Henley was full on Friday night with thousands coming out for the Christmas Festival again this year. A children’s lantern parade kicked off the celebrations led by Town Crier (Councillor David Eggleton) from the River & Rowing Museum, along the river to the Kenton Theatre where Santa met them in his grotto along with the stars of this year’s Robin Hood panto.
The children had made the lanterns with the help of the River & Rowing museum last week in school and the first in the queue to meet Santa was Joseph and his family who goes to Sacred Heart School. He asked Santa for a Lego Star Wars Millennium Falcon.
Entertainment in Market Square was provided by local young including Katie Moberley , Daisy Willow-Newman, Maya Rees and Amy Penrose along with Stephanie’s Stage Stop Dancers before the first door of the Living Advent Calendar (LAC) was opened to reveal members of the Henley Symphony Orchestra.
Richard Rodway, Chair of the LAC said, “Overwhelmed by people’s generosity on the opening night, as we raised more than on any other opening night for the Henley Branch of the Royal British Legion. Really pleased to involve a new act to the event in the form of the Henley Symphony Orchestra, and to see them so well received.”
The lights on the big Christmas tree, donated by Invesco Perpetual, were switched on by Lottie Baker who won the Mayor’s Christmas card competition. She was joined on the steps by the Henley Mayor, Town Crier (Cllr David Eggleton) and Alan Trotter from Invesco Perpetual. Lottie said afterwards, “I felt very special and excited to switch the lights on. I loved it. The Mayor made me feel very special and was very kind.”
After the lights were switched on Gillotts School Choir and the Woodley Concert Band led the carol singing around the tree.
Henley Mayor, Councillor Kellie Hinton said, “I am pleased that the Christmas Festival was such a success this year. Everybody I spoke to was having fun and that’s the main aim of the event. I have had some feedback that will help improve the event in future years and I am grateful to all staff, volunteers and councillors for organising and running the evenings festivities, particularly the Events Committee Chair, Councillor Sarah Miller and Paula Price-Davies. The Parks team handled our road closures well with expert help from Oxfordshire County Council and traffic seemed to be an improvement on previous years. Our beautiful tree, supplied by the Tree Barn in Christmas Common looked amazing and thank you to Tesco and the Kenton Theatre for hosting the Santa’s Grotto which was stunning and enjoyed by so many children.”
The new zoning system for the festival was made possible with great help from Steve Crabbe who organised the attractions and rides on Hart Street and Glen Dinning who organised the new food court on Bell Street which proved popular. There was as always a big queue outside Gabriel Machin butchers for their legendary hot dogs which were being cooked by Anthony Worrall-Thompson. Kellie added, “I heard from local traders including Spice Merchant and the Catherine Wheel that they were pleased with their participation in the event.”
Many local charities had a stall including Henley Lions, Henley Youth Festival, the local branch of the RNLI, Chiltern Centre for Disabled Children and Mencap. Co Chair of the Henley Youth Festival, Jo Dickson said, “We were delighted to have a stall at the Christmas Fair again as it is such a great local event to start off the Christmas festivities. We were very well supported and our mulled wine was even more popular than last year. Nearly all of our teddies and soft toys found new homes too! We made over £680 towards Henley Youth Festival next year which is our 25th anniversary.”
Phyllis Court Club had a stall for the first time this year in Market Place and were giving away mince pies and doing a free draw to win a bottle of champagne. Caroline O’Connor, Commercial Director said “Being involved in the Christmas festival for the first time, we thoroughly enjoyed the evening. I thought it was well organised with a variety of activities for all tastes. The performers created a brilliant atmosphere and I was pleased to have the opportunity to speak to lots of local residents in the Market Place.”
Mayor Kellie concluded by saying, “Overall, it was a brilliantly festive event that has kick started the Christmas season and I am excited to start planning all over again for next year!”