September is almost here, and that means the streets of our hilltop town will soon be filled with the sounds and colour of Carnival carts.
Shaftesbury Chamber of Commerce marks this event each year with their window contest. Chamber member Karen Hardwick has picked a rural theme for 2019.
Shaftesbury shops have already had their notification. They have three weeks to style their scarecrows and place them in their windows, ready to face the public vote.
Karen, who owns Cranbornes, thought a mannequin-making challenge would prove interesting. “In a lot of small villages in and around Shaftesbury at this time of year, there always seem to be scarecrows about. We thought we’d just bring them into the High Street,” said Karen. “Quite a few businesses have said they wanted to stick members of staff in the window. I think it’s a long time to sit there for a week,” she laughed.
The shops have an incentive to do their best. “They could get a nice shiny trophy at the end of it. The public will vote for the winner. We will know who it is by Carnival day, so everybody can see who the public voted for.”
31 businesses have promised to take part and shops that cannot participate have offered valid reasons. “Some people just haven’t got the time or the window space to put a scarecrow in but most people are quite keen on doing it and some are quite excited,” said Karen.
There are businesses that seem determined to get the trophy. “I think we’re all quite competitive, aren’t we? When it comes to our windows, we all want to win, especially now that the public will be voting for it. I think it will be really good fun,” she said. The windows have to be ready by the 22nd of September, and Karen says she is happy to answer questions at her shop.
Carnival day is Saturday 28th September and if businesses that originally said ‘no’ have now changed their minds, they can still enter a scarecrow. “That’s fine. They can come and just join in,” said Karen. “I just think it looks good for the town if everyone’s joining in. It’s good community spirit.”
If you enter the Odd One Out contest, you could win £50. Participating town centre traders will be adding one item to their display that appears out if place because it is not a product they supply. “People go around and look for the clues, and then enter the competition to win the voucher to spend in the store of their choice around the town,” said Karen.
The contest encourages people to view the impressive range of goods available in our town centre. “It’s to get them in the High Street and to get them looking around,” she said.
The response from retailers has thrilled Karen. “We’ve got 62 businesses in the town and 51 are taking part. I think that’s pretty good. And it’s all around the whole town centre, Swan’s Square, Bell Street, everywhere.”
Entry forms that list all the shops taking part will be available soon from the TIC and John Peel Café. There will be prizes for the one person who spots the most unusual additions to their windows. If many people guess every odd item, there will be a draw for the winner.
Keep the paper to vote for the scarecrows. “When you get your odd one out sheet, at the bottom you’ll have your slip to put who your best dressed scarecrow is. No judges. You’re the judge,” said Karen.
Although Karen has worked at Cranbornes for years, she has recently taken on the business as her own. Since becoming a shop-owner she has become a key player in the town’s Chamber of Commerce and, like all Chamber officials, Karen is unpaid. Arranging these events have taken up a great deal of her time.
“To go around, it does take quite a while just to have a chat with everybody. It’s probably taken two or three weeks so far. Then, I’ll go back around with all the window stickers. It’s probably a good month’s work or so but it’s good for the town.”
Karen has quickly understood the value of the Chamber. “I find it really useful. I think it’s really good,” she said.
And Karen is quick to dismiss suggestions that Shaftesbury town centre is in trouble. “It is a thriving town. You go up through the High Street, and pretty much most of the shops are taken. When you go to other towns, it’s certainly not like that. The Chamber is trying to do its best to get the town looking really smart.”
Karen has worked on the High Street for 26 years and believes that the town is more than buoyant – things are getting better. “Most days, there are lots of people about. You get unique shops here that you don’t get in the big, high street places. I think it can only improve,” she said.