Shops plea for lights ceremony to return

How Scarborough used to mark the beginning of the festive shopping season, with a town centre lights switch-on ceremony. Photo by Dave Barry 004593j
How Scarborough used to mark the beginning of the festive shopping season, with a town centre lights switch-on ceremony. Photo by Dave Barry 004593j

Scarborough stores are calling for the return of the popular Christmas lights switch-on event which was axed six years ago.

Organisers were forced to pull the plug on the annual town centre ceremony, which was attended by thousands of shoppers, in 2006 after police said it was unsafe.

Now, traders have launched an urgent plea to bring back the event after it was revealed the annual switch-on parade has also been scrapped this year.

WH Smith and other shops have called for a re-think.

Rachel Buxton, owner of the Cocoa confectionery store in Bar Street, said: “I’m definitely in favour of a switch-on event to get as many people in the town as possible and make it a big attraction so it’s not a damp squib.

“If you bring something like that back it will attract more families and people from outside Scarborough and it will be good for business as well.

“We are originally from Sheffield and always went to the lights switch-on there as it was a really big thing. People also like to feel they belong to a community and these events bring everyone together.”

Brand new LED Christmas lights will be illuminated next Friday at around 5.30pm, however they will not be switched on by a celebrity or public figure.

The town’s annual lights ceremony was cancelled at short notice in November 2011 amid fears people may get crushed in the crowds.

It was a blow to Coronation Street star Jennie McAlpine, who was lined up to push the button. But she was paid her fee after being told she was not required.

Speaking at the time, the former town centre manager Malcolm Hall, said: “We’re all bitterly disappointed but the health and safety of people is paramount.

“I appreciate how much disappointment this decision will cause but it would be more disappointing if people had to be turned away because of restrictions of numbers.”

A month-long programme of events, including a German Christmas Fair, is being staged instead of the lights switch-on parade, which replaced the ceremony after it was scrapped.

The annual reindeer parade has also been ditched in the festive shake-up.

However, Scarborough Council investment manager, Nick Taylor, who has responsibility for town centre activities, said there would still be a “real buzz” in the town.

He said: “We are doing it differently this year.

“We are having a big party all evening long. The YMCA will be performing, as well as musicians in cafes. We have also got fantastic new Christmas lights this year.

“We will also have our Christmas greeters, who will be handing out free maps. This has been funded with £10,000 from the Government’s ‘Portas pot’. They will be stationed at key locations in the town and will promote our retail offering to shoppers.

“We have actually spent more money this year. We are trying different things as figures have revealed the switch-on parade does not actually improve footfall.”

Ethon Pashby, manager at Mainline clothes shop, in Huntriss Row, thinks people in Scarborough would like a big switch-on event.

“Some different events could be good potentially, but I’m surprised to hear the reindeer parade won’t be on,” she said.

The switch-on ceremony was a big success, bringing in about 10,000 people and shops opened late but North Yorkshire Fire Service said the corner of Westborough and Aberdeen Walk, which was where the event was traditionally held, could only hold 2,000 people at the most.

Supervisor Julie Brent, from WH Smith, in Westborough, said: “If they’ve bought new lights, why not have a proper switch-on?

“People aren’t going to come from out of town to do late-night shopping, and those that are here already know where the shops are. Why do they need to employ people to tell shoppers where to go?”

She added that she would like to see lots of school choirs in town on the run-up to Christmas.

Sue Sadler, assistant manager at Bon Marche, said: “It looks like the council are spending the money where they think they need to, but I think they should try to arrange free buses into town for the outskirts of Scarborough for late night shopping.”