Disappointment as Stormont rules Santa’s grottos cannot open next week

Disappointment as Stormont rules Santa’s grottos cannot open next week

(Liam McBurney/PA)

Disappointment has been expressed after guidance issued by Stormont ruled out Santa’s grottos being allowed to open next week.

Hillmount Garden Centre owner Robin Mercer runs a popular festive attraction on the outskirts of Belfast.

He said his staff had adapted the grotto this year to allow for social distancing.

There were 500 families booked in for the experience between December 4 to midnight on December 10.

But Hillmount was advised by Belfast City Council that guidance from the Stormont Executive does not allow for outdoor attractions to open during the circuit-break coronavirus restrictions which come into effect on Friday.

A spokesperson from the council confirmed to the PA news agency that was the guidance received from the Executive.

Robin Mercer of Hillmount Garden Centre in Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)

Hillmount has cancelled bookings for the grotto and offered refunds to customers.

Mr Mercer is set to take delivery of 4,000 teddy bears with 2020 on them which he ordered in January for the annual grotto.

He said it is unclear whether he will be able to open after the circuit-break ends later in December.

“We are disappointed for all the families who will not be able to visit Santa at Hillmount between December 4-10 but the health and safety of the families visiting our grotto and our staff is of the utmost importance,” he said.

“Santa and his elves are working hard to develop a special Hillmount Christmas Eve gift which will be available to order for click and collect or post so children can receive a little Hillmount magic this Christmas.”

A Santa ornament at Hillmount Garden Centre in Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)

Mr Mercer said he had adapted the grotto from two small rooms to two large rooms, eight metres by four metres, allowing for guests, the photographer and Santa to distance from each other.

He also arranged for temperatures to be checked on the way in, hand sanitiser at the beginning and introduced a booking system for the first time.

The Stormont Executive met on Tuesday morning to discuss the upcoming circuit-break.

Members agreed that churches could open for private prayer, and non-essential shops, which must close for the fortnight, can run click and collect facilities on an appointment-only basis with maximum mitigations in place.

Ministers also confirmed that outdoor visitor attractions will be closed for the duration of the two weeks and that self-catering accommodation will only be permitted to operate on a restricted basis, in line with arrangements for other accommodation providers, including hotels.

More in this section