Enjoy lights and shop local – plea

THE festive season will get under way in Southwold and Reydon this weekend – with a plea to townsfolk to 'shop local' in the run-up to Christmas and support the area's independent stores.

Hundreds of people are expected to turn out for the annual light switch-on events in Southwold tonight and Reydon tomorrow evening, including a number of families from surrounding villages.

But business and civic leaders are hoping that the festive atmosphere created will help encourage shoppers to return to Southwold in the weeks leading up to Christmas and to make their festive purchases in the town.

The mayor of Southwold, Michael Ladd, said it was important that people shopped local.

He said: 'We are trying to create a nice atmosphere and to encourage people to visit Southwold. We need people to continue supporting their local shops. I think it is vital to help our traders keep going.'

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Guy Mitchell, chairman of Southwold Chamber of Commerce, echoed Mr Ladd's call.

He said: 'In the run-up to Christmas it is really important that people support their local independent businesses. We would encourage people to come to Southwold to enjoy the shopping experience instead of getting caught up in the madness of big city shopping. It is a chance to enjoy the interaction with people in a smaller community rather than shopping online. It is about enjoying the experience rather than it being a chore.'

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The majority of shops in Southwold will be open for this evening and business owners and their staff are being encouraged to get into the spirit of the Dickensian-themed event by wearing Victorian dress.

Shoppers can also take advantage of discounts and offers at a number of local businesses using their My Southwold card, which is available from the tourist information office and from participating retailers.

Although this year's Christmas light switch-on in Southwold will be a smaller occasion than in previous years, the aim is to create a warm and friendly atmosphere.

The 2011 switch-on featured appearances from guest celebrities and attracted a record crowd of 2,000 people.

But Mr Ladd said that, while this year's event, organised by Southwold Town Council with support from Adnams, would be much more low key, it should have much more of a community feel.

'We have tried to make it more of a smaller, community event,' he said. 'It had got a bit big for the town and lost its spirit in a sense. It got out of proportion so it is not a bad thing that we had to scale it down.'

The festivities will get under way shortly before 7pm, when Santa will travel up High Street to the town hall in a brightly-lit, horse-drawn carriage led by the Reydon and Southwold Corps of Drums. Mr Ladd and Santa will lead a countdown from the town hall balcony before the Christmas lights are officially switched on at 7pm.

The festive cheer will continue in Market Square, where Wrentham Brass Band will be playing.

Santa Claus will also be meeting children in his grotto from 7.30 to 9pm.

Members of the committee behind last year's Switch-on Southwold event took the decision to dissolve and abandon their plans for this Christmas amid claims they had gone over budget, failed to clear up properly and allowed the celebration to grow too big for the town – allegations that they denied.

The move prompted concerns in the town, with some traders fearing that they could lose vital business during the busy festive season if it did not have its usual seasonal air. But Mr Ladd praised everyone involved in organising tonight's festivities for rallying round to ensure the event would be going ahead.

'I am very heartened that the community have pulled together,' he said.

'We have had help from all sorts of organisations in the town to put the night on. We have got local stewards this year and volunteers. It has been very positive from that point of view.'

Tomorrow evening, the festive focus will fall on Reydon, where parish council chairman Barrie Remblance will be turning on the village's Christmas lights at Reydon corner at 6pm.

The entertainment will include a performance by hand-bell ringers and a carol service with Reydon Primary School Choir and Music Vox Choir. The nativity crib will be blessed and Santa Claus will also make and appearance.

? A Southwold version of the board game Monopoly, featuring local businesses and landmarks, is also being launched today. It costs �34.99 and is available from Spots of Southwold.

? For full coverage of Southwold and Reydon's Christmas lights switch-ons, log on to www.lowestoftjournal.co.uk and see next week's Journal for reports and pictures from both events.

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