Fears for town's Christmas lights

Every year Dereham is bathed in festive spectacle as thousands gather to see Christmas come alive at the flick of a switch. But this year the man overseeing the town's Christmas lights says that, having raised less than half of the £10,000 needed, the annual illuminations will almost certainly not take place.

Every year Dereham is bathed in festive spectacle as thousands gather to see Christmas come alive at the flick of a switch.

But this year the man overseeing the town's Christmas lights says that, having raised less than half of the £10,000 needed, the annual illuminations will almost certainly not take place.

There are fears the town could share the former fate of Diss, branded as a Scrooge community by the national newspapers in 2003 thanks to the paltry sum raised for the lights' kitty.

Ironically, this year the authorities in Diss have pledged to do better - and their contractors started to put up lights last week.

Yet in Dereham, despite securing pledges of up to £4,000, mostly from the town council and the chamber of trade, organisers' repeated pleas for extra cash has fallen on deaf ears among businesses and residents.

Together with a budget swollen by modern health and safety requirements for cherrypickers and electricians, it has left a black hole in the lights' coffers.

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This is in spite of the huge success of last year's switch- on ceremony, with the usual dazzling performances by local groups and the lights fired up by Commonwealth Games medal winner, pistol shooter Mick Gault.

David Ovenden, chairman of the Dereham Christmas lights committee, said: “The chance of getting the lights this year is minimal; we are probably looking at next year.

“This is one of the only times of the year when you have 4,000 people from the comm-unity coming together in the town to enjoy a single event.

“Visitors coming to the market square and seeing it all lit up is part and parcel of tradition in Dereham.

“We have approached various businesses and associations but we have drawn a blank.

“I am disappointed that people do not seem to have been moved to help - it might be a measure of the future of the lights.”

Stephen Cross, chairman of Dereham and District Cham-ber of Trade and Commerce, said he was bitterly disappointed by the prospects for this year's display

“Dereham has always had a fantastic display and event and I think it is a terrible shame. We have no carnival anymore and it is the only thing left as a community event in Dereham.”

Mr Cross said he hoped that individual businesses would still put on striking displays.

Mr Ovenden said that even if the main lights were not up this year, a smaller event would be held to mark the lights being turned on on a Christmas tree in the Market Place.

Two women from online business thebestofdereham will canvass traders for funding over the next week in a last- ditch attempt to meet the shortfall.

Anyone who can help should contact David Ovenden or George Hayes on 01362 695375 or e-mail richard.dap@btopenworld.com or write to Dereham Area Partnership, Breckland Business Centre, St Withburga Lane, Dereham NR19 1FD.

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