A True Cracker
ICM Chairman Dr Alistair Somerville Ford was pleased to be the main sponsor of the 2007 Christchurch Christmas Festival – reaffirming ICM’s commitment to promoting the education, welfare and interest of children, young people and adults, as well as the interest of the local community in and around Christchurch.
The ninth Christchurch Christmas Festival took place on Saturday 1 December, treating Christchurch’s residents and visitors to an abundance of festive-themed entertainment, activities and events. Most anticipated, of course, was the Christmas lights switch-on which saw huge crowds gather at the front of the Mayor’s Parlour on the High Street to watch The Mayor of Christchurch, Councillor Mrs Josephine Spencer, and Dominic Lees-Bell from Swish of the Curtain Drama School pull the switch – brightly lighting up the High Street and the giant Christmas tree.
[quote: …residents and visitors flocked to the town to enjoy a wonderful festive atmosphere created by a Christmas Market, carol singing, official Christmas Lights ‘switch on’ and Christmas shopping throughout the evening ~ Paul Riley – Christchurch Council’s Economic Development Manager]
It was the first time the festival has been held on a Saturday and despite the rain, which swept down in the afternoon, thousands turned out to enjoy the event, which has been taking place in the town since 1999. ICM Chairman, Dr Alistair Somerville Ford, was proud to be the festival’s main sponsor, with his generous donation paying for the day’s attractions – most notably two reindeer which were specially flown in from Lapland.
How the Festival began
Seeing so many families flock to Christchurch to enjoy the Festival, it is difficult to imagine that the town once didn’t have its own event to mark the occasion. In fact, according to Christchurch Council’s Economic Development Manager and Chairman of the Christchurch Christmas Festival Committee, Paul Riley, the idea originally occurred “almost by accident.” Back in 1999, Paul and his colleague Christchurch Council Tourism Manager, Ann Simon, were liaising with Christchurch retailers regarding the ways in which the town’s business community could embrace Christmas in the town centre.
They then set up a meeting with the Christchurch Chamber of Trade & Commerce to explore whether there was a willingness to create a Christmas event on a partnership basis involving a number of key stakeholders in the town centre, and to look into holding late night shopping evenings during the festive period. Paul explained: “I had previously worked in Weymouth and knew how successful the Victorian-themed late night shopping evenings were down there. If Weymouth could make something work for them, why couldn’t Christchurch do the same?”
The Chamber of Trade & Commerce embraced the idea and set up a group involving not just its own members, but also other groups and organisations including the Borough Council, Soroptomists, Federation of Churches, the Police and local schools. Paul added: “Those were pioneering days and a huge number of hours went into planning the first [Festival] but it was all worthwhile. Most of the town centre was closed to traffic on the night and residents and visitors flocked to the town to enjoy a wonderful festive atmosphere created by a Christmas Market, carol singing, official Christmas Lights ‘switch on’ and Christmas shopping throughout the evening.”
Strong community spirit
Despite being originally planned with Christchurch’s retail businesses in mind, the Festival went on to have huge benefits for the local community too. Paul enthused: “Local organisations found a new way to work in partnership and local people enjoyed spending time (and money!) in their town centre. It helped to mark Christchurch as a special place that people have pride in and talk about with their friends and relatives. Someone even commented that there hadn’t been so many people in the town centre since VE Day was celebrated in May 1945! There was a wonderful atmosphere in the town that night and the evening was so successful that it wasn’t difficult to decide it would be repeated as an annual event.”
Since its inception, the event has grown in size and popularity year on year, and Saturday’s Festival was no different – attracting an estimated 10,000 visitors to the streets of Christchurch. A whole host of activities and events to please adults and children of all ages were on offer during the Festival which kicked off at 10am and lasted right through until 7pm. For those with shopping in mind, or people looking to sample festive food and drink, a Christmas Market spanned the entire length of the High Street. In addition, traders on the High Street, Saxon Square, the Priory Quarter and Bargates treated shoppers to special offers and events throughout the day, giving them plenty of opportunities to discover extra items to fill their Christmas stockings.
Something for everyone
For both youngsters and adults alike, there was plenty to keep visitors amused in a specially erected marquee in Saxon Square. The marquee and events were arranged and planned by the Christchurch Community Partnership, which was approached by the Council to chair Saxon Square throughout the day. Special treats for the kids ranged from face-painting and storytelling sessions right through to entertainment from IVO the Clown and fairground rides. For the adults and older generation, entertainment was provided in a variety of ways. Music lovers were treated to live bands playing day-long in the marquee – including live sets from bands CODA Rock Academy, the Lighthouse Band, Not Just Sax and The Funky Little Choir. Or for the fashion-lovers amongst the crowds, a fashion show featured designs from Signature, Habit and New Look – showcasing the latest looks for the festive season.
