December 8 2013 Latest news:
By Chris Hill
Thursday, September 12, 2013
A Dereham businessman says he is prepared to save his town from a Scrooge-like reputation if no other companies stepped forward to save this year’s Christmas lights display.
Firms around the market place received letters from Dereham Town Council asking for contributions towards the £6,000 cost of the festive illuminations.
But after only one response was received – from The Barbers of Dereham – council officials said this year’s seasonal spectacle would be reduced to a Christmas tree and lights on the Assembly Rooms.
It has dismayed some people in the town who feel a watered-down event would spoil the festive flourish at the traditional switch-on, which thousands of people attend each November.
And Stephen Cross, managing director of the Big Fry chip shop, said he was not prepared to see that happen.
Although he has urged other firms to contribute to the cost of the installation, Mr Cross said his company would go it alone if necessary.
“I am not prepared to see Dereham in the papers as the Scrooge town with no Christmas lights,” he said.
“I have said that in the worst case scenario, if nobody does anything else, we as a company will find a way to fund putting Christmas trees in the 20 holders across the market place, and we will look at the logistics of putting lights on those trees.
“It does help trade for people but it is not just about making money. It is about community spirit.
“The only event left in Dereham is the Christmas lights switch-on and if it is just a tree and the council buildings then it is not what it should be. You either do it properly or you don’t do it.
“Ideally I would like everyone to rally round, but what I am saying is if no-one else does something, we will ensure something is done.”
Mark Piper, who opened the Barbers of Dereham shortly before Christmas last year, was the only business owner to respond to the council’s letter asking for financial help.
He said: “I was surprised. I had the letter for six weeks so by the time I went to pay I honestly thought I would be the last one to pay it, not the first.
“I want to encourage other businesses to contribute. One idea I wanted to put forward is that the lights are on a Sunday and not many shops are open, so why don’t they just charge all businesses a tenner?
“It is advertising the whole town rather than just the market place, so then all the businesses could contribute.”
Town clerk Tony Needham said even a rush of contributions now may not be enough for the council to light up the market place.
“We are probably running out of time for this year but if there is any interest and, more importantly, the money, then the following year we could do something with it.
“Anything is possible, but it is all down to time-scales. We have got some lights here which we have used for last few years, but if we needed to get some additional ones the warehouses are empty at this time of year.
“The council thought we were doing it to help the businesses on the market place but if the businesses are not interested, then why should taxpayers pay for it?”
David Westgate, of the Dereham and District Round Table, said the council should have considered collecting donations from people attending last year’s event, or widened the scope of its letter asking for cash.
He said: “You have got companies away from the market place who have not been sent a letter. “They will make an absolute fortune on the night, while not contributing to it at all. You’ve also got the national companies taking up a large amount of the market place, but they are not putting anything into it either.
“So it all comes down to the local traders that have got bigger hearts, but have smaller resources to play with.”