Category Archives: Christmas
Father Christmas Comes to Wisbech Castle
Well, we thought it might be busy, but we had no idea quite HOW busy!
If the queue, which stretched out onto the road for much of the day, was anything to go by the people of Wisbech were rather excited by our Christmas adventure and grotto.
As is normal with Wisbech Castle events, we try to never do the “obvious” thing. We throw in a curveball or two, to keep people guessing – and excited!
Our cast of characters included two Christmas elves, Mr Fluffy the Magic Bear, Ebeneezer Scrooge and of course the big beardy guy himself, Santa!
We made snow despite the mild weather and kept the kids and families laughing and smiling throughout.
The Castle Cafe did brisk business, offering refreshments from delicious cake to spicy Chilli n’ Cheese.
We did everything at very fair prices, aware that not everybody has a lot of extra cash at this time of year and wanting all families to be able to enjoy a lovely time.
Well done volunteers. Everybody seemed very happy. Roll on 2020 as we move the Wisbech Castle Project onwards and upwards.
One Thing, Then Another Thing
I’ve had very little time to blog recently and so all sorts of stuff has passed by without comment on this page.
The Christmas Light Switch On went perfectly, despite a few hiccups behind the scenes, the whole event was fab and the turnout broke records, again. Each year we have to move everything up a notch and more and more people come along. Yes, there was the usual handful of whiny political moaners, but they did nothing to dim the success of this amazing event.
Meanwhile our MP became Brexit Secretary sparking a great spectacle of emotion, opinion, joy and fury. From the point of view of Hard Brexiteers like myself, its disappointing. But I’ve known Steve Barclay a long time and I just don’t buy the idea that he’s “sold out.” I hope and believe that he is playing a long time, smiling along with the Prime Minister while knowing full well this ridiculous deal will never get through Parliament. If this is how things go then he’ll be an important man, negotiating our way through the inevitable No Deal situation.
Tomorrow, we have royal visitors. Prince Charles and Camilla will be coming to Wisbech to visit St. Peters Church and meet representatives from many local voluntary organisations and heritage organisations. Wisbech Castle has a stall, as do many others. The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall are, of course, VIPs on a massive scale and preparations are well underway for the big day. I won’t personally be meeting them, I ceded my place on the stall to allow an extra volunteer to go. But I’ll be outside the Castle at the appropriate moment with other volunteers, hoping to catch a glimpse. A great day for our Town.
I’ve got to get my November newsletter out this week (running out of days in November) and we are still wall to wall meetings and planning for Christmas events so there’s really no spare time before Christmas at all. Never mind, who needs sleep? :)
A few people have moaned a bit about the Christmas Lights and I thought I’d put down the background and facts to help people understand where we are and how we got here.
A few years ago we really DID have terrible lights. Basically, we had the bulbs along the river and some more bulbs in the Market Place, and that’s it. The Christmas Light Switch On was a handful of Councillors and a few dozen people watching a switch get pressed and some bulbs light up. It wasn’t ideal.
Every year people complained bitterly about them, but Christmas lights are a lot of money and Town Council didn’t want to commit that sort of budget to improving them. When I became a Town Councillor I put in a motion to spend a huge chunk on lights and managed to get support for it.
But we wanted to be sure the people of the Town supported it to0, so we did a vote in the local papers. Here’s a blog post from 2014 about it:http://www.stevetierney.org/the-great-wisbech-christmas-li…/
A majority voted for the improvements, but even then there were still a fair few who thought it was a waste of money and shouldn’t be done.
With a majority vote and support on the Council we pressed on and implemented the new lights, which took six months of getting competitive quotes, designing schemes etc.
Myth Buster 1: We did not spend loads of money on designing a scheme, that was all included in the quotation as the companies sought to win our business.
Although it was quite close and we weren’t sure we’d get the improvements in time we did manage to get them installed for Christmas 2014. That year the Christmas Light Switch on event broke all records. It has continued to break them each year since.
Myth Buster 2: You can’t just buy any old lights and string them up. Government authorities must purchase suitable, safe, durable, commercial lighting from reputable companies.
£20,000 does not go as far as you might think. We managed to secure the central piece in the Market Place, the lights and glowing stars on the trees, the light fixtures that adorn most exits from the Market Place, and the long channel of lights than run along High Street. Also some improvements elsewhere.
We did not spend all the money the first year and we did not install all the lights we had purchased. We have added a little each year since: lights on Hill Street. Lights on the Town Council Chambers. In response to calls from people for lights on the Freedom Bridge Roundabout, we did those.
