Safety first as series of Christmas celebrations in Witney aims to avoid crush

Witney Gazette: Witney Town Hall last December Buy this photo Witney Town Hall last December

SAFETY concerns lay behind the decision not to hold a Christmas lights switch-on in Witney this year, according to the town council.

Instead the council will hold three events across a range of dates, including a children’s Advent Fayre, the Mayor’s carol service and a three-day selection of specialist stalls for last minute Christmas shoppers.

Alongside these celebrations, Witney Lions Club is holding a Christmas Fayre on Church Green on Friday evening.

Last year’s switch-on event was attended by about 8,000 people and cost the council £38,000 – including £2,300 for security. About £7,000 of the bill was reimbursed by business sponsors.

But organisers said the event was a “crush” and were told by the Safety Action Group, made up of representatives from West Oxfordshire District Council, Oxfordshire County Council and Thames Valley Police, that they would not be granted a licence for a similar event this year.

The switch-on also attracted protesters when Prime Minister and Witney MP David Cameron was on stage.

Bethan Tichborne, a former Oxford University student, was fined by Oxford magistrates in September after being convicted of using threatening words or behaviour to cause harassment.

Town council communications officer Polly Inness said: “Last year we ended up with 8,000 people in the Market Square.

“We were told we wouldn’t be able to get a licence to do that this year. There’s no way we can control the crowd and we have a duty of care. Last year was a little bit scary, so we were told we couldn’t do it again.

“It’s probably only going to be one year off, to see if we can find solutions to how it runs. So this year, we will have lots of events that will break the crowd down.”

Witney’s Christmas events this year begin with the Lions’ Christmas Fayre on Friday, between 5pm and 8.30pm.

On Sunday, the council is holding a children’s Advent Fayre in the Langdale Hall, from 11am-3pm, with lots of craft activities to try and an ice sculpture wall and funfair round the corner in the Market Square.

This will be followed by the mayor’s carol service at St Mary’s Church at 7pm on Friday next week, which will see the Witney Town Band, West Oxford-shire Academy of Performing Arts’ adult and children’s choirs and the choir from Springfield School come together to perform Christmas favourites.

The last event, running from December 22 to Christmas Eve, is a Leapfrog Market of stalls in Witney’s Market Square.

Other West Oxfordshire Christmas events include:

  • Friday: Carterton Christmas lights and street fair, Alvescot Road. The lantern procession will set out at 5.30pm from Carterton Community College before the lights switch-on at 6pm.
  • Saturday: Woodstock’s Night of a Thousand Candles, from 6pm, with the Christmas lights switch-on at the Town Hall.
  • Sunday: Burford, stalls and activities for children, plus Father Christmas under The Tolsey, with the lights switch-on at 4.30pm.
  • Tuesday: Christmas lights go up in Eynsham Market Square.
  • Saturday, December 7: Chipping Norton Christmas shopping festival from 9am to 6pm, with a lantern parade through the town.

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