It’s New Zealand’s longest-running festival and the quintessential example of local community.

However, the Alexandra Blossom Festival faced its biggest threat this year as the Covid-19 pandemic raised fears it would be cancelled for the first time since its inception.

The announcement on Monday that New Zealand, with the exception of Auckland, could move to Alert Level 1 meant the blossom festival could go ahead.

Festival co-ordinator Martin McPherson was ‘‘fairly fearful a few months ago back in March-April that we weren’t going to have a blossom festival’’, he said.

The emergence of the Auckland cluster and the country moving back to higher alert levels did cause doubt to return.

While other events were cancelled up and down the country, Mr McPherson and his committee were determined to keep progressing ‘‘till the 11th hour’’.

‘‘It is important that we get back to normal as soon as possible, and with the support of this community and the support of the committee we took a punt, and we were right.’’

Groups had been working behind the scenes to prepare for the festival, ‘‘for weeks and weeks and I didn’t want to disappoint them’’.

Over the years the Otago Daily Times and The News had reported on the ups and downs of the enduring event.

The first blossom festival was run by the Alexandra Jaycee Chapter in September 1957 as a way of raising money to replace the ageing Alexandra swimming baths.

Since the beginning the festival was a key driver for other events over a two-week period as local groups were able to run a diverse number of activities.

Mr McPherson was the festival co-ordinator from 1993 until 2001 before being made redundant by the Alexandra District Promotions group.

Independent operators then managed the festival for several years, but three successive years of losses in 2007, 2008 and 2009 meant the event was insolvent and questions were raised about whether it could continue.

After the 2009 festival made a loss of $73,143, then committee chairman Tim Cadogan said at a meeting, ‘‘the patient is on the table, dead. But I believe it is capable of resuscitation, if that is what the community wishes.’’

The Vincent Community Board bailed out the festival and in 2009 Mr McPherson was reappointed as event manager.

The festival made a small profit in 2010 after the bailout, and since then the festival had gradually recovered.

Another hurdle was faced in 2013 when for the first time a float was banned after a group called Life is Precious designed one that included a large model of a 12-week-old foetus cradled in two hands.

By last year the festival had turned a corner as more than 8000 enjoyed a sunny atmosphere as temperatures climbed above 20degC.

‘‘There is a direct economic impact — there is probably in excess of a million dollars spent through the greater community over that weekend,’’ Mr McPherson said.

This year it was less about the economic impact. ‘‘It is the social impact’’.

s‘‘As a community we are going to celebrate ourselves, our sense of place and the fact is we have got through this thing called Covid and things are starting to return to normal, whatever that normal is.’’




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