Town celebrates successful festive period and looks forward to 2024

HAPPY NEW YEAR: The Pantiles saw around 3,000 people participate in its first New Year celebration since 2019. The event featured live music and a midnight firework display. Picture: Cordis Creative

TUNBRIDGE Wells has reason to be cheerful this New Year, as it has just celebrated its most successful festive season post-Covid.

Many of the town’s hospitality venues, arts centres, and businesses experienced a bounce in trade thanks to the lack of restrictions and a much-improved variety of events to enjoy over Christmas and New Year.

Cllr Justine Rutland, Cabinet Member for Economic Development and RTW Together BID board member said: “Despite the rainy weather, Royal Tunbridge Wells has felt really buzzy over the festive period and there have been lots of great events to go out for. Hospitality businesses and retailers were pulling out all the stops and I really hope it’s been a successful time for them.”

Residents were encouraged to shop local this Christmas and get involved with festivities. Free parking on Sundays in December at Royal Victoria Place was introduced by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, and a highlight of the period was the Big Reveal light switch-on, organised by Royal Tunbridge Wells Together BID.

The organisation’s CEO Alex Green commented: “What an incredible Christmas and New Year it has been for Royal Tunbridge Wells! The town has been lively and busy and the ‘Joy to the Wells’ campaign; including over 300 wreaths and the biggest Christmas lights display to date, has brought the whole town together.

“Initial anecdotal feedback has suggested trade has been good, people are spending time and money in town and we look forward to reviewing retail and visitor footfall data and gathering intel from attractions, theatres and hospitality in the coming weeks. It is really encouraging to see people supporting local traders and embracing the ‘love local’ mission.”

In terms of traditional seasonal entertainment residents of the Borough were treated to a choice of two pantomimes after Trinity Theatre took the bold creative and financial decision of putting on its first-ever pantomime, Cinderella, after a challenging 2023.

Chief Executive, Nick Mowat exclusively told the Times: “All of us involved at Trinity are delighted with how well Cinderella and our whole Christmas season has been received.

“The responses from audiences of all ages have been amazing. It’s clear that everyone enjoyed the mix of high-quality music and singing, great comedy and visual spectacle with a thumping good story in our intimate space where even those at the back had a great view and felt a part of what was happening on stage.”

The Assembly Hall Theatre (AHT) stuck to tradition with its annual panto, with ex-Eastenders actress Rita Simons topping the bill in Beauty and the Beast. It also oversaw a very successful SKATE season which this year included a Ferris wheel for the very first time.

A spokesperson for AHT told the Times: “We’re incredibly proud to have been able to deliver such a fun and diverse selection of activities across the Christmas period. From an amazing pantomime to the beautiful ice rink, magical Father Christmas grotto, enchanting Ferris wheel and not forgetting Little Owl and the Christmas Lights at The Amelia, there was something for the whole family this Christmas.”

They added: “It’s fantastic that so many people came to visit our festive events and there is of course a big thank you to all our partners and sponsors for helping make this happen!”

The festivities culminated in a brand-new event: the New Year’s Eve Party on The Pantiles which helped to bring a bounce to businesses trading on the historic walkway.

Conceived and managed by event managers for The Pantiles, Cordis Creative, 2024 was brought in with a night of entertainment, which included live DJ performances, plenty of food and drink on offer from independent businesses, and a fireworks display lighting up the sky at midnight.

According to organisers, over 3,000 people attended the event, which was the first New Year’s event on The Pantiles since the pandemic.

As the clock ticked down to midnight, The Pantiles was buzzing with excitement and business owners alike were thrilled with the success of the evening.

Owner of the Tunbridge Wells Hotel, Julian Leefe-Griffiths said: “We were so lucky with the weather just giving us the perfect gap in which to welcome in the New Year.

“It’s been a funny year, it felt like recession in the early months of 2023 but weirdly we did an incredibly busy summer and a great autumn, so fingers crossed that trend continues and we look forward to a fantastic and prosperous year.

“It will be good to see a few new additions coming to The Pantiles over the next few months and we’re already looking forward to Jazz coming back in May plus some new events keep us entertained.”

Daniel Hatton, owner of Hatton’s, who offered a selection of winter warmers, including mulled wine, mulled cider and mulled apple juice, along with a hearty beef brisket chilli on the night, told the Times: “The event was a roaring success. It was extremely busy, and everyone was in great spirits. As the only New Year’s Eve event locally, it’s great for independent businesses on The Pantiles, the town and for the hospitality industry.”

Adam Peters-Ennis from Charlotte’s in the Pantiles told the Times: “We couldn’t have hoped for a better New Year’s Eve at Charlotte’s. We sold all the tickets, were full by 7.30pm and our guests all stayed until past midnight, many until closing at 2am. We welcomed many of our lovely regulars and met an array of new faces who all helped make NYE 2023/4 a huge success!”

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