Tuesday, 03 August 2021

Christmas Countdown

HENLEY will get into the Christmas spirit with a string of festive events next month.

HENLEY will get into the Christmas spirit with a string of festive events next month.

The attractions will include the annual Christmas festival and a new shopping event called “Henley High Street Hootenanny” with special offers and pop-up performances.

There will also be the 5th Santa’s fun run, the carol service at St Mary’s Church, a winter window display competition, parties for the elderly and the 5th Henley Living Advent Calendar with different performances around town every night.

This is in addition to the 159 illuminated Christmas trees which have been installed outside shops and businesses in the town centre in the past week. Mayor Lorraine Hillier said: “It’s going to be brilliant — Henley is one of the best towns in the country for this kind of thing.”

Thousands of people are expected to attend the evening festival, which will take place on Friday, December 4. As usual, there will be fairground rides, market stalls and the switching-on of the lights on the 40ft Christmas tree in Market Place.

Many local businesses will also stay open until 9pm to allow visitors to do their Christmas shopping.

Roads in the town centre will be closed for the event, which will be opened by town crier Ian Beyts at 5pm.

Hundreds of children will take part in a lantern parade led by Father Christmas, who will then settle down at his grotto in King’s Arms Barn.

The tree lights will be switched on at 7pm by the Mayor, Invesco Perpetual chief executive Mark Armour and the winner of the Mayor’s schools Christmas card competition.

This will be followed by the singing of Christmas carols around the tree. Eighty shops will take part in the Hootenanny event from 11am to 4pm on the following Sunday (December 6).

There will be musical performances by groups from Acoustic@Magoos at Boatique and Central Home and by Henley Music School in the Bell Bookshop and Louise Claire Millinery.

About 30 shops which are usually closed on a Sunday will be open.

Children’s dance troupe Stephanie’s Stage Stop will kick off the event at the Christmas tree and members of the Henley Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society will sing carols in Duke Street.

Among the other attractions will be make-up demonstrations, tea leaf readings and wreath-making, while local historian Elizabeth Hazeldine will give a free walking tour of the town centre.

The Kenton Theatre in New Street will offer face painting, ice cream and a visit from the dame in this year’s pantomime, Jack and The Beanstalk.

At the River & Rowing Museum in Mill Meadows, children will be able to meet Mr Toad from Wind in the Willows and Father Christmas.

Athlete Service in Greys Road car park will be handing out mulled wine and hot chocolate and the Bull on Bell Street will be offering a free starter or dessert to anyone ordering a main course and uttering the magic word “Hootenanny!”

Jonkers will have Night Before Christmas-themed fun for children as well as festive readings from local authors Amanda Jennings and Mike Read, while Oxfam in Market Place will host storytelling sessions for children.

Other businesses taking part include Space NK, Upstairs and Downstairs, White Garden, the Bohun Gallery, Adventures in Living, Henley Pet Shop, Henley Regatta, Henley Sports, Hubbledays, Jaeger, Liz Felix Millinery and Way’s Bookshop.

The event is supported by estate agent Davis Tate.

Henley town centre manager Rachel Rae said: “I have been speaking to as many retailers as possible and while they enjoy the Friday night festival there was a desire for something which encouraged Christmas shopping in Henley’s own shops.

“The idea of a special Sunday opening was suggested so I went around shops all over town and got a really positive response.

“We’ve been delighted by the response so far and if anyone else would like to do something special for the day please get in touch with me via the town hall.”

Councillor Sam Evans, who chairs the council’s Christmas festival sub-commitee, said: “We want to make Christmas bigger and better than ever this year. The whole point is to tell the world that they don’t need to go anywhere other than Henley to do their Christmas shopping.”

Gillian Nahum, a director of the Henley Business Partnership, who runs Boatique and in Friday Street, said: “I hope this alerts the people of Henley that this is a great place to go — you can have a cup of tea, lunch and do some shopping.”

Cllr Hillier said: “Everyone has put in a lot of effort and it’s much needed because footfall has been down. People are saving money at this time of year but hopefully these events will bring a big surge.”

Earlier in the day, scores of people are expected to take part in the fun run, where people dressed in Christmas outfits will take on a two-mile course, starting and ending at the River and Rowing Museum.

Families are invited to jog or walk the off-road course, starting at 10am. All participants will be given Santa hats and hot food and mince pies will be served afterwards.

Cllr Hillier and Mayoress Susan George, her sister, will be among the participants.

Prizes will be given to the fastest runner under 14 and the best-dressed family, adult, team and runner under 10.

The proceeds will go to the Mayor’s charities, Oxfordshire Mind, the Teenage Wilderness Trust and Thames Valley Animal Welfare.

The Living Advent Calendar, which is sponsored by Higgs Group, publishers of the Henley Standard, will involve 30-minute performances at venues every night from December 1 to Christmas Eve.

The window display competition for businesses will have a theme of advent calendars and will be judged on Monday, December 7.

Each display must feature something to do with the business’s specific trade and entries will be judged by sponsors Milton Gordon & Co, IBS Office Solutions and the Head Partnership.

Cash prizes and bottles of champagne will be awarded to the top four entries. The overall winner will also receive the Perpetual Challenge Cup.

On Wednesday, December 16, a candlelit evening of readings, poetry and Christmas carols will be held at St Mary’s Church, starting at 7.30pm. Tickets cost £5 and are available from the town hall.

The Mayor’s Christmas party for the elderly will take place at the town hall on Tuesday, December 1 and Gainsborough Residents’ Association will also hold a free Christmas lunch for elderly residents on December 4 at the Catherine Wheel in Hart Street.

• In the New Year Henley Town Council’s parks services team will shred Christmas trees in return for a £2 donation to Henley in Bloom. This will take place on January 2 and January 9 from 10am to noon at Mill Meadows.

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