Every December, local governments across Europe finance the festive lights festooned across the shopping streets. This raises the spirits of people plodding the pavements in the gloom and damp of a northern hemisphere December.
In these times of declining High Street footfall, it also represents some little incentive for the remaining businesses to stay there, paying their business rates, in the hope of raking in enough from Christmas shoppers. Bring on the Carnival of Baubles!
In Ashford, the growth of the Designer Outlet has pulled most higher spending in-person shopping trips out of the town centre. And pandemic buying online then caused the shut down of some of the key chain shops remaining, like Debenhams, M&S, and other clothing outlets in County Square.
The Council is fighting a rearguard action (or should one say scouting for new possibilities?) with activities of LoveAshford and Revelation which arrange functions in the town centre.
The Carnival of Baubles was one such event to draw the walking public into the town centre. Interestingly the axis of the activities was along Bank Street which is destined for an investment uplift. There’s a plan for refurbished shops better to connect the new developments at Elwick Place (Cinema, Hotel, Macknade) with the old town centre.
The Carnival, on 11 December, started after dark at Elwick Place. Crowds converged at the bottom of Bank Street. Those carrying the “baubles”, mostly children and young people, walked in the middle of the street following the lead illuminated inflatable of a giant turtle.
It took about an hour for the crowd of some hundreds to process along to the top of Bank Street. Those not carrying baubles were mostly holding their phones aloft to take photos of those who were. There was rhythmic music thumping out to keep us all in the carnival mood.
At the top of the street, the crowds dispersed, some to buy from the food stalls in lower market street. I bought jerk chicken, rice and peas, vegan balls, callaloo, and plantain. Such were the delicious tropical tastes to cheer up a dank evening.
This was no small thanks to the heritage of the Caribbean brought to the UK and now to Ashford, Kent. I think this same food vendor is about to reopen one of the old pubs just up the road in New Rents. Just one example of how the migrant mix of population in the UK across the generations brings more variety and spice to life.
Bring your own baubles
I think Love Ashford is a good spend of public money. Investment in festoons of electric lights is all very well, but it engages the creativity of only a small team given the contract. The Carnival of Baubles also involved a free creative workshop earlier in the day for those who wanted to create and carry their own baubles.
Much fun for all the family.