A merry Christmas

Walking around town this last couple of days I notice that the Christmas lights are in place. I know that they are not switched on yet but Christmas does seem to get earlier every year.

First let me categorically state that I am not against Christmas lights to brighten up the town and improve the shopping experience.

In 2004 East Herts Council made a one-off grant to the market towns for Christmas lights and responsibility for purchase and installation was transferred with it. The Hertford Town Centre Management Board as it was then, did not have access to extra funding and control was transferred to Hertford Town Council who employed myself to manage the project.

The work involved many different agencies but the result was worth the effort.

Christmas lights Maidenhead Street 2004
Father Christmas themed Christmas lights in Maidenhead Street 2004

The project was not without its problems.

We had originally planned for blue LED lights to  be hung in a triangle from the lamp posts at Old Cross. I am told that these looked absolutely fabulous in the early morning mist. Unfortunately a retired engineer driving through town informed the council that these lamp columns were not load bearing and the lights had to come down.

I don’t know who he was but down the lights had to come. We found several places to install these; one was outside the White Hart pub in Salisbury Square. Ironically those very same lamp columns now hold hanging baskets and a small xmas lighting motif.

White Hart 2004
White Hart in Salisbury Square 2004 with those blue lights

Since those early days Hertford town Council with the aid of business donations has increased and improved the town centre display.

I am not wishing to play Scrooge at this time. The lights themselves are expensive as is the contractor’s cost of installing and removing them along with Highways regulations regarding such things as stress tests.

Over the years I have come to question the benefit of town centre Christmas lights.  By default they come on when most shops are closing and the night time economy needs no extra boost to attract late night revellers.

I am saddened to read of the problems the Town Council is having regarding festive celebrations. Keep the tree in Salisbury Square by all means but I believe it is time to replace the lights with something else to kick start Christmas shopping.

I have suggested in the past that funds should be spent on a celebrity to turn on the lights. Stevenage often hire a failed finalist from the X-Factor and other towns also seem to find a none too reclusive D-List celebrity to help Father Christmas and the Mayor hit the plunger.  A famous face appearing in Hertford might help draw in the crowds when Christmas begins.

After all my efforts in the past I would be the first to bemoan the loss of the lights. I have written to Cllr Sartin to congratulate the team on the town display but if as I am led to believe footfall is dropping then perhaps now is the time to think of an alternative.

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By John Barber

John Barber was born in London at the height of the UK Post War baby boom. He had careers in Advertising, International Banking and the Wine Industry before becoming Town Centre Manager in his home town of Hertford. He has been writing professionally since 1996 when he began to contribute articles to magazines on social and local history. His first published book in 2002 was a non-fiction work entitled The Camden Town Murder, a hitherto unsolved murder case from 1907.