COVID-safe Santa Fest plan so The Gong's longest-running pub crawl can build on its 25-year history

What a difference a year makes: The large crowds seen in 2019 won't be a feature of the 2020 Santa Fest which will largely involve participants sharing their festive fundraising celebrations online. Picture: Robert Peet.
What a difference a year makes: The large crowds seen in 2019 won't be a feature of the 2020 Santa Fest which will largely involve participants sharing their festive fundraising celebrations online. Picture: Robert Peet.

It won't look the same as last year but Santa Fest will proceed on December 12 with a new innovative COVID-safe format.

Founder Neil Webster said the 2020 instalment is going to be largely done online as festival goers won't be able to gather in large numbers at pubs and bars because of COVID-19 restrictions.

But he still thinks it can be a great event with everyone interacting as they celebrate at home.

"I have been working with Gerardo Ceres from Relativity and we have come up with a Zoom format style event," Mr Webster said.

"We are encouraging people to have Santa Fest parties at home and then we are going to link them all up.

"I will be hosting it almost like a telethon from a venue with 19 of my friends and we will do crosses to different parties. We will also have a roving camera crew that will go out and visit some of the traditional venues."

Mr Webster's live broadcast will last several hours and fund-raising for the same charities and causes Santa Fest supported last year will be done by the donations people make to gain access to the link, as well as calls for online donations.

"We are very lucky that Dan Murphy's has stepped in to offer three beverage packages and a percentage of sales for those packages will go to the Salvation Army, the Disability Trust and the Disabled Surfers Association as well," he said.

"At my venue I will have bartenders who will show people who have bought the cocktail package how to make different cocktails. We are going to make it as interactive as we can with things for people to do.

"Lowes have joined us again with their shirt sponsorship and we are encouraging people to go and buy their shirts from Lowes and have a Hawaiian Santa party at home."

Adapting: Event founder Neil Webster will be live on social media interacting with Santa Fest participants.

Adapting: Event founder Neil Webster will be live on social media interacting with Santa Fest participants.

Mr Webster said the carols event for families on the Sunday had also been affected by COVID restrictions. So the Salvos are organising a live-stream of Christmas carols online.

He said he was inspired by the the old telethons and he will play the role of host with the latest technology people have become more accustomed to using during social isolation.

"We are trying to tap into people online by offering something quite unique that is a bit of fun. I want to raise more money for charity and keep Wollongong's standing as the world's longest running pub crawl event."

Mr Webster said there will still be people who book a table for groups at some venues that will operate to their own COVID-safe capacities and protocols. But it is not organised by him. It is up to those people and the individual venues.

This story The changes that mean an annual pub crawl will happen in 2020 first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.