A Christmas like no other

Lyme Regis Christmas lights display (photo by Richard Austin)

AS I write this, there are 57 days left to Christmas – but as we head for a second lockdown, it’s going to be a Christmas like no other.

Lyme is not alone, of course, as we shape up to a period of little festive joy – no parade and turning of the Christmas lights, no Christmas Day Swim in Charmouth and no Lunge on New Year’s Day.

The only good news is that Lyme’s hard-working Christmas Lights Committee – under the creative leadership of Rob James – will be making the town look as splendid as always. The lights will go up as usual, but we won’t be able to gather in numbers to see them illuminated.

Today, Lyme leads the field when it comes to Christmas illuminations in this part of the world, but we have an advantage in that Lyme’s steep main street means you can admire all the lights looking down from the top, or looking up from the bottom.

It hasn’t always been like that, of course. For many years, Lyme’s Christmas illuminations were rather pathetic until the late Barbara Austin MBE, six times Mayor of Lyme, decided to do something about it.

Barbara formed a small committee to raise money for the Christmas lights for many years and there’s a special street lamp attached to the Royal Lion with a plaque recognising her work in making sure the illuminations were among the best in the west.

After Barbara’s death, Christine Lovell picked up the cudgels and, with a small but enthusiastic committee, continued to drive forward the legacy left by Barbara. Now, Rob James has taken on the role and is making full use of his marketing skills to ensure that Lyme’s festive reputation continues.

In recent years, unbelievably large crowds have descended on Broad Street to see the Christmas parade with all the children’s lanterns, and to take part in the countdown to turning on the tree lights by the mayor, attracting people from far and wide with many visiting the town especially for this occasion.

My favourite Christmas event has always been the Carols Around The Tree, organised with their usual expertise by the Rotary Club. I think I have missed only two during my adult life and whilst I was working in London I always made a special effort to get back to my hometown to sing carols around the tree with my family, like so many others born in Lyme.

There is something very Lyme Regis about this event – but no word yet if it will go ahead in any form this year.

Christmas is obviously a busy period for local reporters and having to work on Christmas Day is seen as a badge of honour in my eyes.

We always turn out for the Christmas Day Swim at Charmouth and in the past we were the only local newspaper to cover the visits to local hospitals by the mayor.

As a young reporter, one of my distinct memories is being called to a fire at Charmouth on Christmas morning. In those days, the villagers used to take their turkeys to the local bakery to be cooked but on this occasion the bakery caught fire, leaving virtually all the village without a Christmas lunch. It was the first and only time I got the lead story on the BBC Radio News at One.

In recent times, my daughter Francesca has done the Christmas Day shift, having been told by me when she first started out that you could only call yourself a real reporter if you had worked on Christmas Day.

Doing another lap, champion fundraiser Anita Routley ‘Walking The Wall’ at Lyme Regis in aid of Cancer Research UK

Follow Anita’s example and ‘Walk The Wall’

THIS was going to be a special year for Cancer Research UK fundraising in Lyme Regis. It was going to be the year when our local committee, of which I am chairman, was planning to make a special effort to take us through the £200,000 mark.

The group was formed in 2007 since when we have raised around £180,000 so we were determined to put together a programme of events to reach the £200k milestone.

It all started in 2007 when I organised a celebrity cricket match and auction at Uplyme & Lyme Regis Cricket Club as a thank you to the NHS who had provided wonderful treatment for two close members of my family.

With the help of comedian/singer Richard Digance, who once lived in Lyme, and the generous support of friends, family and cricketing colleagues we amazed ourselves by raising £12,000 which we gave to Cancer Research UK.

Within no time at all CRUK were on the phone asking us to form a Lyme Regis branch. I resisted at first because of work commitments but in the end relented and said we would do our best to organise a couple of events a year.

Well the rest, as they say, is history and with magnificent support from the people of Lyme we are heading for £200,000, a sum we never imagined was possible.

We made a good start to 2020 with two events early in the year raising £1,500. But then COVID-19 raised its unwelcome head and the rest of our programme – we had an event planned for every month – was put on hold.

We did make an attempt to organise one of our most popular and lucrative events – The Big Breakfast – but that too had to be pulled when the lockdown restrictions were tightened once again.

Cancer Research UK have lost in excess of £40million pounds in donations and fundraising this year and all branches have been urged to come up with unusual ideas to raise funds whilst adhering to the stringent rules controlling the gathering of crowds.

So how do you raise funds in such an environment, especially as every other worthy charity is scratching their heads and asking the same question? Thankfully, my committee has Anita Routley as our treasurer and she’s the Queen of unusual fundraising ideas.

Earlier this year, after lockdown started to impact so greatly on our way of life, Anita came up with the idea of a virtual 24-hour board game marathon and in the process raised several hundred pounds.

And now she has come up with another ingenious idea by inviting people to ‘Walk The Wall’. All you have to do is walk the whole length of Lyme’s seafront – from the end of the eastern parade to the harbour – 20 times, and in doing so to give a pound for every lap achieved with a target of doing it at least 20 times.

My daughter Francesca never misses an opportunity of doing her bit for good causes, especially if it helps to keep her fit, and she has already completed her 20 laps and in doing so raised in excess of £300.

My wife and I are planning to do it, along with a number of our friends. Will you ‘Walk The Wall’ and help get to a target of £1,000?

Is this why Broad Street was so congested this summer?

THERE’S been a good deal of discussion in town over the new pedestrian crossing in Broad Street, now half completed.

The town seems pretty well split on whether the crossing will add to Lyme’s already serious traffic congestion. Some are even predicting that it will be such a disaster that Dorset Council will end up having to remove it.

I wouldn’t put money on that, if I was you. I can’t see any local authority having spent many thousands of pounds putting in a crossing to help the disabled and infirm then removing it for traffic reasons.

Broad Street has experienced huge traffic congestion this summer, mainly due to the traffic lights at the bottom of town being faulty.

The green ‘go’ light stayed on for just a few seconds allowing only a few cars through at a time for several weeks, causing a day-long tail-back often to the top of Broad Street.

I’m amazed the powers that be did not notice this and correct the situation. Or was there another reason for it?

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