The Christmas celebrations in Rye on December 12 took a whole year to plan and organise and the Mayor, Cllr Bernardine Fiddimore, and the fifteen or so volunteers who met last January in the Town Hall were determined to give Rye a pre-Christmas event in 2015 to be remembered.
Liz Pendennis (pictured) put forward her idea, not primarily for pre-Christmas shopping, but for a family event involving the whole community – and her enthusiasm and events management experience at Entertainment Workshops quickly won her the position of overall co-ordinator and the team was formed.
Local traders and business people, representatives of voluntary organisations, local working mothers with young families, and other residents, all contributed the necessary skills and energy. Jenny Sinclair, a graphic designer, (also pictured) undertook the publicity and the brochure; Caroline Drummond took charge of special events; Neil Cunliffe assisted with budgeting and accountancy, and so it went on.
At first there was some scepticism and reluctance to participate. ”We started with a zero budget”, Liz Pendennis said ,“but we planned the day around family enjoyment, with as few activities being chargeable as possible”. When donations were sought, rather than the customary levy on retailers, the response was positive and generous. A successful “crowd-funding” campaign provided another boost.
Planning the activities took concentrated effort. Some traditional themes like the Father Christmas grotto were examined and retained, with different management – timed entries, for example, avoided any waiting and hundreds of children took part.
Online research and contact with local entertainers brought the skating rink and the reindeers, the fun rides, the pantomine and the street entertainers. Activities and events were spread across the whole eight-hour day so that there was always something going on and families could stay in town. The expertly-produced programme was widely acclaimed.
There will be a public meeting at the end of January when the final accounts will be ready, and the financial success or otherwise, of the day will be known. More important perhaps will be the discussion about the coming year, who will be up for it again, and whether to set up as a charitable organisation.
“Looking back,” said Liz Pendennis, ”it was a really demanding effort from the whole team. It will not be such a difficult struggle next year, because businesses have done well and will be more supportive. It will be a very exciting challenge to improve on this year’s Great Expectations”.
Photo: Kenneth Bird