Sunday, 01 August 2021

Lights, carols, action

THOUSANDS of people packed the streets of Henley on Friday evening to celebrate the start of the Christmas season.

THOUSANDS of people packed the streets of Henley on Friday evening to celebrate the start of the Christmas season.

The 22nd Christmas Festival was one of the busiest ever and included the official switch-on of the main tree lights, carol singing, a children’s parade and funfair rides.

It started at a slightly earlier time of 5pm on a dry but chilly evening and the main town centre streets were closed to traffic.

Most shops stayed open late and many handed out mince pies and mulled wine to customers.

About 70 businesses, charities and organisations had stalls selling festive gifts, food and drink.

Mayor Stefan Gawrysiak, who was almost late after being caught in traffic caused by the road closures, said it was the best event he had attended.

“It was absolutely awesome,” he said. “The town was packed and people were having a great time. I really enjoyed singing the carols and the lighting of the tree.

“At the end of the evening I walked around the whole town and thanked everyone. All the charity stalls did very well and the people of Henley rose to the occasion.”

The festival was declared open by “town crier” Ian Beyts and began with the parade of more than 90 children carrying home-made lanterns.

The youngsters — some wearing Santa hats — were led by Father Christmas and a piper from Hotel du Vin in New Street to the town hall via River Side and Hart Street.

Following the procession, Santa opened his grotto at King’s Arms Barn and dozens of children ran there to get their place in the queue.

Jessica Cattanach, 10, a pupil at Badgemore Primary School, and Rupert House pupil Darcey Dryden, eight, switched on the Christmas tree lights after becoming the first joint winners of the Mayor’s Christmas card design competition.

The crowd counted down but it took several attempts before the lights finally came on.

Councillor Gawrysiak then led the crowd in carol singing, accompanied by 15 members of the Invesco Perpetual choir, known as the Sound Investments, and the Marlow Town Band.

The carols and festive songs included Oh Come, All Ye Faithful, Once In Royal David’s City, Away In A Manger, Silent Night, Jingle Bells, Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer and We Wish You A Merry Christmas.

Other attractions included a carousel in Market Place and other fairground rides spread throughout the town centre.

Children could have their photograph taken with Aladdin and his genie, alias actors James Clifford and Rochelle Parry, in a giant lamp from the Kenton Theatre pantomime.

A crowd of about 60 people watched members of the Stagecoach dance group, based at Valley Road school, street dancing to a remix of Singin’ In The Rain outside the town hall.

Four members of Expert Fitness raised money for the Sparks children’s health charity by pedalling on cycling machines for three-and-a-quarter hours and trainer Richard Hawkins collected money while dressed as Father Christmas.

He said: “We’ve been doing it for five years now and the lure of mince pies and mulled wine is just too much to turn down.” Twenty members of The Henley College Wasps academy squad volunteered to be stewards.

Celebrity chef Antony Worrall Thompson barbecued food outside Machins the butchers for the eighth year running.

“The festival brings people to the town,” he said. “There’s talk of not enough parking space and charges being too high but we try to generate the activity that Henley needs.

“It’s a great way of doing it by closing the town for the night and children and adults love it. Every year the stalls get better and better.”

Luke Hearn, who was running the Loddon Brewery stall, said: “What I like about it is that people do come out to buy things rather than just have tasters.”

The stalls represented a number of local schools, charities and other organisations, including the Sue Ryder hospice at Nettlebed, the Chiltern Centre for disabled children and Henley Lions.

Laurence Menswear in Duke Street raised £120 for the Thames Valley and Chiltern Air Ambulance Trust by selling mulled wine and Christmas cake, donated by the Chocolate Café in Thames Side. Owner Laurence Morris said: “I was really pleased with how it went. It was better than last year.”

A stall for Rupert House School raised £1,250 for the Millie’s Dream appeal from selling mulled wine.

Sarah Roberts, who founded the appeal, said she was happy because the money would fund a defibrillator but was slightly disappointed not to have at least matched last year’s figure of £3,000.

She said: “There were nine mulled wine stalls overall and we had to give away 60 litres for nothing at the end.”

Cancer Research raised £250 from donations and a tombola and another £250 from selling Christmas cards, wrapping paper, gifts and clothes.

Charity volunteer Annie Lathaen, who manned the tombola, said: “People were very generous and some were particularly keen to support our charity because it is a cause that is close to them.

“I think the event was the best it has ever been. The atmosphere was fantastic and I was very impressed.”

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution raised £360 from its “soft tombola” of teddy bears and sale of gifts, souvenirs and stocking fillers.

Volunteer fund-raiser Norman Daniells said: “It was a great night — probably the best one we’ve ever done from our point of view.”

Chilterns End residential home in Greys Road had a stall for the first time and raised £200 by selling raffle tickets and cakes baked by staff.

Kim Boseley, a laundress at the home, said: “It was a really enjoyable evening.”

Henley Town Council took control of the amusements for the first time and decided to spread them out so more people would visit shops on the edge of the town centre.

Council officer and event co-ordinator Paula Price-Davies said: “Having a carousel in the Market Place, which we hadn’t done before, just refreshed it. It was something adults could use as well.

“We tried to strategically place other rides in Hart Street and had new ones in Duke Street and Bell Street to try to get people to walk down all the roads.

“We’ve had good feedback from shops saying they were pretty full and the atmosphere was very festive.

“Next year, we would really encourage shopkeepers to have stalls outside their shops to invite customers in.”

text 1312199: AWT

1312200: Sarah Roberts, who founded the Millie’s Dream appeal, with volunteers Anne Lancaster, Gerry Watkins and Emma Cutler, who helped to sell mulled wine

1312202: James Clifford, as Aladdin, and Rochelle Parry, as the Genie, with Emilia Ziegler, two, from Peppard

1312205: Ollie Thomas, Sam Jones and Kitty Potter, all three and from Henley, with Chloe Thomas, five, also from Henley

1312206-7: Members of Stagecoach dance group

1312208: Jessica Cattanach, 10, and Darcey Dryden, eight, switched on the Christmas lights

1312210: Members of Invesco Perpetual’s choir, The Sound Investments, sang Christmas carols

More News:

POLL: Have your say