Hundreds of people paraded through town as Gravesend officially kicked off its countdown to Christmas.
The ever-popular Gravesham Festival of Christmas Lights returned in full force on Friday, bringing festive and community spirit back after last year's gathering was cancelled due to the pandemic.
The parade - which included children from 13 schools and was the biggest to date - took crowds around the town centre with the lights illuminated as they went. However, the route was diverted at the last minute after a separate medical incident outside Tesco in New Road.
Spectators were quickly moved to make way for emergency services, which included fire and police.
South East Coast Ambulance service confirmed today they were called shortly before 4pm on Friday to reports a person had collapsed in New Road, Gravesend.
A spokesman said: "Ambulance crews attended but sadly despite the best efforts of all those involved, a woman died at the scene."
No further details have been released.
Entertainment had started in the town centre late afternoon, with pop-up performances across the High Street, Windmill Street and New Road, while in Community Square there was entertainment from the panto cast of Robin Hood, which opens at The Woodville in December.
But the focal point of the celebrations was the colourful parade featuring 13 local schools, holding lanterns pupils had made at workshops delivered by Same Sky Arts.
The procession was led by The Mayor of Gravesham, Councillor Lyn Milner, Deputy Lord Lieutenant Bhargawa Vasudaven, local councillors and representatives from various faith and community organisations.
It started on Community Square, made its way down the High Street, through King Street into St George’s Shopping Centre before arriving back at Community Square via Windmill Street.
The celebrations climaxed on Community Square where the Christmas tree was lit up.
The parade also featured a range of entertainers including the Kings of Dhol, who fused traditional Dhol beats from North India with popular Christmas songs, and Crocodile Style Brass Band who performed classic Christmas hits. Further entertainment was provided by Bloco Olofi, traditional Samba musicians, DDFK Brass Band, stilt walkers, and street performers featuring a unicyclist and an acrobat.
One of the highlights was the Show Globe, a life-size mobile and interactive snow globe complete with a winter fairy.
Gurvinder Sandher, artistic director of Cohesion Plus, said: “It’s a great pleasure and matter of pride to be able to bring the Gravesham Festival of Christmas Lights back to the borough after a two-year absence. I am so grateful to our partners and the local schools who make the event so special. It was amazing to see so many smiling faces both young and old.
"Christmas is a special time for everyone regardless of faith, whether you celebrate or not, and what this event showcased is how the arts can bring communities together and why it is so important to have events like this, to celebrate what binds us rather than what divides us.”
Cllr Lyn Milner, the Mayor of Gravesham, said: “To see the streets of Gravesend full of people, light and laughter again has been wonderful. The festival of lights and celebrations around the tree on Community Square have long been the traditional start of Christmas in Gravesham, and after the enforced absence last year it was a joy to lead the procession and light up the town.
“I would like to thank our partners Cohesion Plus and all those who took part for a wonderful event, and Reef Group for the sponsorship that sees such a splendid tree provide a focal point for us all this Christmas.”
Cllr Shane Mochrie-Cox, Gravesham council’s cabinet member for community and leisure said: “We have so many communities for which the Christmas period signifies the chance to come together and celebrate.
“The festival of lights is a truly unifying event and is a celebration of all that is good in our borough. The town looks alive once more, particularly under the new lights we have in place for Christmas this year. I would say to everyone in the borough, come into town to enjoy the lights, shop locally this Christmas, support our wonderful independent traders, and stay safe.”
Schools taking part included: Cecil Road Primary, Holy Trinity Primary, Ifield School, Kings Farm Primary, Riverview Primary, Saint George’s Primary, Saint Botolph’s Primary School, Saint George’s Secondary School, Saint John’s Primary School, Saint Joseph’s Primary School, Westcourt Primary School and Whitehill Primary School.
The event was produced and funded via Cohesion Plus, in partnership with Gravesham council, Arts Council England and Kent Equality Cohesion Council. The Christmas tree has been sponsored by Reef Group.
Commenting jointly on the news about the woman dying, Gurvinder Sandher, the artistic director of Cohesion Plus, and Cllr Lyn Milner, the Mayor of Gravesham, said: “Everyone involved in the event was saddened by the news we heard from New Road on the night.
“Our thoughts and sympathies are with the family and friends of the patient.
“We would like to thank all those who were waiting in the area for the parade for the respect they showed the emergency services while they were doing their work and for their patience and understanding when the route was changed at the last moment.”