IT HAS become a must-do in London for years, but now Colchester has got in on the act and launched its very own Christmas ice rink.

The man behind the project came up with the idea nearly two years ago and, since then, has worked hard to prove a Colchester Ice Rink will not only be a festive addition to Castle Park, but flood the town with shoppers, therefore bringing more money to the local economy.

And Ben Payne was not wrong. Although the rink was only opened yesterday, more than 9,500 tickets for sessions on the ice rink have been sold already.

Christmas Eve is almost sold out and other slots for the festive week are going fast.

Ben – owner of audio-visual company Illuminate Design and the brain behind Reflective Ice, which has organised the ice rink – says: “I have seen the ice rink elsewhere, mainly by the Tower of London, where you get 80,000 or 90,000 people visiting, but there is nothing like this around Colchester. Norwich has something similar, but Ipswich doesn’t, so if anyone from Colchester wants to enjoy a Winter Wonderland with an outdoor ice rink, they have to travel quite far.

“With Colchester Castle, the setting is beautiful – it really captures the imagination.”

Ben, who moved to Colchester from London in 2010, first began talking to Colchester Council about the idea for a rink in January 2013.

He adds: “We didn’t start in seriousness until last year. It took 18 months to get to the point where I had a presentation together, which I presented to the council in October 2014,” says Ben, whose company, Illuminate Design, recently lit up Colchester landmark Jumbo.

The event is a large one, even on Ben’s scale. Most events he takes part in last just a day or two, but the Colchester Ice Rink project was launched yesterday and will run until January 3.

Work on the site itself began early this month and along with the 26metre by 17.5metre ice rink, a Winter Wonderland of stalls selling food, drink, crafts and rides for the children has been created.

The whole project, which has been working with Wivenhoe House to bring the rink to the public, cost more than £250,000, funded through private cash.

Ben says: “This has taken a lot of planning and working with the council and English Heritage to make sure we set things up correctly and without damaging the park. I have to say my sleep has been seriously reduced because I’ve been up at 2am most nights checking the ticket sales online.

“Now the hard work is paying off,” says Ben.

“I would like to see this become an annual event, but we have to wait and see how this year’s event goes first. I am really excited. It has been a long time in the planning so it will be great to see people come and enjoy it all, have a great time.

“I may also give the ice skating a go as I haven’t done it before!” he adds.

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