East Suffolk: Towns across the district are gearing up for the festive season

WITH only a few weeks to go until the countdown begins many communities in east Suffolk are turning their attention to the festive season.

Towns and villages across the district have a number of treats in store for visitors in the run up to Christmas.

With the threat of internet shopping looming large and some independent stores struggling to cope in the current economic climate local high streets need support more than ever.

Under the umbrella of the Heritage Coast Market Towns Initiative (HCMTI) plans in Leiston, Saxmundham, Aldeburgh and Framlingham are already in full swing for the festive season.

Project co-ordinator Annette Mason-Gordon said: “Shopping in our coastal market towns can bring back some of the pleasure of Christmas and take away the hassle and cost of a journey to a busy shopping centre.

“Many independent shops are struggling as a result of the recession, online shopping and competition from major retailers and it’s important that we support local businesses, and the wider network which benefits from their trade, and make sure that generations to come will be able to experience a traditional Christmas with all the smells, sounds and atmosphere which we can choose to enjoy today.

“The independent shops are inviting and welcoming, with products well displayed and eager and knowledgeable staff on hand to give you inspiration and advice.

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“By shopping locally not only will you be able to give a gift which shows more consideration for the benefactor but you will be helping the local economy as statistics show that every pound spent in a local shop is re-spent three times before it leaves the local area.”

The HCMTI is also re-launching its award winning Where’s Rudolph? treasure hunt for the festive season - encouraging people to follow the clues at the towns’ four Christmas fairs and track down Santa’s red nosed reindeer.

The fun starts in Aldeburgh on November 24 when comedian Lenny Henry will be switching on the Christmas lights, followed by Framlingham’s festive fair and late night shopping on November 30.

On December 1 a Christmas Fair is being held in Leiston, while on December 7 Saxmundham will be holding its seasonal celebration.

Meanwhile Choose Woodbridge is hosting the town’s annual Christmas Street Fair on December 2 between 10am and 4pm. Organisers are promising more than 100 stalls offering a range of festive gift ideas and tempting treats. This will be followed on Saturday, December 8 with a festive market on Market Hill from 9.30am-6pm.

On December 16 it is hoped Father Christmas will arrive in Woodbridge by boat, while on December 19 there is the annual carol service on Market Hill from 6pm.

Chris Harrold, Choose Woodbride chairman, said: “If everyone spent �5 a week in local shops instead of shopping online or in supermarkets then it would be worth �1.9m to the local economy.

“Here in Woodbridge we have a great range of independent retailers who offer bespoke gifts that you just wouldn’t be able to find elsewhere. It’s also more fun than going to a supermarket or buying things online because you can soak up the atmosphere and discover exciting, unusual places that make our high streets so unique.”

The Halesworth Christmas lights switch on is planned for December 1, with former Blue Peter presenter Peter Purves doing the honours. The fun starts around 4.15pm with carols at the White Hart followed by a parade led by the Southwold and Reydon Corps of Drums. The festive entertainment - including a pyrotechnics display at the church and Santa in his grotto - will continue until around 7.30pm.

In a bid to entice more shoppers there will also be free parking from 4pm on December 1, while on December 8, 15 and 22 it will start at 10am.

The Lions Winter Street Fayre is being held on December 9, when many shops will be open for people to pick up some festive gifts and the Thoroughfare will be lined with stalls of all descriptions.

The Southwold switch-on will take place on December 7, with shops staying open late, festive stalls and carol singing.

Guy Mitchell, chairman of the Southwold Chamber of Trade, said many independent shops would be running promotions so that anyone who showed their “My Southwold” card would benefit from special deals.

“It’s vitally important for people to shop locally at this time of year because it can help businesses to survive in quieter times,” he said. “By visiting towns such as ours we hope you are more likely to enjoy the experience of Christmas shopping rather than see it as a chore.”