What happened and what’s next?
At the end of October 2017, during the final session of the Make It Happen Course with Walk the Plank (provided by Creative Scene) there was a call out to creatives, “If anyone is interested in doing something for the Dewsbury Lights Switch On, let us know.” A few of us said we were, but around ten days passed before more information could be found out.
Then a text popped up on my phone: “Do you know of any brass bands?” Dewsbury Councillors were also attempting to put something together, but time was running out. At that point it was around 7 November and the event was due to take place on 29 November. Could it possibly be done? We met on 13 November and Council Staff explained the basic requirements before any kind of event could happen, to Cllrs Firth, O’Donovan and I. Public Liability Insurance would have to be bought, a Safety Officer was essential, security would be required, as would First Aid and stewards, an event license was necessary, plus a Project Manager to bring it all together, and all of that before we could even begin to think about booking entertainment.
The three of us exchanged glances, rolled up our sleeves, and decided to make a go of it. Why? Simply because every other town had their own events, and we felt Dewsbury deserved the very best we could manage! We were well aware we were taking on an almost impossible task, but Dewsbury folk are more than worth it.
First on the list was finding a charity to hold and distribute the exceedingly small amount of funding we had, as well as hold the required Public Liability insurance. Dewsbury Park Mansion Community Hub Ltd agreed to step in, giving us the green light to get going.
Over the next 2 weeks we called in every favour we possibly could, with professionals taking huge pay cuts because they too believed in the idea. The Reindeers we’d hoped for couldn’t make it, but the award winning Real Donkeys saved the day. Stuart Robertshaw stepped in as Safety Officer, Cafe Etienne opened it’s doors, as did several other local cafes and restaurants. Rob Oldfield of Admiral Security put a call out to his team (who were already working normal shifts and much more because of other local events), and a fantastic team of five came to keep us safe. Council staff provided stirling advice, Mark Thompson set up a team of First Aiders, whilst local schools and volunteers provided stewards and children to help switch the lights on. The staff at Wilkinsons donated products to decorate the Town Hall steps, Creative Scene worked with local artists to bring Heckmondlight’s LanTurns. Creatives from Callaloo Carnival Arts and Urban Angel Circus worked alongside creative storyteller, Irene Lofthouse, to bring beautiful street entertainment. Imran Azam of thisisreel.co produced a short film of the event.
Yorkshire Imperials Brass Band provided traditional festive carols and songs for all to sing. Deputy Mayor, Gwen Lowe, came and managed to get Santa to join us! Santa, in turn, called Roger the Ram from Dewsbury Rams RLFC, and together they greeted children and families throughout the evening. The Rev’d Simon Cash of Dewsbury Minster volunteered to bless the event, all those who attended, and the whole of our town.
It wasn’t as big and bold as previous years, and perhaps not as entertaining as other Christmas Light events, it didn’t involve everyone and everything we would have liked it to, but it was our town’s event and it was well worth it.
Where do we go from here? I imagine it would be very easy to complain that funding was cut, that people didn’t sort something out early enough, that the lights aren’t as good as they used to be. That is understandable. We are, though, where we are. We either accept the status quo or we roll our sleeves up and those who can, choose to work to make things better.
Dewsbury didn’t become a prosperous Market Town through waiting for “other” people to do things, it prospered via it’s own people doing things, even through dire economic circumstances. It hasn’t always been easy, and it’s not easy now. There is hope though, and optimisim. The negative narrative can be re-written, and it’s already happening in myriad ways.
Ordinary people are helping each other through feeding and housing the homeless, through supporting foodbanks, via encouraging people with learning and physical disabilities, with mental health issues, tackling social isolation, providing play and support experiences for vulnerable children and adults. There are efforts to bring young people into our town, and to clean it up in preparation. With regards to the Dewsbury Lights Switch On, we’re already seeking to use the donated decorations to brighten up local Christmas events such as school Gala’s and The Great Christmas Get Together lunch in Dewsbury on Christmas Day. It’s fantastically inspirational.
Perhaps then, the next stage is each of us making a few choices: do I complain or do I use what little I have for the benefit of others? Even if it’s just your smile, or using positive words instead of negative, it makes a difference. Those who know my personal story know I don’t suggest these things without some knowledge and understanding of what it’s like to live on the bread-line, to be made redundant, to be on benefits, to move through mental health issues, to live as a single mum, to loose people I love, and myriad other things. My story isn’t the worst, by far, but it has taught me that there are ways through. The most effective way through I’ve come across is supporting each other through thick and thin. It’s hard work, but even if it helps just one person, it’s more than worth it, and there’s room for everyone!