Tonbridge shops snub Rotary window-dressing for Christmas Festival

Pam Mills

THE Tonbridge Rotary Club, which organises the town’s Christmas Festival, had an ‘extremely disappointing’ reaction to its latest venture, a window-dressing competition.

The club, which has run the popular yuletide event for the last five years, has ‘endeavoured to provide additional ideas to enhance the event as a community service for the public’.

One successful innovation was to increase the number of stalls along the High Street to bring an element of the Christmas market to the showpiece.

This year the Rotary Club approached shops, cafes and other businesses to enlist their support for a ‘best-dressed Christmas window display’ event.

Gordon Court, Chairman of the Christmas Festival Committee, said: “All the shops were visited at least once to try and drum up support for the competition but the response has been almost completely negative.

“We had hoped it would improve the atmosphere in the High Street for the event. Entry would have required a nominal fee [£25] to support the competition.

“But the disinterest shown by businesses, many of whom benefit significantly from the event with a public attendance in excess of 5,000 on the day, has been extremely disappointing.”

The event on Sunday November 25 will see the Christmas lights switched on, followed by live music and fireworks at the Castle.

The festive celebration incurs a significant expenditure – the hiring of the stage, lighting and sound sound system alone costs the Rotary Club £4,000.

Maria Heslop, Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council’s Cabinet member for Community Services, was supportive of the latest idea.

She said: “It would be fantastic if the High Street shops could engage in the Rotary Club’s Christmas window dressing competition.

“This will help to create a festive spirit and the more festive the shops look, the more likely they will entice shoppers in.”

She added: “We have new Christmas lights in Tonbridge this year so the town should look spectacular. It will look even better if the shops embrace this challenge.

“The Rotary always does such an amazing job organising the Christmas festival. The shops should support the club and maximise this opportunity to look as festive as possible.”

Tonbridge Town Team, whose mission is ‘to link together businesses, local government, charities, clubs and the population as a whole’, has also given its backing to the Rotary plan.

The Team’s chairman, Howard Porter, told the Times: “I’m surprised there has been a negative response to this, which seems to me to be an extremely good idea.

“Decorating windows to create a Christmassy feel is an important part of making the town attractive to shoppers at this time of year. I hope everybody can be persuaded to take part.

“The Town Team will do all it can to support the Rotary Club’s initiative and encourage retailers to help make Tonbridge an exciting destination for Christmas shoppers.”

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