Santa and Free Gifts For Children At Shaftesbury Christmas Lights Switch On

Shaftesbury Chamber of Commerce volunteers are looking forward to launching the town’s countdown to Christmas with their traditional evening of festive food, singing and seasonal surprises. Late Night Shopping is on 2nd December.

“Late-night shopping in the town, going back thirty years, was always a way for traders in the town to say ‘thank you’ to everyone for their trade throughout the year. It is a way of giving back,” said Shaftesbury Chamber of Commerce committee member James Thrift.

“I think virtually every business will be open. Certainly, everybody on the High street,” David Perry, Chamber Vice Chairman and owner of Shaftesbury Wines, added.

“As usual, the lights are always the ‘star of the show’. That 5-4-3-2-1 moment when the lights go on is impressive,” explained James, who has been helping to coordinate the annual event. Last year, Shaftesbury’s much-loved harmony trio ‘Belle Street’ sang as the lights were switched on. This Christmas, we’ll hear it from the boys, as one of North Dorset’s favourite groups are the star attraction.

“We have music with ‘Sorry About Shaun’ who are absolutely fantastic. Many people will have seen them at Larmer Tree Festival this year,” said James. If you’re unfamiliar with this accomplished group, whose rousing tunes contain shades of Mumford and Sons, look up their new EP on Spotify, Amazon, iTunes or wherever you discover new music.

Younger children will enjoy a chance to meet Santa. “Father Christmas is hugely popular with his grotto, which is free for all children. We don’t charge. That is in the Town Hall,” said James. All youngsters who see Santa will be offered a free treat.

Robert Cole’s steam engine proves popular with attendees of all ages and it will be parked on Angel Lane if the weather is favourable. David says a hot chestnut stall and a bar will in place further up the High Street. “Bloomfield Associates are planning to have mulled cider with a gin and prosecco bar outside Lloyds Bank. It will be virtually opposite the hog roast. Last year, we had street food stalls but for this year we thought we would go ‘the full hog’,” said master of puns, David.

The activities commence at around 5.30pm. “The community choir will be singing for an hour then Santa will turn up with his sleigh and helpers at about 6.30pm. The lights will go on then and ‘Sorry About Shaun’ will perform,” said James.

Chamber of Commerce and Shaftesbury in Bloom volunteers decorate the town, putting up trees and lights above businesses. Member shops and companies are asked to contribute £25 to cover the costs of purchasing the trees and the LED lights, which need replacing frequently. Non-members are offered a tree outside their business for £40.

(From left) Rob Neely, David Perry and James Thrift from Shaftesbury Chamber of Commerce and Tom Whiteford and Ray Humphries of Shaftesbury in Bloom. Photo courtesy of Amber Harrison.

James says it has been disappointing that not all town centre businesses have wanted to play their part in making the town centre look festive. Some national companies have pleaded poverty, claiming they can’t contribute cash for decorations. “The multinationals are not very good at putting their hands in their pockets. Often the local branch manager doesn’t have the authority. In the past, some branch staff have put their hands in their own pockets and paid for the lights themselves. We have a lot of businesses that, ‘are in Shaftesbury, but they are not of Shaftesbury’,” said James.

Chamber members will fund decorations outside the shops and firms who have not supported the Christmas lights. “Why should the town and the High Street suffer because of them?” asked James. “It would be nice to shame them and have dark spaces outside the shops but then everybody suffers.”

The Chamber is encouraging locals to thank the shops and businesses that have been civic-minded and contributed to the display. “The town just benefits from it. When the lights go on in Shaftesbury at Christmas there’s something about it that’s fantastic.”

Following late-night shopping on Monday, 2nd December, the Chamber’s second important seasonal occasion will be the Christmas market, which runs through the morning and afternoon of Sunday 15th of December.