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Maidstone and Fremlin Walk turn their backs on Christmas lights switch-on

By Alan Smith

Lovers of the festive season may be forgiven for thinking that The Grinch has stolen Christmas in Maidstone.

Despite being the county town of Kent, there will be no big Christmas lights switch-on this year to mark the start of the season of gladness and goodwill.

It was not that long ago, that Maidstone was spoilt for choice with two large light switch-on ceremonies to attend - one run by the borough council in Jubilee Square and the other by the Fremlin Walk shopping centre.

The cast of the Maidstone TV Studios panto Peter Pan arrive to help switch on the Fremlin Walk Christmas lights last year
The cast of the Maidstone TV Studios panto Peter Pan arrive to help switch on the Fremlin Walk Christmas lights last year

The council was the first to crumble. They stopped hosting an event in 2013. Families didn't seem to mind too much as long as they could still go to Fremlin Walk to see the Mayor and that year's panto stars counting down to the throwing of the switch that would reveal the lights in all their sparkling glory.

But now even Fremlin has decided to cancel the switch-on ceremony and replace it with other activities.

The lights will go on in both the town and in the Fremlin Walk shopping centre on Thursday, November 15, but without any fanfare.

The shopping centre explained the purpose was not to steal Christmas, but rather to spread it around over a longer period.

Instead of using up their promotional money on one big night that are promising family-centred Christmas activities throughout December.

The last Christmas lights switch-on event in Jubilee Square in 2013
The last Christmas lights switch-on event in Jubilee Square in 2013

A spokesman said: "Due to popular demand a decision has been made to not have the Christmas light switch-on event this year and instead to spread the entertainment throughout December, so ensuring that as many people as possible can meet Santa, enjoy the festive market and engage with our many new events we are planning."

Central to these will be a Christmas Cabin open all month that will host a series of magical movies. The cabin will be created inside an empty unit near the House of Fraser store and staffed by elfs and gnomes. On Saturday's the cabin will be used for story-telling sessions hosted by Santa.

Meanwhile, if families really want to attend a Christmas lights count-down they can travel to Canterbury, Folkestone, Ashford, Dartford, Faversham, Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge, Chatham, Strood, Gillingham, Sheerness, Sittingbourne or indeed practically any other town in the county where the Grinch does not yet seem to have reached.

For a full list click here.

Nearer at home there will be a lights switch-on in Lenham in the village square on Sunday, November 25, with family fun from 1pm.

In West Malling, the Christmas Festival is on Sunday, December 2, between noon and 5.30pm - with the light switch-on at 5pm. It will include live entertainment on stage all afternoon, Santa’s Grotto, face painting, bungee trampolines, teacup and carousel rides, stalls, crafts and specialist food and drink.

Or in Paddock Wood on Sunday, November 25, kmfm will host a lights switch-on event with market stalls, food and drink, music and dance from 3pm and 6pm.

The Mandy Ellen Dancers at last year's Christmas lights switch-on in Fremlin Walk
The Mandy Ellen Dancers at last year's Christmas lights switch-on in Fremlin Walk

Maidstone can consider itself lucky to have any Christmas lights at all.

The council took the decision in March 2017 not to finance any lights from 2019 onwards as part of its budget savings.

It has budgeted to spend £31,210 maintaining, erecting and dismantling the lights this year, and a further £3,230 for the electricity to run them.

Fortunately the town will still have Christmas lights next year as the role is being taken on by One Maidstone, the Maidstone Business Improvement District (BID), as one of the activities financed by the town centre businesses through the imposition of an additional levy on their rates.

Mark Green, the council's director of finance and business improvement said: “We are naturally pleased that One Maidstone plans to provide this service. The council couldn’t commit to providing Christmas lights in the future, as we need to focus our resources on delivering our core services for residents, like refuse collection and street cleansing. One Maidstone’s initiative is therefore very welcome.”

From 2019, the council will be handing over its stock of lights to the Maidstone BID.

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