Stone Town Council was considering a second virtual Christmas light switch on event this year after members raised concerns about the prospect of thousands of people gathering while Covid-19 remained an issue.
The 2020 event, which took place during the second national lockdown to control the coronavirus pandemic, was the town’s first ever virtual light switch on and the video was viewed online by thousands of people, both locally and overseas.
But residents and traders alike are keen to see physical festivities return to the town centre and called for the council to have a rethink on its plans for this year.
At this month’s Stone Town Council meeting members voted to bring back the main event for November. They also plan to run a virtual switch on too however for those unable to visit the town centre or who do not wish to return to mass gatherings for the time being.
Councillor Jill Hood, chair of Stone Town Council’s tourism and town promotion committee, said: “The decision not to hold the Christmas lights switch on this year was taken by the tourism committee.
“In the following days councillors had many requests from members of the public asking if the decision could be overturned. Residents were puzzled why Stone Town Council were reluctant to give the go ahead as the St George’s Day event had gone ahead, followed by the Stone Food and Drink Festival.
“At full council the decision was debated and it was unanimously agreed we would listen to the wishes and views of public opinion for the Christmas lights to go ahead. I’m thrilled we will be holding the event as it’s the highlight to the end of our year.
“I also think it’s equally important that we have A Little Bit of Stone hosting the virtual switch on film, produced once again by The Girls That Do, for all those that either don’t want to come to town or are unable to spend the evening with us in the High Street.
“Mostly I’m proud of our councillors who were not afraid to say as elected members they valued public opinion and voted yes.“
This year’s switch on event is set to take place on Thursday, November 25 – a week later than usual.
Members of the Stone Traders’ Group have welcomed the council’s decision to bring back the physical event. The traders are also looking forward to hosting a Christmas market in the town centre on Sunday, November 21, and anyone interested in running a stall at the event, which runs from 10am to 3pm, should email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Stone Traders’ Grouo secretary Ed Stant said more than 40 businesses had already shown their interest in having a stall at the festive market.
He added: “As we are promoting ‘shop local’ this Christmas we are offering Stone residents or businesses a discounted rate for a stall. Supporting local is our priority and our thanks go to Stone Town Council who agreed to our proposal and part subsidise Stone businesses who attend the event.
“Traders are delighted that the light switch on event is going ahead – I think common sense has prevailed. We thank the town council for listening and coming up with the right decision.
“We understand the difficulties of this decision and we know that town is at its busiest that evening but there must be options available to make this annual event happen. Residents have a personal choice whether they attend or not, and having missed out on the event last year we believe Stone Town Council should be doing everything they can to make this event happen this year.
“As far as we are aware most towns up and down the country are holding their annual Christmas lights switch on. The people of Stone and the businesses in the town centre have had a torrid time over the past 18 months and we believe the joy of this event should be available to those who feel comfortable doing so.”