Cuckfield Bonfire and Fireworks 2021: event’s successful return marred by traffic and parking problems
Cuckfield Bonfire and Fireworks returned for the first time since 2019 on Saturday (November 6) and has been hailed as a financial success by its organisers.
However, the event was spoiled for some by a huge traffic jam and a full car park later in the evening.
This meant that some ticketholders who planned to arrive purely for the fireworks finale could not get in to see it.
Paul Pritchard, vice chairman of Cuckfield Bonfire Society, said 2021 was a ‘record year’ that had ‘rescued’ the society after a washout 2019 and a cancelled 2020.
But he said the bonfire team was not prepared for such a large audience even though their website had warned of ‘severe congestion’ near Cuckfield Park.
“At a good event in previous years we’ve had 6,000 people attend so we always plan along those figures,” said Paul, 56, who lives in Cuckfield.
“On Saturday night we had 8,000 turn up,” he said.
Paul said this increase was mostly people driving cars from further afield, which meant 2,000 more ticketholders on the country lanes.
“In our wildest dreams we wouldn’t have imagined we would have had that big of a night,” he said.
But Paul said there were other reasons for the parking and queuing problems.
He said the event had not been oversold, and that the arena had enough capacity, but explained that the car park had filled up 15 minutes before the fireworks.
Parking spaces were ‘subject to availability’, said Paul, but some who booked online might have thought they had reserved spaces, planning to get to the event at 7pm, which added to the congestion.
“We had a new online ticketing system and we set that up to try and speed up entry into the car park,” he added.
But he said ‘technical issues’ meant the scanners did not read the tickets, which actually slowed admission to the car park.
The number of volunteer marshals was low this year as well, said Paul, so the team was stretched.
Despite these issues, the event itself was successful with more than 6,500 people enjoying a spectacular display in the arena.
“The positive feedback we’re getting is very positive,” said Paul, adding that the attendees, the vendors and the fireworks company had all enjoyed the event.
The gates opened at 5.30pm and the bonfire was lit at 6.30pm but the team delayed the fireworks by 20 minutes to allow more people into the site.
Paul said the fireworks this year were dedicated to the NHS and set to tunes like ‘Heroes’ by David Bowie and ‘For Those About to Rock We Salute You’ by ACDC.
Some 6,500 people all sang along to Neil Diamond’s ‘Sweet Caroline’ as well, he said, which was one of his personal highlights from the evening.
Burgess Hill resident Eddie Howland, 51, said he and his family missed out on the fireworks because they were stuck in the traffic jam.
“We left Burgess Hill at 6.15pm to get there for the bonfire lighting at 6.45pm,” he said.
“We’ve got a ten-year-old boy, Brian, and he was looking forward to it all week,” said Eddie, adding that he had paid online weeks in advance.
They expected a queue but came to a standstill just outside Antsy.
“You could the traffic tailing back all ways,” said Eddie, who sat in traffic for at least an hour before realising that they were going to miss the show.
“By the time we got down to the roundabout that was near the actual fireworks they were just telling the cars there was no parking,” he said.
Some ticketholders, he said, had simply left their cars on the side of the road to walk in, but Eddie and his family decided to turn back.
Eddie said he was not too disappointed but his son, who has autism, was.
But he said he emailed the organisers as soon as he got home and they replied promptly the next morning to apologise and explain what had happened.
Eddie, who takes his family to Cuckfield Bonfire every year and appreciated the quick response, still feels that car parking spaces should have been reserved for people who pre-booked online and that some of the marshals could have walked along the road to tell people the car park was full.
Chichester Observer’s senior reporter Sam Morton, arrived at the event at about 5.40pm.
“It was very busy but I thought the traffic marshals did the best they could,” he said.
“It took us around 30 minutes to get into the car park but we were easily able to find a space and were at the event on time.
“The car park was gridlocked for a while as everyone was leaving at the same time but, again, it was dealt with well by the staff.”
Cuckfield Bonfire Society has issued a brief statement on its Facebook Page and is preparing a full statement.
“As a society we are truly sorry for the long delays experienced last night,” said the society, advising anyone with concerns to revisit the ticket booking site and select the ‘contact event organiser’ option.
Paul also said the problems will be a ‘major point of discussion’ at the bonfire society’s debrief and that everyone who could not get in should have been messaged by now.
“The society does apologise for the delays,” he said.
“We have learned a lot of lessons this year and for next year we will be working towards not letting that happen again.”