Carnival is coming! On Saturday 29th September, Shaftesbury’s streets will be filled with colourful floats. And Shaftesbury’s Chamber of Commerce is arranging the annual shop window display competition.
“Carnival is a big event in town. It does tend to just pass through, so the great thing about the window dressing competition is that it links the town to the carnival for ten days or more,” said Chamber chairman David Perry. “People know that the carnival is coming and people who come to the carnival often look into all of our wonderful shops.”
Chamber member Virginia Edwyn-Jones suggested this year’s theme of international carnivals, because it offers so much potential for creativity. “It could be interpreted as the Rio de Janeiro Carnival or Mexico’s Carnival of the Dead. It just needs to be big and flamboyant,” suggested David.
Chamber volunteers will be contacting town centre businesses that have ground floor windows to encourage them to decorate their space. Whether they pick Mardi Gras or the masks of the Venetian Carnival, the Chamber is hoping that there will be some colourful displays.
And there’s an incentive for staff to have a go. The Chamber is funding two prizes. The window which makes the greatest impact will win its designers £100 to spend at the Grosvenor Arms Hotel. An additional prize will reward the business that has made the greatest effort with their window. They will receive £50, again to spend at the Grosvenor Arms.
“Obviously, we are businesses in town and we don’t want this to take over our windows for too long. This displays need to be ready by 23rd September and they will be judged sometime between 23rd September and 28th September. If you want to leave it in after the carnival, that is entirely up to you,” said David.
The judging panel of locals, picked because they have no connection with any of the town centre traders, will choose two winning windows. Carnival co-chairman Derek Beer has judged window competitions in neighbouring towns and he knows what he’d be looking for. “Imagination and flair. And something that will make the public respect the town and think, ‘that was great,’” he said.
Derek says there’s usually a good standard of entry. “Shirley Allum and Squires always do a really good window. I think some of the new businesses in town have got something to live up to. Lots of people have a go, do their best and create a bit of interest, “ Derek said.
David is keen for new businesses who haven’t decorated a window previously to take up the challenge. “It’s great for them to get seen. We have a fantastic new shop, Decor by Georgie, down Salisbury Street, where Stomp shoes used to be. I’d be very surprised if she didn’t do a fantastic window.”
There’s some fun planned for local residents and visitors too and £50 to spend in town centre businesses is on offer. Somebody will win the voucher by spotting deliberate mistakes in shop windows. David hopes that all town centre traders will participate.
“The ‘spot the mistake’ competition is always very popular. This year we’re inviting as many shops as possible. They just need to put something funny in a window, which they obviously don’t sell. Of course, we’ll have window dressing material in the windows too, which might be items that are not sold by the shop. But the item should be something that is obviously nothing to do with their business,” he said.
David hopes this competition will remind locals of the range of products and services on offer in Shaftesbury town centre from both national and independent, local retailers. “It’s a great opportunity to encourage people to look in our shop windows and see what we do, or in this case, see what we don’t do. It’s fun for the kids and, hopefully, their parents to go around and discover some of the new businesses. They have to look hard in those windows,” he said.
From 23rd September, entry forms for listing the deliberate mistakes will be available at the John Peel restaurant and at the Tourist Information Centre. People entering the competition will be asked to name the participating business in which they would like to spend £50. The Chamber of Commerce will then arrange a voucher, whether the business is a chamber member or not.
Many people don’t realise how long the Shaftesbury Carnival has been running. It’s the 141st year this September. “Carnival started to raise funds for the hospital,” said Derek. “They were called the bonfire boys and it has just moved on.”
Last year’s carnival was a bit quiet although Derek said the Shaftsbury Carnival in itself was great, with local families and people putting it together. Like many events that rely on volunteers, the carnival network has gone through a period of change. “In the past, we had a hundred floats or entries. We are down to about sixty now but for a town of under 10,000 people, that’s a great number of entries,” said Derek.
The Wessex Carnival Section has faced some challenges with insurance and assembly costs for some of the big, floodlit floats. “It meant that a lot of the big floats did not turn up, but we have an absolute commitment from the Wessex Carnival that they will come this year,” said Derek. “We have always had one of the best carnivals in the area and we did not want to be let down again. They promise they won’t let us down. This year is going to be as good as it has ever been.”
“We are seeing more families and groups joining in again. In some towns, especially east of here, carnivals have just fallen away over the years. They only have one float. It’s still a great occasion here and the population goes up by 10% because people come in to see it. So we have to make it worthwhile,” he says.
The recent edition of Camping and Caravanning Magazine recommended that its readers visit the carnival on September 29th. Its writers described the event as ‘an action packed day.’
Derek’s committee is determined that this September’s carnival parade will be rewarding for anyone who travels into the town to see it.
If you want to decorate a business window, contact David Perry at Shaftesbury Wines on the High Street.