he was not aware of any comparable locations in Long Melford or nearby.

“One of the reasons for the Big Night Out’s success over the years is its location,” he said. “It’s not like Bury Abbey Gardens, where there are ruins. This is park land.

“I’m 66, I have lived in the area all my life, and I’m not aware of another location like it.

“Over the years, National Trust have also benefited from the event with donations, and we’ve also provided them with tools to improve the site.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen. At the moment, we’ve cancelled the event.

“If they u-turn very swiftly, it could still happen, but that’s looking very unlikely.”

Long Melford councillor Richard Kemp said the whole village was shattered by the announcement.

He strongly criticised National Trust’s actions as being 'completely out of touch with the community', and confirmed he had contacted the MP for South Suffolk asking for his support on the issue.

“The village is angry because the reasons given are totally pathetic,” Mr Kemp told Suffolk News. “Why has it taken 48 years to discover that it may be damaging the park in some way?

“It’s absolute nonsense and these people need to get a grip on reality. They are working for the National Trust, which in turn is there to protect the interests of the people of this country, so really, they are flying in the face of those people.

“The sooner they get real with the situation in the community, the better. Any other National Trust site you go to, like Ickworth House, there are no problems.

“It’s almost a situation of underdogs becoming over-dogs overnight.

“Frankly, I think this is a tremendous community blow to Long Melford. These events bring people in every year, and they’re on the tourist calendar all over the county, and the National Trust don’t seem to understand that.

“I don’t think the Hyde Parkers are in any way to blame. This is purely a decision that has come from the people running the National Trust, who are completely out of touch with community situations.”