Terry Darch is Chairman of the Partnership’s Cultural and Lifestyle Action Group. He headed up the activities and was extremely pleased with the reception they received. He said: “It was a tremendously exciting day. People were literally crowding outside the marquee – it was so popular that we had to open up the sides to let more people in. It was the first time we’ve had a marquee at the Festival and everyone commented that the activities were the best they’ve enjoyed so far. We really appreciate the tremendous hard work of the entertainers and volunteers and very much hope that we are approached to manage the activities there again next year.”
Following the spectacular lights switch-on, hundreds of families next queued to view the reindeer. The beautiful animals – which were coloured white and brown – were housed in a large pen in the grounds of Christchurch Priory Church and children had the rare opportunity to feed and stroke them. Reputed to be the longest parish church in England (at just under 95 metres) and dating back to the 11th century, the Priory was the perfect place for families to gather after the day’s festivities. For those wishing to continue the experience, a Christmas Fayre inside the Priory offered more gift ideas and tasty treats, whilst visitors also had the opportunity to walk around the church or even take a trip to the top of the tower for an aerial view of the Christmas lights.
True sense of occasion
Caroline Peterson has lived in Christchurch for 14 years and has attended every Christmas Festival since its launch. She was at Saturday’s event and enthused about all of the activities on offer. She said: “I’ve been to every lights switch-on since the first one in 1999. It didn’t happen in 2005 as the weather was so bad it had to be cancelled. This year has been fantastic though – particularly the bands in the marquee. I’ve brought my grandchildren along too as they love getting dressed up in their warm clothes and get so excited when the lights are first turned on.”
And as Paul adds, Festival feedback is always positive: “People love the festive atmosphere – children having fun, the chance to shop locally in a pleasant environment, and the sense of occasion when the Christmas lights are switched on.” In fact, he even went as far as describing the event as “one of the best Christmas Festivals we have had,” adding: “The town centre was full of people enjoying themselves, the shops and Christmas Market stallholders had lots of business and the Christmas lights switch-on was as usual a hugely popular event.”
The 2007 lights switch-on certainly got the reception it deserved, with thousands of families cramming in front of the Mayor’s Parlour in anticipation of Santa who arrived in a fire truck decorated in festive decorations. He then joined Cllr Mrs Josephine Spencer on the balcony of the Parlour, along with her special guests Dominic Lees-Bell, the Town Crier and Wave 105 DJ Steve Power for the switch-on. [quote: This Festival has become a very important event here in Christchurch… ~ Cllr Mrs Josephine Spencer]Addressing the crowd, Cllr Mrs Spencer said: “This Festival has become a very important event here in Christchurch and this year we’ve had the help of the community allowing us to provide you with all sorts of activities. I very much hope that you’re all enjoying this special day.”
[quote: I am so glad to have had the chance to sponsor the Festival and I was extremely pleased to see so many people enjoying themselves… ~ Dr Somerville Ford]
Also in residence at the Mayor’s Parlour on the day were two stars from Bournemouth’s Christmas pantomime, Sleeping Beauty – Malandra Burrows from Emmerdale who is playing the Good Fairy and Christopher Pizzey from The Basil Brush Show who plays Silly Billy in the panto. The stars were in full costume, looking extremely festive and waved and spoke to the crowds from the balcony of the parlour. The show is being performed at the Bournemouth Pavilion from 6 December 2007 until 6 January 2008. Tickets are priced at £12, £14 and £15.
An event for future generations
Dr Somerville Ford enjoyed spending time with each of the guests at the Mayor’s Parlour and was extremely pleased to have the opportunity to sponsor the event, and therefore bring enjoyment to thousands of people. He commented: “I am so glad to have had the chance to sponsor the Festival and I was extremely pleased to see so many people enjoying themselves – particularly those who lined up to view the reindeer. I very much hope that the lights switch-on will be enjoyed by generations for many more years to come.”
Speaking on behalf of the Council and the team behind the Festival, Paul thanked Alistair for his support. He said: “Alistair’s kind contribution has enabled the Festival to continue to evolve and grow. Without it we would not have been able to have the wide range of attractions and that would have affected the number of visitors coming into the town and the ‘feel good’ factor on the night, so it really is most important and very much appreciated by the Festival Organising Committee.”
ICM very much hopes that you enjoyed the Festival and wishes you Season’s Greetings for Christmas 2007 and a prosperous New Year in 2008.