Somerset West and Taunton (SWT) and its partners have been busy preparing Taunton town centre to bring some festive cheer to visitors in the lead up to Christmas.
Taunton’s celebration of Christmas officially kicks off with Winterfest on Sunday, 21 November, offering a full line-up of attractions from 10am until 8pm.
A large festive market will occupy North Street with numerous stalls offering Christmas-themed goods and seasonal food and drink, as well as four alpine food huts in Fore Street (available from 11 November through to 8 January), selling Christmas carveries and German produce, including sausages, cheeses, sweets and treats.
From 12pm, live music and performances will be on show across three stages in the Parade, the High Street and in North Street.
Street entertainment in the form of Naughty Christmas Elves, a light-up Snow Queen and a Nutcracker on stilts will be interacting with the crowds again, with the added opportunity to meet giant dinosaurs and Bumblebee from the Transformers franchise.
Funfair amusements will also be in place throughout the town centre, including dodgems and an Incredible Hulk ride in Castle Green (available from Saturday, 20 November), as well as a free Santa’s Grotto outside Taunton Visitor Centre.
The town’s annual Christmas tree, which has once again been donated by Langford Lakes Christmas Tree Farm and delivered by Wheelers of Bridgwater, will take pride of place in front of the Market House from Monday, 15 November. Langford Lakes has also donated Christmas trees to Wellington and Wiveliscombe town centres.
Taunton’s tree will be dressed with lights and decorated using a £500 contribution from Taunton Farmers Market, and a festive light display will be projected onto the Market House, providing an illuminated backdrop to the tree.
Lighting for the Christmas tree will be installed by qualified electricians within the council’s Localities team, along with canopy lights spanning East Street, North Street and the High Street.
During Sunday’s Winterfest, the Christmas tree and town lights will be jointly switched on at 6:30pm by The Mayor of Taunton, Councillor Sue Lees, accompanied by VIPs Hannah Taunton and Mia Sienna Jarrold.
Paralympic medallist and local celebrity, Hannah Taunton, won bronze in the Women’s 1,500 metres T20 at the 2020 Summer Paralympics in Tokyo.
Hannah said: “I am feeling very excited about switching the Taunton Christmas lights on. I am very proud and pleased to be asked to do this. I will be wearing my GB Presentation Kit and Bronze Paralympic Medal for this special occasion.”
Mia, 8, recently won her very first pageant to become this year’s Miss Junior Sensational UK and has been invited to join the official light switch-on party in recognition of the considerable charity work she has undertaken within her community.
To the delight of shoppers and gastronomes, numerous markets will follow Winterfest starting with the return of eat:Taunton, a free one-day festival in Hammet Street and at St Mary Magdalene Church, offering food and drink from 70 local producers between 10am and 4pm on Saturday, 27 November.
The annual Taunton Christmas Craft Fair, which has been trading for over 16 years, will be held in Fore Street between 1 and 19 December, where seasoned artisans will be offering unique handcrafted gifts such as textiles, jewellery, fused glass, preserves, ceramics, wood turning, knitted accessories, animal portraits, clothing and more.
In partnership with the Town Centre Working Group, Taunton Independent Market will run a series of Christmas markets in Castle Green on 5, 12, 18 and 19 December. Subsidised by the Government’s Welcome Back Fund as part of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), these quality markets will showcase the very best in local producers of food, drink, crafts, homewares, beauty, and fashion.
Taunton’s indoor shops will also stay open until 9pm for late-night shopping on the five Thursdays leading up to Christmas, commencing 25 November.
To help with festive trading, the council is offering free car parking in its car parks on the Saturdays of 4, 11 and 18 of December in Dulverton, Dunster, Minehead, Porlock, Watchet, Wellington and Williton, and in Dulverton again on Sunday, 5 December for the annual Dulverton by Starlight event. With the exception of Kilkenny car park, free parking will also be available after 3pm on the same Saturdays in SWT-owned car parks in Taunton.
Following the success of last year’s pop-up post office, a new temporary office will open in East Street from 15 November, offering fun and photos for children and parents alike.
Any children keen to find out whether they have made it onto the ‘good list’ this year can write to Santa, posting their letters using the office’s post box. Letters should be posted no later than Friday, 10 December so that Santa has time to send a personal reply. Details on how to address letters or to post them directly, can be found on the Royal Mail Letters to Santa webpage.
The ever-popular Carols Around the Bandstand event will return to Vivary Park on Monday, 13 December at 6.30pm, featuring Taunton Deane Male Voice Choir, the West Somerset Singers and Taunton Concert Band. Visitors are encouraged to bring a torch or lantern.
Cllr Marcus Kravis, Executive Member for Economic Development at SWT, said: “I’m absolutely thrilled we’re able to offer a programme of festive events over the Christmas period this year, starting with the return of our annual Winterfest celebration, which had to be cancelled last year due to the restrictions.
“After what’s been a very challenging couple of years, it’s really important that we continue to support the recovery of our local businesses and I wish residents and visitors a safe and welcoming experience in Taunton.
“I’d also like to take this opportunity to extend my thanks to our staff, partners, sponsors, market traders and everyone else involved for their support in helping us to arrange these events.”
Anyone wishing to see the events planned for Taunton are advised to check for COVID-19 symptoms before visiting and to take a rapid lateral flow test if possible. Anyone displaying symptoms should self-isolate immediately and get a free NHS test. The use of face coverings is recommended to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 through crowded areas.
For further advice and guidance on how to stay safe and help prevent the spread, visit GOV.UK. If using public transport to attend any of the events, follow the Government’s safer travel guidance for passengers.