Council considers second virtual Christmas lights switch on

A Staffordshire town is set to hold a virtual Christmas lights switch on for the second year in a row after community leaders raised concerns about thousands of revellers flocking into the High Street while Covid-19 remains an issue.

Christmas lights in Stone town centre in December 2017. Photo: Kerry Ashdown
Christmas lights in Stone town centre in December 2017. Photo: Kerry Ashdown

Stone’s annual switch on event has become more and more popular in recent years, with residents and visitors of all ages enjoying festive music and funfair rides ahead of the lighting up of the town centre each November.

Last year’s celebration moved online as the country went through its second national lockdown to control the spread of coronavirus.

But the video was enjoyed by more than 18,000 viewers, including people overseas and Stone residents who have previously been unable to watch the physical event in town.

On Tuesday Stone Town Council, which organises the light switch on, considered plans for this year’s event.

Opinion was divided on whether to hold a virtual celebration again or return to physical festivities in the town centre in light of the return of other events across the country this year, such as music festivals and theatre shows.

Councillor Jim Davies said: "I do understand people’s concerns about the ongoing epidemic.

"But our Christmas lights in town have always been a major event in the year. I think we should plan for an event.

"There have been no Covid-19 deaths in Stafford Borough for the past week. We need to be starting to think more positively about what we do, rather than cowering in a corner.”

Councillor Ken Argyle said: "The question should be when do we get back to normal? We have the Government saying we will have to live with this indefinitely.

"Everything is becoming normal as far as they are concerned – are you going to be cancelling all the events on the possibility that some people may catch a cold?”

But Councillor Rob Kenney said: “There is a difference between cowering in a corner and being sensible about things. It’s all about risk.

"I wouldn’t want to see the number of people in our High Street we have had in previous years. That’s something to bear in mind when the figures are on the rise in Stone.

Councillor Jill Hood said: "I’ve been watching on TV the repercussions from a Cornwall festival with 6,000 cases – that’s a huge amount. Are people in town going to have the confidence to come in with their families knowing how busy it gets? Does this council want to take that responsibility?

"Most of us have young children in the family – how many of us would want to bring our children and young people who aren’t vaccinated to the town? I certainly wouldn’t be bringing my grandchild.

"We know in Stone we have an elderly population who like to watch the lights going on. Are we going to risk their lives?”

Councillor Philip Leason, who proposed the return of the virtual light switch on for November, said: “Cases in Stone are rising and we just have to be careful.

"Last year we had the event on video and we got more people watching it across the world than we have had when we were in the High Street.

"I think we should have some sort of event but I think it should be virtual like it was last year to protect the people of Stone."

Five committee members were in favour of the virtual event while one voted against the proposal.

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