New Christmas lights have brought festive cheer to Bognor Regis town centre.
The decorative displays will be brightening up the shopping area until January 6. They were met with cheers and applause from some 500 spectators who took part in Saturday’s countdown by the town’s Wizard of Oz panto stars.
Those watching included Ilsa Nilsumran, 27, of Bognor Regis, and her daughter, Penny Nilsumran, two.
“The lights are really pretty. They make everyone feel like it’s Christmas and they brighten up the dreary long nights,” she said. “They’re also lovely for the children as well, and that’s the important thing.”
The centrepiece of the illuminations is a large colour-changing globe at the High Street and London Road precinct junction.
A further seven displays, with reindeer, Christmas trees and parcels, shine above the precinct and as well as High Street.
The lights were the first to be installed by The Festive Light Company in a £77,000 three-year deal with Bognor Regis Town Council. They were just part of what was probably the town’s busiest switch-on day.
Kirsten Fitzpatrick, the council’s events officer, said: “It’s lovely to see so many people about.
“We have just about covered the town centre – the railway station, the Regis Centre and the old town.
“You can walk through the town and there’s something happening around those places. I think that’s incredible.
“This is the first time this has happened. That is what this day is all about, getting the community involved and collaborative working among different groups.
“It’s been good to work closely with the town’s business improvement district (BID) this year. That has enabled more events to take place.”
The town’s railway station had plenty of festive cheer thanks to the help of Southern Railway.
Santa’s Grotto on the concourse attracted at least 200 children. They included Joshua Hooper, nine, and his six-year-old brother, Jacob Hooper, with their grandmother, Lisa Hooper, 54, of Bognor Regis.
She said: “This is the first time we have been to the grotto. We had tickets last year but it was cancelled because of the weather. It’s a good idea having this range of events. I’m pleased they are taking place.
“I haven’t got transport so anything like this in the town is good for me.”
Master storyteller Chris Connaughton was also on the concourse with his version Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
props – like a chain, two hats, a walking stick and a scarf – brought to life characters such as Scrooge and Tiny Tim.
“I include all the speeches everybody knows, like ‘Bah, Humbug’,” he said, “and edit down the rest of the book to a 55-minute performance.”
His shows attracted young and old children who stayed throughout as well as those on their way to the trains among a total audience of some 25 for his first show.
The concourse featured walkabout appearances from the LED fairy and a magic ball contact juggler as well.
At the Regis Centre, a mosaic stars workshop attracted a few dozen participants in its first hour.
Organiser Benny Semp, of Workshops for Schools, said: “The children are colouring in the designs and then making them with mosaic tiles, decorative beads, buttons and mosaic beads.
“They end up with a unique handmade festive item which is a one-off. It’s something tactile, which children like, and it’s an activity that families can do together. Quite a few dads like to get involved.”
One of them was Bognor Regis dad, Mark Beirne, 53, and his children – Charlie Beirne, six, Maddison Beirne, three, and Edward Beirne, 10 months.
He said: “It’s nice for the children to do something Christmassy and for us to interact together. It will give them an item they have made themselves.”
Bognor Regis BID chairman Jason Passingham said: “The day is all about improving footfall in the town.
“If we get people to come in for the Christmas events, we hope they will come back again for some shopping.
“As a BID, increasing footfall is our sole purpose so our businesses prosper. We want the town to be a better shopping experience to help them.
“We’ve worked very closely with Arun and Bognor Regis councils to make the day happen. That co-operation is the only way the town centre is going to survive.”