Row erupts over Southwold Christmas lights event

A Christmas lights celebration attracting popular actors and thousands of people has a dim future after council criticisms caused the organisers to quit.

The committee behind Switch-on Southwold has abandoned plans for this year's event and is looking to hand over responsibility in the wake of comments made at a council meeting.

Members of Southwold Town Council voiced their concerns about last year's festive event which they claimed had gone over budget, was not cleared up properly and had grown too big for the town - claims the organisers refute.

But the mayor of Southwold has ruled out the possibility of the council taking it over, despite agreeing to support a new group of volunteers.

Andrew MacAlpine is the treasurer for last year's Switch-on Southwold which saw crowd of 2,000 people turn out to watch actor James Bolam and his partner, actress Susan Jameson, start the town's festive celebrations.

He said: 'We are looking to hand control back to the council following their unjust, inaccurate and misguided criticism.'

The switch-on event committee, which has eight members, formed in 2003 when the previous volunteers resigned.

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In its first year it arranged for the car from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to drive Santa Claus up the High Street. However, last year's event was hailed as its biggest success when Mr Bolam and Ms Jameson – who star in the CBeebies show Grandpa in My Pocket which is partly set in Southwold – switched on the lights.

Switch-on Southwold was discussed at a recent town council meeting where Katie Flodin reported on the committee's annual meeting on February 9. She said it had gone over budget and it was also claimed Southwold and Reydon Corps of Drums might not play at this year's switch-on unless it had a clear path when parading through the town – although this claim has also been dismissed by the organisers.

Speaking at the town council meeting, Sue Allen said: 'I am disappointed by so much overspend because at previous meetings you never ordered anything until you had the money in the bank.

Susan Doy added: 'There used to be a community spirit for Christmas lights... I am sorry it has got so big and I don't see how you tell people to stop coming. It has got to be changed in my opinion.'

Switch-on Southwold made �13,000 from sponsorship last year, raising extra revenue through Easter egg hunts, cake sales and quiz nights. The event on December 2 also featured local choirs.

This week, the mayor of Southwold, John Windell, thanked the committee members for their work and said he was confident someone new would take on responsibility for the event. He said: 'I think the committee did a good job over the last few years. I am optimistic that other people will take on the Christmas lights in the town, but we are quite concerned about the amount of money that needs to be raised by a small amount of people each year.

'I would like to see it on a lower key and on an evening when the shops are open.'

He added: 'It is an independent initiative not a town council event, but the town council can help.'

Sarah Green, sponsorship co-ordinator for Switch-on Southwold, who owns the Spots and Hightide shops in the town, said: 'Our committee of volunteers has put in such a lot of work into fund raising for and organising the switch-on event. To hear that several councillors have not only been unsupportive but highly critical is demoralising.

'While it seems it is only a small number of councillors who were critical, we were disappointed nobody spoke up to support us. We were excited about our plans for this year's switch-on and we had hoped to provide a more traditional display with a Victorian theme.'

She added: 'We will help in whatever way we can to ensure a smooth hand over and don't want to jeopardise the success of the event next year.'

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