It’s a sure sign that Christmas is just around the corner when adverts for the latest must-have toys monopolise the slots between shows on children’s television, the shops are full of cards and calendars and towns and cities all over the country begin switching on their festive lighting displays.
With the latter in mind, Morpeth is gearing up for the start of a festive season, which hopefully will be a busy, and indeed a bumper one, for local shopkeepers.
The commercial sector needs that boost of a prosperous festive season to cushion business for the rest of the year and one way that can happen is for Morpeth residents to consider directing more of their Christmas spending to shops in the town.George Williams, Chairman Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade
Over the next few weeks organisations like the Morpeth Town Team and the Chamber of Trade will be encouraging local people to shop local, as well as doing what they can to draw visitors into the town to enjoy the attractions being lined up for them and, of course, spend their money in the town.
Already the Morpeth Food and Drink Festival, co-ordinated by the organising committee with the support of the Town Team, gave such a boost to the footfall in the town centre on the Saturday it was held and was enjoyed by literally thousands of people – locals and visitors alike.
Feedback to the organisers indicates that shops, cafes and restaurants enjoyed a busy day’s trading, and there were even reports that people had booked into Morpeth for the weekend specifically to visit the food festival.
It was also held on the same Saturday Scotland played South Africa in the Rugby World Cup at St James’ Park, Newcastle, and overseas visitors staying in Morpeth to go to the match were also reported as being enchanted with the town.
An encouraging start to the build-up to Christmas in Morpeth then, and a host of events are being planned over the next few weeks to maintain that momentum.
So just what’s in store in Morpeth between now and Christmas?
It all begins with the switch-on of the fabulous Christmas tree and lights in Sanderson Arcade on Saturday, November 14. All afternoon there’ll be fun and games with Heart Radio’s morning presenters Justin and Kelly. There’ll be plenty of prizes to win, including a whopping £500 shopping spree, as well as carols with the Chantry and Newminster school choirs. TV’s X-Factor finalist Lola Saunders will also be making a personal appearance.
This Christmas a poignant addition will be a Tree of Light, being organised by Morpeth Rotary Club. The idea is to give people a chance to write a message for a loved one that will be hung on the tree in return for a donation, with all the proceeds being shared between the Great North Air Ambulance, Barnabas Safe and Sound, and Cancer Research North East.
The tree will be lit up at 5pm, on November 14, by Dr Caroline Pryer, Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Northumberland, with the help of Morpeth Mayor Alison Byard and Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery.
A week later,Saturday November 21, the festive lighting displays will be switched on in the Market Place and around the town centre. The day will begin with the ever-popular Mistletoe Fair in the Town Hall, where there’ll be the usual enticing display of Christmas present ideas.
The countdown to the switch-on of the lights begins at 4.15pm with Ellington Colliery Band and carols, before retiring Morpeth Town Clerk Gillian Turner and the Mayor throw the switch to light up the town at 4.55pm.
Saturday, November 28, sees students from King Edward VI School present their own Festive Market in the Market Place, from 9am to 3pm. Twenty ‘traders’ from the school will be showing off their entrepreneurial skills with a Christmas twist.
This year Morpeth Town Team is also organising a late-night Christmas shopping evening on Thursday, December 3. Shops, cafes and coffee shops around the town centre will be encouraged to stay open until 8pm, as well as offering plenty of one-night-only Christmas present bargains. A full entertainment programme is being arranged and there’ll be stalls in the Market Place, a brass band and carol singers, as well as a ‘live’ nativity scene.
Two days later, Saturday, December 5, the festive Farmers’ Market will fill the Market Place with stalls laden with Christmas goodies, and there will also be another special bonus market on the last Saturday before the ‘big day’ itself. Every Wednesday in December there will also be the regular market.
Finally on Saturday, December 12, the Duchess of Northumberland will be in Morpeth to inaugurate a memorial garden in the arcade where people can plant a tea-light, also in memory of loved ones. The Duchess will plant the first light at 3.30pm.
It all adds up to a busy time for locals, as well as hopefully a fruitful one for businesses as they try to make the most of what is a crucial few economic weeks for them.
As George Williams, who chairs Morpeth Chamber of Trade and is one of the members of the Town Team board, said: “Morpeth is a great place to shop and visit 52 weeks of the year, but the last few weeks before Christmas are crucial ones for the local economy.
“The commercial sector needs that boost of a prosperous festive season to cushion business for the rest of the year and one way that can happen is for Morpeth residents to consider directing more of their Christmas spending to shops in the town.
“If everyone spent as little as £10 in Morpeth, rather than at the MetroCentre or on the internet, that would make such a difference to our shops, cafes and pubs having a really good Christmas.
“So what we would urge people to do is have a walk around the town centre and see what the terrific things are on offer, as well as soak up the atmosphere of our town all dressed up for Christmas.
“It could be the best yet.”