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Adapting Christmas events in light of Covid-19

It is that time of year again for place managers around the country… the build up to Christmas and everything that goes with it. For a typical Christmas lights switch-on we think big countdown, lots of people, VIP guest appearances and one of the largest events in the calendar for town centres. However, this year it is a very different affair. On Saturday, IPM visited the Stamford Quarter in the North West town of Altrincham, for their low-key, COVID-adjusted switch-on event.

Speaking with Ewen Miller, Chair of Altrincham Unlimited BID, before the lights were turned on, he reflected on the priorities for festive events in 2020:

“Last year we had around 50,000 people in the centre of Altrincham throughout the Switch On day. Unfortunately this year it is nothing like that, but it is what is needed to keep us Covid safe and we know the community of Altrincham will be back out supporting the businesses as soon as they can.”

The time of the switch on was not publicly promoted, to encourage people not to gather and dwell in town centre in line with current restrictions. Despite the unfamiliar circumstances and lowered level of footfall in the centre, Ewen shared a positive message:

“The message we want to get out there is to support the local high street where and when you can. Local independent businesses out there need your support, so when thinking about buying presents think about local shops and what they can offer – there is a vast array of choice and many are currently offering click and collect.”

Altrincham BID will also host a Christmas Elf Trail through the town from the 21st – 23rd December – where families are encouraged to spot the elves in shop windows and find clues linked to a Christmas Quiz.

Festive innovation

Our Co-Chair, Professor Cathy Parker was featured on BBC Radio Manchester earlier this week discussing the impact of the pandemic on Christmas events. Within the interview Cathy also highlighted some innovative town centre festivities :

“Preston had its Christmas light switch on virtually, Macclesfield had socially distanced lockdown larder, a market for small food retailers and Hebden Bridge’s high street has gone online. Out of all this adversity, there is a lot of innovation and people are still connecting, especially with their local shops and local high streets”

Innovation and creativity are evident in town centres and high streets all over the UK, as place managers aim to keep spirits high and highlight the local offering.

Visit Worcester, in partnership with Worcester BID and Worcester City Council have launched a community campaign asking residents to “Light Up” Worcester and bring joy to faces young and old in this difficult time. The result of the campaign will be a short film featuring residents houses lighting up Worcester streets and ending the film with Worcester City Centre lights all on. The lights in the city centre will be turned on by a young local boy who has recently recovered from cancer and has been supported by the local community throughout his battle and recovery from the disease. The film will be released on Thursday 26th November at 6pm for residents to watch and join the celebration from the safety of their homes.

BID Leamington asked the people of Leamington to nominate loved ones and special members of the community as “Spa Stars”. The campaign received overwhelming support with over 800 messages and 250 individuals were put forward as “Spa Stars”. The initial 250 stars have been whittled down to 100 which have been placed on pavements around the town centre to create a ‘walk of fame’ to shine a light on the stars of the town over the festive period.

Similar to Altrincham Unlimited BID, many places are hosting socially-distanced trails around their centres with Winchester BID hosting the nutcracker king’s trail as well as mulled wine walking tours and Love Wimbledon are hosting a reindeer trail.

So although this Christmas break will be very different from those that have come before it, there are plenty of activities and adapted events in your local centre to spread some festive cheer and raise spirits.


About the author


Formed in 2006, the Institute of Place Management is the international professional body that supports people committed to developing, managing and making places better.

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