Myth Buster 3: March have lovely Christmas Lights. They were donated by a very wealthy benefactor in a will. March are very lucky to have had such a generous donation. Wisbech has not had any large donations but would certainly welcome any if you have some funds you can spare, or know somebody who does.
Although spending £20,000 may seem like a lot, people do not realise that it costs a huge amount for a contractor to install the lights and to remove them, and this cost repeats every year. Every time we increase the amount of lights we put up, we increase the large installation and removal costs too. So when new lights are purchased that is not a one-off cost, but must also consider the additional costs every year for installation, runtime and removal.
Myth Buster 4: Lights do sometimes break down. This is outside of our control. When they break down the Council does everything it can to get the contractor to put the problem right as soon as possible. Sometimes this can be done quickly, sometimes it cannot. The North Brink lights were down for a few days and have now been repaired. Some of the lights on the Christmas Tree aren’t presenting working and that will be remedied as soon as possible.
All of this – the Switch On Event, the organisation of the lights, the planning, is done by a tiny team of dedicated volunteers and a handful of Town Council staff and Councillors. Anybody can volunteer to be a part of the Festivals Working Party, which organises and runs almost all of our town festivals. Please do volunteer if you can spare the time. It’s hard work, but mostly rewarding. The only time it’s not rewarding is when somebody sits on their couch and tells those volunteers how much better everything should be. If you want it to be better, come be a part of making it better.
Myth Buster 5: What can be done in the Market Place is quite limited. To install Christmas Lights requires special permanent fixtures to attach the lights to and to get power to them. All the buildings around the Market Place are privately owned and you cannot attach things to those buildings without securing permission from the owner. Owners are not always easy to contact and do not always say “yes.”
Personally, I like our town lights and would not want to see them gaudier, or too over the top. I think they are tasteful and lovely. But what I think doesn’t matter. If enough of you want the Council to spend another huge sum of money on more lights and more annual installation costs then let me know and I will go and make the case all over again. But bear in mind that this will almost certainly require a Council Tax rise over and above the demands that Town Council save the Museum, save and run The Castle, and invest large sums renovating the Market Place. It’s a debate that’s well worth having, if you think we need to.
Christmas Light Switch-On 2017
It has been a fantastic day, taken up by one of the big events of the Wisbech calendar, the Christmas Light Switch-on.
Up early to help set the event up, then off to “rehearsal” for the part I was going to play later. Back again to help as a steward. Then a quick visit to the Institute as the Mayor, to open the Christmas with Cricket show, featuring the comedian and the awesome and wonderful Nine Lives Theatre Company.
Back to being a steward again for a couple of hours before joining the lovely folk of the Walsoken church for Carol Singing in the Horsefair. At this point I was joined by my Wife and Spiderman (who was acting as my super-bodyguard for the day.) :)
Then I went to meet Bob Dalek (yes, he is a real Dalek) and get him safely into the festivities.
With the big “switch on” fast approaching I made my way to the stage, where I met the other volunteers who were playing a part in the little surprise we had planned.
My friend and colleague, Garry Tibbs, who was last year’s Mayor, had previously battled Darth Vader and I just felt like adding a bit of action was a traditional we shouldn’t end.
So it was that the stage was invaded by the Batman villains; Two Face, The Riddler and the Joker, all intent on preventing the lights from being turned on. I was joined by Gru (from Despicable Me) and Spiderman. Of course, there was a battle. I hope people enjoyed it (because it took hours of practice to choreograph the fairly short scene) and the Good Guys won. Lights Switched on. Job done. :) My sincere thanks to Dave Topgood (Spiderman), Cllr Andy Maul (Gru), James geddis (the Joker), the super-talented Giles Maythan (Two Face and the choreographer/director/stage combat expert), Annie Larkin (The tiny Riddler) and Michele Larkin who took my crazy idea and brought her fantastic team to make it happen.
After the show the Festivals Team have to pack everything away, and it was getting really cold by then, but we still got done in record time.
I think it went very well and was a great day. Thanks to all the usual people who are behind most of our festivals. Cllr Sam Hoy, the Oliver Family, the rest of the Town Councillors and staff, the Town Clerk, Tinfish, Nine Lives Theatre Company (who helped us plan and deliver the supervillain fun), the sound guys, the various acts that performed, Wisbech Lions, the Angles Theatre, Brenda and Tony Barber, and all the friends, volunteers, stewards and helpers who work tirelessly behind the scenes to make days like this happen. It gets bigger and better every year.