Monday, 29 November 2021

More entertainment, less food at Christmas festival

STREET entertainers could be hired to perform at this year’s Christmas Festival in Henley.

The number of food and drink stalls is to be reduced to create space for performances at the event on the evening of Friday, December 2.

The town council is also increasing the cost of sales pitches for businesses from outside Henley while offering them to the town’s traders at half the normal rate to encourage them to get involved.  

Paula Price-Davies, the council’s event and project co-ordinator, told a meeting of its Christmas events and decorations sub-committee that the full price of a stall would be £75 for food and drink and £60 for non-food.

She said she was vetting applicants for food and drink stalls with a view to reducing the number but some had been put off by the fee increase anyway.

Richard Rodway, chairman of the Henley Living Advent Calendar, said the price of a stall was still “pretty cheap” and claimed that if it caused a drop in number this would only be in the short-term as those who took up the offer would do well. Councillor Sarah Miller said the layout of stalls needed to be looked at as food stalls were outside food outlets at last year’s festival.

Ms Price-Davies said she had looked into providing roving performers and had approached those who perform at the Henley Festival. They would cost about £300 a head.

She said they would provide a “surprise element”, adding: “A lot of them will be on stilts to get the drama we want. We would need at least two.”

Shopkeeper Gillian Nahum, who is a member of the sub-committee, suggested asking Henley’s Acorn Theatre Group to provide entertainers.

“They have stilt walkers and they wouldn’t charge us,” she said. “They are very skilled and they have got more and more professional.”

Ms Price-Davies said the Marlow Town Band might also be willing to perform “roving” carols if they were allowed to collect donations at the same time. Mayor Julian Brookes said having performers might increase the take-up of stalls.

Ms Nahum added: “We had some musicians from Oxford on one of the Sundays before Christmas [last year] and it brought lots of people. It was brilliant — it was one of our best days of the year.”

The sub-committee also heard that the Mayor’s annual Christmas card competition had begun and an exhibition of entries would be held at the former Vintage Look shop in Market Place.

Ms Price-Davies said the Kenton Theatre had offered to dress the window and could have a live performer linked with this year’s pantomime, Sleeping Beauty.

Councillor Brookes said: “That’s much better than having an empty shop at Christmas time.”

Cllr Miller asked if Martin Allen, a homeless man sleeping rough in a doorway in Market Place, was likely to still be there next month.

Councillor Brookes said: “I have heard a rumour that South Oxfordshire District Council and the police are trying to sort something out but it is an extremely sensitive issue.”

Meanwhile, the council has agreed that new Christmas street lighting will be a permanent fixture in the town, to be used throughout the year for events such as Henley Royal Regatta.

The town council spent £46,580 on the strings of lights for Reading Road, Duke Street, Friday Street and the western half of Hart Street.

The plain white LED bulbs will be hung from a network of steel support cables that will be anchored to the sides of buildings and can easily be swapped for coloured lights or animated displays in the shape of stars, snowflakes, icicles and other seasonal symbols.

They will be in a “festoon” style, which the council says will mean the lights will cover a wider area and make a greater impression on visitors. Lights will also be installed permanently on the roof of the town hall.

Town clerk Janet Wheeler said: “It is a flexible system. If there is an area that looks dark or looks rubbish you can put different decorations on as part of the scheme.”

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