Town came close to having no Christmas lights
Marlborough came within a whisker of not having Christmas lights this year, it was revealed last night (Thursday).
At the annual general meeting of Marlborough Chamber of Commerce, estate agent Jonathan Conning, a committee member of the Marlborough Christmas Lights Association, revealed fundraisers had become so exasperated with trying to get retailers to make donations towards the festive display, they had almost given up.
“We'd be going back ten or twelve times to businesses with lights outside of their shops just to get a tenner. They'd be asking questions like 'why are the lights blue?' and we felt like saying 'give us ten grand and you can have whatever colour you like',” said Mr Conning.
“We held race nights which raised £300. That's a lot of race nights to fund the lights.
“We had donations from the entire business community of £1,000 last year – and £500 of that was from one donor.
“We asked all of the retailers to set up a direct debit of £25 or £30 a year to support the lights – we've had not one response.
“It breaks our hearts, because we put so much effort into it. I'm an estate agent. I don't benefit from Christmas; December is my worst month. Only one committee member is a retailer. We do it because we want Marlborough to be vibrant at that dark time of year.”
And Mr Conning revealed just how close the town had come to having no lights at all in 2011. “We came close to saying 'sod it',” he admitted.
“The idea was to not put any lights up this year, and to say 'okay traders, you don't want to support it, we totally understand'.”
It was revealed that a greatly-reduced Christmas lights display will be erected this year, funded entirely by Marlborough council tax payers – a decision Cllr Richard Pitts admitted would upset some voters and be accepted by many, admitting “We're damned if we do, and damned if we don't.”
The Parade will not be lit this year, and neither will the High Street shops behind St Peter's Church.
The main length of High Street will, however, enjoy a Christmas lights display after the committee 'turned the funding approach on its head' and asked Wheelers, the Pewsey-based company which erects, dismantles and stores the lights, what could be achieved with the £8,000 donation guaranteed by Marlborough Town Council.
Marlborough Christmas Lights Association was formed in 2007, when the role of putting up Christmas lights was relinquished by Marlborough Chamber of Commerce, which had faced exactly the same funding problems.
The blue and white lights display was inspired by the previous year's Oxford Street display, which Mr Conning described as 'classy'. In the first year £24,000 was raised to buy, erect, dismantle and store the new lights, but donations from the local business community have fallen year on year.
The estimated cost of providing a display this year was put at £20,000, including the erection, dismantling and storage costs of £10,000, insurance, and the cost of replacing each bulb every year – as changing a bulb once the display is up costs twice as much as changing every bulb prior to erection.
After the meeting, a huddle of retailers discussed a way forward, while Cllr Pitts offered to host a meeting to bring interested parties together.
- More news from the Marlborough Chamber of Commerce AGM next week.