Christmas lights and festivities in Rye have historically been arranged by the Rye & District Chamber of Commerce but, without apportioning blame, the quality of the festival has dwindled over the past year or two. This has been due to the underwhelming support given to funding the event and it was evident that a new start was called for.
A new organising body, largly independent of the chamber and the local authority, is in the process of being formed. It will be a charity but will not, at this stage, seek charitable status or registration. It will, however, have a formal structure, a constitution and a bank account. To decide how to take matters forward a meeting of some 40 to 45 people was held at Rye’s town hall, chaired by the mayor, Bernadine Fiddimore.
Interested parties included Peter Cosstick of The Rye Heritage Centre, Neil Cunliffe from the chamber, The League of Christmas Merriment, Rye Academy Trust, local trades people, the School of Creative Art and Rye & Winchelsea Rotary Club.
After Cosstick reported on the costs and history of previous festivals, Cunliffe extended guarantees to the group, providing chamber involvement continued in some form. After the reports it became very clear that the new organisation faced estimated costs in the region of £10,000 within the first year. This includes the repair of the remaining workable stock of Christmas lights, the purchase of replacement string lighting – that failed so spectacularly in the High Street last year – and replacement wall Christmas trees.
No matter what problems are ahead, it became apparent that local shopkeepers and businesses will need to step forward soon to fund this gigantic budget that will enable the festival to get Rye back to where it was a year or so back. It was obvious to all present that action needed to be taken quickly to organise another event as well as fund raise. A steering committee will call a meeting next month with its proposals to take the project forward.
It was very much hoped that the new group will be able to persuade local trades people of the necessity to support the project before further footfall and trade are lost to nearby towns. Rye Rotary has already provided some organisational help and, at the January meeting of the chamber, approval was given for its involvement in the venture.
Needed: a festival planner
Richard Farhall, Rye’s town clerk, writes: our mayor wanted this meeting to be arranged quickly because of the disappointing show last year. Everyone there agreed that preparation needs to start much earlier in future. Areas of discussion included:
- Reinstating the large motif illuminated displays. These have been in storage for three years but have been passed as fit for purpose by an electrician. The cost of put up / take down is likely to be in the region of £3,000
- Any strings of bulbs across streets need to meet health & safety regulations and Highways Authority licensing requirements. It was suggested that smaller LED strings might put less strain on fixings/brackets
- Only around 40 of the smaller Christmas trees that were placed above shop fronts remain and their condition is poor
- It would be good to see a large Christmas tree on Strand Quay again
- It was felt that Christmas-related activities should be concentrated over one day and the date, preferably a Saturday in December, should be the same each year so that it becomes established
- Ten of those attending offered to join a proposed steering group and it was agreed that another meeting with a wider invitation should be arranged
- Three people agreed to work on a funding bid to go to Rye Town Council – which is holding £9,000 from Rother District Council for new events and additional activities/marketing associated with established events
- And – a Rye Christmas festival co-ordinator is needed
Photo montage and painting: Tony Nunn