Published: 00:01, 21 December 2017
Hopes of a festive ice rink in Canterbury this Christmas have been dashed after operators reluctantly pulled the plug on the project.
The events firm behind the attraction has blamed problems with suppliers and escalating costs for its failure and have apologised to the families, schools and clubs left disappointed.
Nathan Whiting-May, who runs the company, Noah and the Shed, spoke exclusively to the Gazette yesterday to admit he had no choice but to abandon the project, with work due to start today on dismantling it.
"I put my heart and soul into it because I believed it would be fantastic for Canterbury and am bitterly disappointed I couldn’t make it happen," he said.
Work began in November in the Dane John Gardens with the erection of marquees and the base of the 40m by 30m rink. It was meant to open on December 2 but a series of delays in its launch signalled that all was not well with the project.
Mr Whiting-May said: "In hindsight, it was probably too ambitious in the timescale but we had the right people in place, everyone was making the right noises and we thought it was achievable."
He had estimated it would cost £80,000 and hoped to break even in the first year, but the costs continued to rise towards £120,000.
"We had problems with outside suppliers and their goalposts kept moving and costs rising,” he said. “We are a fairly small operation and we just had to draw the line on how much money we could throw at it."
The 41-year-old dad and entrepreneur from Bexhill says he pumped tens of thousands of pounds of personal money into the project, which he could now lose.
He has also apologised to families and organisations whose bookings were not honoured.
He says he has not ignored communications and insists he is working to have any outstanding payments refunded through Paypal - the payment method the website for bookings used - and has responded to customers through their Paypal email accounts.
Mr Whiting-May, whose firm also runs the Christmas market in Canterbury, says just 19 bookings were made online before the website was pulled and only a few hundred pounds is yet to be refunded.
He said: "It is very frustrating because we wanted it to be amazing and affordable for families and I fully appreciate everyone’s disappointment and I’m broken-hearted.
"But anyone who knows me knows that I have put everything physically, mentally and emotionally into it, and tried every single day to make it happen.
"I understand some of the public comments on social media and frustration and can only say that I did everything possible.
"Anyone who knows me knows that I have put everything physically, mentally and emotionally into it, and tried every single day to make it happen..." - Nathan Whiting-May
"But it must be said that no public money had gone into it and there’s no loss to the council.”
The bitter experience, however, has not put Mr Whiting-May off creating an ice rink in Canterbury again next Christmas.
"We know exactly what it takes and that it needs a much longer run-up to make happen," he said.
City council spoksman Rob Davies said: "We are as disappointed as anybody that the operator of the ice rink, Noah and the Shed, has not been able to provide the attraction this Christmas.
“We were supporting the project as the landowner because we thought it would be a great festive addition to the city.
"The period between the rink being proposed and the planned opening date was a relatively short one and has clearly turned out to be too ambitious for the operator.
"Although it has not been possible this year, there has been lots of interest from residents in having a Christmas ice rink in Canterbury.
"We are already looking at how we can make it happen for next year and will ensure potential operators learn the lessons from this year."