Published: 13:50, 11 January 2018
Whitstable Chamber of Commerce admits it still owes more than £5,000 towards its Christmas lights, despite a fundraising appeal collecting £22,500.
After five years as organisers of the festive display, the chamber has announced it wishes to step down from the role and has apologised to anyone who feels misled by incorrect figures published as part of the appeal.
It has just reached the end of a three-year contract with Millennium Quest, which provided lights to Whitstable and Tankerton at an annual cost of £15,000.
The arrangement has, however, been problematic from the outset, after the chamber struggled to raise sufficient funds and incurred several unexpected costs over the years.
In 2015 and 2016, officials spent more than £6,000 installing electrical components to allow lampposts to safely support the lights.
Brian Hitcham, president of the Chamber of Commerce, said: “At the start of 2017 there was a debt owed to the lighting company of £14,251.60.
“This made it difficult to raise funds in the usual way. We didn’t want to collect money and then not be able to have the lights, so we concentrated on seeking commercial sponsors.”
However, after failing to find backing, a crowdfunding campaign was launched to save the 2017 Christmas lights.
When residents succeeded in exceeding the page’s £22,000 target in just 21 days, many thought the lights’ troubles were over but Mr Hitcham has announced the Chamber of Commerce still owes £9,251.
He apologised for misleading information provided by the funding campaign.
“Unfortunately, the page set out incorrect figures in relation to what the £22,000 would pay for,” he explained,“and this has caused some confusion. We are very sorry that this occurred.”
The chamber intends to pay off £3,500 of the debt this month using money raised through offline fundraising. This will reduce the figure to £5,751.
Once the debt is settled, there will be an option to buy the lights from Millennium Quest for a price of £4,200.
Mr Hitcham, who has lived in Whitstable for almost 60 years, said: “The chamber now feel that it is time to hand over to someone else.
“WhitsSparkle have expressed an interest in getting involved, and this is an option that can be discussed at the public meeting that will explore the various options for Christmas lights.”
Community group WhitSparkle, founded last year, brought a day of festive stalls and entertainment to the streets of Whitstable on December 9.
Spokesman Olivia Thomas, 35, said: “We want to look at the year ahead and work with the Chamber of Commerce, to decide what we want to do in terms of Christmas lights and festivities in 2018.”
Residents interested in this issue are encouraged to attend a public meeting, the date and location of which will be announced later this month.
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