Southport's glittering Christmas
PUBLISHED: 10:26 05 January 2011 | UPDATED: 18:08 20 February 2013
It may have a beach but Southport isn't just a place to visit in the summer, as Amanda Griffiths discovers
The weather has turned colder and the nights are drawing in. Youd be forgiven for not wanting to visit the beach this time of year, but that doesnt mean a trip to Southport is strictly for summer.
Known for a vibrant programme of holiday events, from the prestigious flower show to the excitement of the air show, the classics in Victoria Park and food festival which kicks the summer season off, Southports tourism chiefs are now working hard to encourage visitors out of season and it seems to be working.
Southport hasnt ever been as seasonal as some of the other seaside resorts where at the end of October you can sometimes get that last one out turn off the lights feeling, says Steve Christian from Sefton Borough Council.
Were trying to build on what weve already got by increasing promotional activity in the autumn and spring, to tell people its not just a summer resort.
If you go back a few years, people would come in the summer for their holidays. Now, if people want a beach holiday they tend to go abroad so were trying to build on the short break and days away market.
Since weve let people know Southport doesnt shut down for winter we have seen the numbers of visitor coaches arriving during months like January exceed 100.
There has been a big increase in the quality and quality of hotels in the resort and they have been offering keen, out-of-season prices.
In terms of events, the town has just enjoyed another successful Musical Fireworks Championship as well as been in stitches during Comedy Week which has seen a variety of comedians by the likes of Jimmy Carr, Rich Hall and Sean Lock.
Now Southport is gearing up for Christmas. Festivities begin later this month with the annual lights switch on and parade. Its a free, family event on Sunday November 21, which sees thousands of people watch Father Christmas makes his way down Lord Street in a horse-drawn carriage. Starting at Princes Park, the parade involving local charities and organisations, travels to Coronation Walk before heading down the full length of Lord Street, stopping at the Town Hall Gardens where Santa switches the lights on.
Thousands of people come each year, says Steve. Its built up by word of mouth really, were lucky we dont need to spend our money on getting an A-lister to turn the lights on. Its already packed and the area just wouldnt be able to cope if we did!
Southports Christmas Festival then continues into December, particularly on the weekends of the 11th and 12th and 18th and 19th. Both weekends will see entertainment in Chapel Street with a festive feel, things like carol singers and childrens entertainment. There will also be a food producers market in Chapel Street with local producers displaying their wares.
The majority of whats on offer is on around the Chapel Street/Tulketh Street area, says Steve, although traders in Welsey Street are also doing something a bit special for Christmas including a hog roast.
As well as the Santa sleighs, hot chestnuts and the usual Christmas festivities were also looking at an additional attraction, something like an inflatable Christmas cracker bouncy castle or possibly an ice rink, but thats still to be confirmed.
Were also looking at hosting a Winter Games event, using Wiis in an empty shop. Its something a bit different and were hoping to have this in the Wayfarers Arcade.
The Wayfarers Arcade are also working hard to get visitors into the festive spirit. Known for its Victorian elegance, stepping into the beautifully decorated arcade at this time of year is like stepping into a true winter wonderland.
At Christmas the arcade has a wonderful atmosphere, the decorations are stunning and that gives us the X-Factor, says Yvonne Burns, Wayfarers Manager.
Its a gorgeous Victorian building with a lovely traditional feel to it and I think when people come in and see the huge tree and Santas grotto. It just takes their breath away.
This year the arcade will be decorated from November 13. In retail you normally have a six week run up to Christmas and we usually tie in our decorations with the Christmas lights switch on, but this year thats later than usual and would leave us with only three trading weekends to Christmas as it falls on a weekend.
As well as Santas grotto, a grotto run by Southport Lions to raise money for local charities, Wayfarers will also be reintroducing their gift wrapping service which raised more than 2,000 last year for nine local charities. The idea is that volunteers from each charity man the stand and then people can bring bags of gifts to be wrapped, an idea that goes down particularly well with the men!
Back in the town centre, the towns famous Continental Market takes place from December 16-20 in Lord Street and is sure to see plenty of visitors flocking for some European treats this Christmas.
We know we cant compete on a shop-by-shop basis with big centres like Liverpool, says Steve, but we offer something a bit different. Lord Street is unique, not just in terms of its independent shops but also because weve prestigious names that pick and choose the locations of their shops.