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Free and cheap fun events for families before Christmas and over the school holidays

PUBLISHED: 18:58 13 December 2019

Father Christmas arrives in style at Snape Maltings Picture: Archant

Father Christmas arrives in style at Snape Maltings Picture: Archant

Christmas may bring good cheer - but it also brings empty wallets. Here are some suggestions for fun family activities over the festive period which won't cost a fortune.

Father Christmas arriving at Snape  Picture: Snape MaltingsFather Christmas arriving at Snape Picture: Snape Maltings

Most attractions are closed on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year's Day. If making a special visit, check websites or call to check opening times.

Meeting Santa

Meet and greet with Father Christmas, Buttermarket Centre, Ipswich, December 21

As part of the shopping centre's Planet Christmas series of events, children can meet Santa and receive a gift for free. There will also be Christmas carols from the VIPs Barbershop choir to add to the atmosphere. Children do need to be signed up, which can be done in advance via the website

Father Christmas sails into Snape Maltings, Saturday, December 14, 2.30-4.30pm

The Muppet Christmas Carol is one of the films being screened at Ipswich County Library Picture: BUENA VISTA PICTURESThe Muppet Christmas Carol is one of the films being screened at Ipswich County Library Picture: BUENA VISTA PICTURES

The man in red will once again arrive at Snape Maltings by historic Thames sailing barge. Arriving at the quay at around 2.30pm, he will make his way to House and Garden, where children can meet him. This is a free event. No tickets required.

Festive fun at museums

Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich, dates vary

The mansion has a free Christmas tree festival until January 5, with no booking required (closed on bank holidays). You can vote for your favourite tree, and combine it with a trip round the various other exhibits. Festive family activity sessions are also being held on Saturday, December 14 and Sunday, December 15, offering children the chance to make Christmas-themed crafts and presents and listen to local choirs and performers. The events run from 10am to 3.45pm, and are free to attend, with no booking required. Some activities are free but there is a £1 charge for others.

Elijah and Rachel Fowler playing in the snow at Nowton Park. Picture: GREGG BROWNElijah and Rachel Fowler playing in the snow at Nowton Park. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Ed Sheeran: Made in Suffolk

Aside from Christmas events at the mansion, children may be interested in seeing the hugely popular and inspiring Ed Sheeran: Made in Suffolk exhibition, running right through until May - admission is free, but you do need to book timed tickets in advance.

Swimming and sports

Many sports centres and swimming pools across the area will be offering a range of activities during the Christmas holidays, to help children let off steam even when it is cold outside. Pools and leisure centres may offer cheaper admissions off-peak or for particular sessions, or, if you are planning to visit frequently, it may be worth asking about memberships.

The Ed Sheeran, Made in Suffolk exhibition at Christchurch Mansion   Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNThe Ed Sheeran, Made in Suffolk exhibition at Christchurch Mansion Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Free swimming, Mid Suffolk and Babergh, December 20-January 5

After successful free swimming promotions for local children in summer and during the autumn half term, a number of leisure centres in these two Suffolk districts are making a similar offer over Christmas.

People aged 16 and under living in the Babergh district can swim at Abbeycroft's Kingfisher Leisure Centre in Sudbury and Hadleigh Pool and Leisure. Users will need to sign up for an Abbeycroft Leisure free swimming membership first in order to claim their free swim.

The Everyone Active offer for youngsters aged 16 and under living in Mid Suffolk will allow free swims at Mid Suffolk Leisure Centre, Stowmarket, and Stradbroke Swimming Pool and Fitness Centre. You are advised to check the pool programme on your centre's website.

Some swimming pools in Suffolk are offering free swims to local children over the Christmas holidays Picture: GETTY IMAGESSome swimming pools in Suffolk are offering free swims to local children over the Christmas holidays Picture: GETTY IMAGES

Library activities

Libraries and cultural venues across the region are holding a wide range of activities aimed at families and children during December. Here are some:

Elf hunt, Woodbridge Library, until December 23

You may also want to watch:

An array of elusive elves have been donated by local schools and businesses, hidden around the area. Youngsters can fill in a form with the names of the elves they find and receive a treat.

Decorate a Bauble, Bury St Edmunds Library, until Christmas Eve

Budding artists can pick up a free bauble from the foyer desk. Decorate it as colourfully as you like, and it will be put on one of four trees in the children's library. Staff are also asking children to help make some snowflakes to put on the library windows.

Festive Film Fun, Ipswich County Library, December 14 and 21, 2.30pm

The film The Muppet Christmas Carol is showing on December 14. Then, on December 21, at the start of the school holidays, there will be a vote to choose the film via the library's Facebook page. Options are Elf, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, Arthur Christmas or Miracle on 34th Street. Tickets for both sessions cost £4 each, including sweet and savoury refreshments. Places can be booked from the ground-floor counter and online.

Christmas disco, Gainsborough Community Library, Ipswich, Monday, December 23, 7pm-9pm

Children aged eight plus are encouraged to dress up in festive style for an evening of music, dancing and games. The ticket price is £2, including snacks and drinks, but you need to contact the library to book in advance. This event is funded by Suffolk Community Foundation though the High Sheriff Fund. There are also many other events at Suffolk libraries. For more details and to book, visit the website.

Great outdoors

Nowton Park Winter Quiz, Bury St Edmunds, December 20-January 6, 10am-3.30pm (not on bank holidays)

Take a walk around the park, test your knowledge and pick up a prize at the end. There is a £1 charge for a quiz sheet, available from the Grounds Cafe.

Thetford Forest

The forest is open every day from dawn to dusk and ideal to explore on fine winter days, with adventure play areas including a great nature play area at High Lodge, where children can range from the den building area to a helter-skelter tunnel slide and waymarked trails. There are also adventurous activity trails.

Christmas Pudding 5k Fun Run, Thomas Gainsborough School, Great Cornard, Friday, December 27, 10am

This charity event is raising money for Guide Dogs. It will follow the regular Parkrun course run over two laps, followed by free cake in the cafe at the sports centre. There is a £5 charge for adults, but accompanied children can join in free. To sign up, visit the event's Facebook page.

Carol Services and nativities

Churches are obviously busy over the Christmas period, and many organise special activities and events for children and carol concerts for families.

Breakfast Special Nativity, All Saints Church, Kesgrave, Sunday, December 22, 9.15am

Children can dress as shepherds, kings or angels. Adults are also welcome to dress up! After the nativity breakfast, the service starts at 10am.

Garland Street's Big Christmas, Garland Street Baptist Church, Bury St Edmunds, Sunday, December 22, 4.30-6pm

A fun Christmas afternoon for all the family with songs and carols, puppets, food and lights.

Messy Nativity at St John's Church, Elmswell, Tuesday, December 24, 3.30-5pm

This children's carol service will offer children the chance to share songs and jokes. Youngsters can come dressed as their favourite nativity character.

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