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A look ahead to Christmas in Chorley

09:35 03 December 2015

Ferris Wheel Chorley

Ferris Wheel Chorley

glynn ward

This is a key time of year for this traditional market town

Head Elf, Gemma Coulthard, at Bygone TimesHead Elf, Gemma Coulthard, at Bygone Times

In a busy market town like Chorley, Christmas is a vital trading period so plans start months in advance to ensure every year outshines the previous one.

‘We start designing our Christmas shop in June, but really our Christmas begins when the merchandising team goes to Holland in February to buy the special stock,’ explains Gemma Coulthard of Botany Bay, Chorley’s canalside shopping complex.

Their Christmas shop opens in September, a whole floor transformed into sections like Wintery Walks with its frozen waterfall; Woodland Way for the trees; the gold-themed 25th Avenue; and Candy Cane Lane. And this year they’re hosting Santa in his grotto.

Chorley Council has organised a series of events including the traditional Christmas lights switch-on, a festive market in Fazakerley Street, and a 100-foot-tall Ferris Wheel on the Flat Iron. ‘Christmas events are naturally about bringing people here to spend money - we also have street theatre in town every Saturday through December for example,’ says Peter Wilson, deputy leader of Chorley Council. ‘But the bigger picture is making our town an attractive place to live, work and shop within this region.’

Four years old Harry Farrington can't wait for Christmas as he discovers a host of goodies at Bygone TimesFour years old Harry Farrington can't wait for Christmas as he discovers a host of goodies at Bygone Times

The council took over the Market Walk Shopping Centre 18 months ago, so it has a commercial interest in boosting seasonal trade too. ‘And there’s now a £13 million project to extend it, bringing in national retailers plus a cinema and restaurants to improve the evening economy,’ he added.

Magnificent Astley Hall is part of Chorley’s Christmas scene too. ‘We’ve got a great park, so let’s use it,’ says Peter. ‘It should be seen as an asset, and help us get the message across that Chorley is a place where there’s lots going on for families, like the cycling grand prix and the hugely successful flower show.’

Councillor Bev Murray expands on Astley’s festive activities. ‘The people of Chorley are proud of the hall, though maybe some don’t realise how close it is to the town centre if you walk rather than drive. Astley Illuminated, where we light the building at this time of year, pulls people in from the centre, so they encounter other attractions like the memorial arch, and enjoy a nice walk through the woods. And our Santa Express every Saturday and Sunday in December likewise links the hall to the heart of the town.’

‘Last year for Astley Illuminated we simply lit the hall,’ adds museum assistant Amy Dearnaley. ‘This time it includes dancers, a film project and a specially composed piece of music.’

Christmas of course wouldn’t be the same without a panto and Chorley boasts two. Chorley Little Theatre will this month see 11 performances of Aladdin, whose planning pre-dated even Botany Bay’s. ‘We started in January with the two directors, Steven Catterall and Andy Burke,’ says Ian Robinson, chairman of Chorley Amateur Dramatic and Operatic Society and the show’s producer. ‘A huge amount of work goes into it. We’re a voluntary organisation so the proceeds from tickets and refreshments help activities through the year.’

As they’ve recently spent large sums on repairs to the 1910 building’s fabric (it was originally The Electric Empire Cinema) the extra funds will be particularly welcome.

At The Pines Hotel, outside the town, another panto is part of a packed series of events through December, a boon for the hotel and to local employment. ‘Christmas is very important to us,’ says proprietor Betty Duffin. ‘We cater for at least 4,000 people over that period, eating and drinking and celebrating here. You don’t get many twos and fours, it’s all larger parties, a big boost for which we take on extra staff. Among December’s cabaret shows we’ve two panto performances - this year it’s Toy Story, an hour-long show, plus children’s games and a meal.’

It draws people from as far afield as Manchester, Blackpool and Southport, but ambitious Chorley is looking to a rather more distant market. ‘We’re researching Myles Standish and his links to Astley Hall,’ says Amy Dearnaley. ‘He was one of America’s founding fathers, so maybe there’s potential for attracting tourists from the USA!’ Why not?

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