Sunday, 14 August 2022

Christmas festivities to be the biggest ever

THE Christmas celebrations in Henley this year will be the biggest ever.

Two separate events have been organised to get the town in a festive spirit and boost trade. A new late-night shopping event called Switch On and Shop will take place on Friday, November 21 and the traditional Christmas festival will happen two weeks later.

These are in addition to the Living Advent Calendar performances that will be taking place every evening in December in the run-up to Christmas.

At Switch On and Shop the lights on the small Christmas trees and the cross-street lighting will be switched on by Mayor Martin Akehurst and children’s TV presenter Anna Williamson, who is starring in the Reading Hexagon pantomime Cinderella. The town hall will also be illuminated. Retailers are being asked to stay open until 8pm and Brakspear pubs are being encouraged to join in by offering special deals for the night.

Thirty-four stalls selling food, drink, crafts and gifts will be in Falaise Square and these will remain in place over the weekend. There will be a two-hour programme of music and dance performances on a temporary stage outside Starbucks in Market Place from 6pm to 8pm.

There will also be a preview performance of this year’s Living Advent Calendar, roaming carol singers organised by the Henley Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society and a snow machine. The event, which is a new initiative between the town council and South Oxfordshire District Council to help increase trade, will also see the launch of the Advent Treasure Hunt for which 24 shops and businesses have offered more than £1,000 of prizes.

Contestants must get a stamp from either each business on the map or from a one of the calendar events, or a combination of both.

Maps will be made available on the night and shops will be given their own stock. They will also be available at each calendar event.

Completed maps should be posted in the postbox on the town hall steps by 4pm on January 3 when the Mayor will pick the winners.

This year’s Christmas Festival will take place on Friday, December 5 from 5pm to 9pm.

It will be opened by the town crier and begin with the traditional children’s lantern parade, which is open to all primary schoolchildren and supported by the River and Rowing Museum. The children will walk from Hotel du Vin in New Street to Market Place, via Hart Street.

Father Christmas will be in his grotto at King’s Arms Barn from 5.30pm to 9pm.

The Mayor and the winner of his Christmas card design competition will turn on the lights of the giant Norwegian Spruce in Market Place at 7pm.

This will be followed by carol singing on the town hall steps from 7.10pm with the Marlow town band as accompaniment.

There will be trade and charity stands in Falaise Square alongside a small carousel while a full-sized Ferris wheel will be in Hart Street. Many shops will be open until 9pm.

Hart Street will be closed for traffic from 3pm to 10pm and Bell Street, Duke Street, Market Place and Friday Street, at the Duke Street and Reading Road end, will be closed from 4pm to 10pm.

Town centre manager Peter McConnell said: “We hope that we can boost trade for our shops by bringing in some additional attractions and having the celebrity Christmas lights switch-on.

“Retailers are the lifeblood of our town but it is a precarious business for the independents so I hope that residents and visitors will come into town on November 21 and take the chance to get some personal service from some of our wonderful shops.”

Councillor Akehurst said: “All the activities we have organised are built around Henley and its shops and facilities.

“What we are trying to do is get people to shop locally. Henley is unique so let’s get the people in.”

Jeni Wood, who chairs the council’s Christmas decorations committee, said: “We always work very hard to make sure that what we do is memorable and, if the weather holds, it will be.

“When the small Christmas trees are lit they will be spectacular and illuminating the town centre will bring the Christmas spirit to Henley.

“The Christmas Festival always creates a huge buzz because it’s a really ‘Henley evening’ where everyone comes and enjoys it. This year we have a Ferris wheel and it should be a lot of fun.”

The Living Advent Calendar, which is sponsored by the Higgs Group, publishers of the Henley Standard, is designed to bring businesses and residents together in the festive spirit.

Now in its fourth year, the award-winning calendar takes the form of a half-hour festive show each evening between December 1 and Christmas Eve.

The performances will range from music and dance to drama, poetry and storytelling but the identity of each artist will be kept secret until the night.

• South Oxfordshire District Council has agreed to a request from the town council to offer free parking every Tuesday afternoon in December at its car parks in Greys Road, King’s Road and Southfields, off Goodall Close.

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