The town was bursting with joy and smiles at Christmas Festival on Friday night after 2 years. Although it was one of the coldest nights this winter, people came out in droves to meet up with friends, enjoy the stalls, rides, browse in the shops and enjoy the entertainment on the Festival stage in Market Place.
The festival was opened by the Town Crier and Henley Mayor, Councillor Sarah Miller on the stage and entertainment followed throughout the evening with Darren and Joe kicking off with an upbeat set that including ABBA classics, Ethan, Adam Isaacs, Rock Choir, Henley Youth Choir and H-O-T Stuff then all performed.
Alice Vernon from Rupert House School who won the Mayor’s Christmas card competition did the honours of switching on the Invesco large Christmas tree after the Mayor got the audience to join in a countdown. Afterwards the festival-goers were invited to sing carols around the tree accompanied by the Woodley Concert Band.
Henley Mayor, Councillor Sarah Miller said, “The Christmas festival this year felt full and vibrant, it was scarcely noticeable that the event was scaled back from previous years. The placement of the stage in the centre of Market Square, I thought was ideal allowing everyone to see the entertainment – including me on my tambourine! The whole event was a really great kick start to Christmas, I have been stopped a number of times since Friday by people expressing thanks for a fantastic evening. The real thanks of course goes to the Henley Town Council staff and Councillors who worked all day to prepare the event, then stayed long after everyone had gone home to clear up the town centre. Thank you all for making it such a great night!”
Tom Ryan who co-organised the Santa’s Grotto said, ““After the last 20 months it is was so joyful to see hundreds of families of all shapes and sizes queuing to meet Santa in his specially created Grotto in the Hotel du Vin courtyard. The children were so excited and we had more first-time visitors than ever, from a four-month-old baby to many toddlers who missed out last year. As well as the children Santa particularly enjoyed meeting several canine visitors as sadly his dog Daisy who has joined us at previous Grottos passed away this year. We had families from America Australia, Finland, Iceland, Romania, Turkey and elsewhere around the world who have made their homes here, which was lovely to see. It got a bit chilly but everyone was very patient and I think felt safer to be queuing outside this year. The thing we are most proud of is keeping it totally free, so we are very grateful for the support of Invesco, St Mary’s School, Kench & Co, Hotel du Vin, Asquiths and the Chiltern Centre – plus our volunteers.”
Amelia Kennedy, age 7 who was visiting the Festival with her family said, “I loved it because I got new two toys. I liked the lights, and I went on the merry-go-round horse. I’m really excited about Christmas. Father Christmas gave me an elf hat, and there was a disco duck, and we did dancing and listened to songs.”
H-O-T Stuff opened their set with the Mayor’s song she wrote last year, Henley on Christmas. Matt Richardson, lead singer of H-O-T Stuff said, “It was an honour to be asked to sing the Mayor’s song. We performed it in the square last year but, with bigger crowds and a stage, it was great to see so many people enjoying the Christmas Festival and to be part of it. It’s a great song too. Hopefully we’ll be on Top Of The Pops with Slade, Shakin’ Stevens and Cliff Richard in a couple of weeks!” Matt’s son Felix sang Last Christmas with all his mates cheering him on. He said “It was certainly an adrenalin rush to take the stage with so much encouragement.”
Jess Meads from Jeco Bowl who were selling vegan pancakes, smoothies, and hot chocolate, in front of the town hall) said, “It’s been great. We’ve been really busy, and it’s been really nice to be at our first Christmas market of the year. We’re Windsor based, so not too far away. This is the first time at this event for us, and we’ve loved it.” It is a new business, started with her friend Emily Hughes (both 22). Emily added, “We started this business at the end of lockdown in March/April. [The trailer] finished being converted in June, and we started trading in July.”
Lots of stalls and shops were raising money for charity or schools including the RNLI, The Chiltern Centre, Riverside Counselling, Sacred Heart School and Preschools. Emma Lerche-Thomsen from The Chiltern Centre said, “Huge thanks to all of them for thinking of our small charity and our families at this festive time.”
David, from David Rodger Sharp jewellers on Duke Street commented, “It was an absolutely fantastic evening. The town was full of festive cheer. We had over 400 people enjoy the evening with us. It was a really fun night. BB Keane was a brilliant singer and entertainer.”
Laurence from Laurence Menswear wasn’t so positive, he commented, “The number of people out and about was definitely down on previous years – probably due to the total lack of marketing of the event by the Town Council, and the general feel from customers was that the evening was not as good or festive as previous ones. There was street lighting missing on Duke St which didn’t help with making the street look festive and there were fewer stalls …. Having said this I believe the people who were out enjoyed themselves and were certainly generous in their donations for freshly made “Lawlors” mince pies and mulled wine as we raised over £800 for The Chiltern Centre. I can only really talk about Duke St as I didn’t get out to see anywhere else, and certainly didn’t see what was going on in the square-but in general I believe the Council failed the town in delivering what should have been a spectacular evening.”
Sue from Calvert Jones shop on Hart Street was taking part for the first time. She said, “I think the local people showed up to enjoy the evening and support the local shops and stalls. Everyone seem very jolly and we had lots of lovely compliments about the shop, and as we are not on the main shopping street quite a few new customers found us when they came down Hart street to enjoy the fair ground rides with their children. The chilly weather added to the atmosphere and folks thought our shop looked lovely and cosy so I think that drew them in along with the red, white and silver festive balloons that Gemma from Atticus and Hope had provided for us.”