23 July 2024

Work in progress

The Gazette team enjoyed dragging the gazebo out for one last time this year at the Withernsea Christmas lights event.

Boy, it was cold – but largely dry, and it great to see some larger crowds this time, as last year’s event was pretty much a washout.

Every year, though, it sparks the same debate on social media about the location and nature of the event, and it’s fair to say that comparisons with other seaside towns are unavoidable, really.

Hornsea and Bridlington, for instance, always close off their main streets, and both towns were absolutely packed with crowds enjoying the traditional countdown and switch-on of the festive street lighting.

There was indeed a countdown at Withernsea, too, but it was for the tree in Valley Gardens, and not the other festive lighting schemes in the gardens and Queen Street, which were already on.

I think we should treat the event and the lights in general as a work in progress, though, because Withernsea has only just had its ageing lighting infrastructure completely replaced.

And, while people were no doubt expecting it to transform into Cottingham Lights (for many, the benchmark in the East Riding) overnight, I think this might have been a bit much to ask. People inevitably asked where the £50,000 from Withernsea Big Local had been spent, and the answer came that a great deal of it went on hidden infrastructure, which can now be built on in future years.

As you can read in our front-page Withernsea edition story, the town council understandably went on the defensive in the face of the usual torrent of comments on social media, some of which were unfair and nasty, but, that said, a fair few were from genuine residents with genuine suggestions as to how the event can be improved in the future, and I don’t think they should all be dismissed as keyboard warriors. Expressing opinions on social media is how people do things now. They don’t tend to write letters, pick up the phone or turn up in person to council offices.

The council has given its reasons time and time again for not wanting to return the main event to Queen Street, some of which are entirely reasonable, but I do wonder whether Valley Gardens is ever likely to attract big numbers like the aforementioned towns. Does the town need these big numbers? I would say, yes – why not have this ambition?

But if Valley Gardens is the way to go, then I definitely think that a few more stalls – hot food, drinks and gifts, like those that lined St Augustine’s Gate on Hedon’s lights night – would certainly go down well, and that’s something that could be looked at next year. The lanterns and parade were great, so more of that sort of stuff!

The town council always urges people to get in touch with them directly and not on Facebook, but perhaps there needs to be some middle ground in acknowledging and listening to valid comments on social media while ignoring the obvious ill-informed keyboard warriors. And, as Bill Jardine says this week, if you think you can do better, then get involved!