Festive season brings town to life and together to celebrate

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt with his Christmas lights winner Jackie 

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt with his Christmas lights winner Jackie - Credit: PHOTO SUPPLIED BY TOM HUNT

This Christmas Eve, I wanted to take a step back from politics to wish everyone in Ipswich a very happy Christmas.

Over the last few weeks, it has been great to see the festive activities taking off. I was pleased to be able to visit a number of the celebrations and events across the town, and wanted to share some of these experiences.

One of my favourite events was the Chantry winter wonderland. With a thousand visitors over the weekend, the Chantry event was a huge success. I’d like to congratulate Vicki Mann on her hard work making this happen, supported by a team of excellent volunteers. It’s also great to hear about the donations made by Chantry residents to Lighthouse Women’s aid, a charity which does important work in providing advice and aid to women and families suffering from domestic abuse. This is a fantastic charity, and one which I am very supportive of. This autumn I visited their headquarters in Berners Street, to hear in depth about the important work they do.

Tristyn, Zack and Jake at Winter Wonderland at Chantry Library in Ipswich

Tristyn, Zack and Jake at Winter Wonderland at Chantry Library in Ipswich - Credit: Charlotte Bond/Archant

As well as meeting the Chantry based Santa it was a pleasure to meet Mark Dyer from the burger van, who told me about how the whole Chantry community had rallied around him when his previous van was burned down. The weekend event has confirmed what we already knew: Chantry is an incredible community, with strong character and spirit.

With carol singing being a popular Christmas event across the town, I was able to attend quite a few local gatherings to join in. The Broke Hall carols on the green event returned this year, and I was happy to see it back after last year’s absence. I even took on the role of one of the Three Wise Men, which entailed a purple cape and a very long reading! It was a really fun event, well-attended by hundreds of locals.

I also joined in the Chantry Christmas carols at Lavender Hill, which was a lovely event with a clear community spirit – and I was pleased to join the choir get in some carols practice over the course of the week.

Chelsea ice-skating at Winter Wonderland at Chantry Library in Ipswich

Chelsea ice-skating at Winter Wonderland at Chantry Library in Ipswich - Credit: Charlotte Bond/Archant

As well as community carol events, I had the opportunity to hear the choir at St Mary-le-Tower rehearse. They’ve been working hard on their album, Road to Bethlehem, for Christmas. With local legend Ed Sheeran as their patron and supporter, they’ve even received encouraging video messages from the pop star. This local choir has performed on classic FM and more, and their music is being streamed on spotify and apple music. It was quite magical to listen to the Christmas-themed album in the beautiful church setting.

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One of my favourite things about Christmas is how the town comes to life and comes together to celebrate. I really enjoyed driving around the town this year to choose the best Christmas lights across Ipswich.

This week I handed out congratulatory letters to the best overall house and runners-up. My overall favourite house was on Fletcher Road, which was decorated to raise funds for a very deserving hospice charity. Having placed as the 3rd best house in last year’s competition, Jackie went bigger and better this year with a fabulous lights display.

It was very difficult to pick the best road in Ipswich this year for the Christmas lights competition – there were so many strong contenders, and hundreds of houses and roads entered for contention. The top roads from last year’s hugely successful competition remained in a league of their own this year, with exceptional Christmas lights displays. Radcliffe Drive and came a close second, with Elvedon Close my favourite road.

Foxley Close came third – a new entrant this year. It’s a very small close but very beautiful street, and definitely worth a visit. Like last year, had great fun driving about town seeing all the great lights and soaking up all the festive spirit.

This year I also ran a Christmas Card design competition, where a local primary school pupil from St Mark’s Catholic Primary School demonstrated his budding artistic talent with a wonderful picture, now printed on all my Christmas cards for the year. Malachi, in Year 5, stood out from a field of tough competition, and received his printed design signed by the Prime Minister to congratulate him on the winning artwork.

Shoppers in Ipswich town centre. Picture: Sarah Lucy Brown

Shoppers in Ipswich town centre. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Across the town, Christmas crafts events and arts socials have been taking place, with locals making their own decorations. I was pleased to visit the Christmas crafts event at St Luke’s Church on Cliff Lane, as well as to drop by the IP3 residents’ group; it was really great to see such meaningful local events hosted in person, in a contrast to last year.

As well as enjoying our local events here in Ipswich, I am looking forward to spending a few days with my family. This Christmas, I will be celebrating with a traditional lunch with my dad, who lives in Ely. I’ll be taking the time to relax and recuperate before the new year.

This is a stark contrast to how I unfortunately spent last Christmas – in isolation, by myself. Sadly, I know that there will be quite a few people in this position at Christmas. Millions of people up and down the country will be testing positive for Covid over the holiday period, and will be in isolation for Christmas day. Having been in this position last year, I can say it is quite a lonely experience and not one that I would wish upon anyone.

While Christmas is often thought of as a time for family and coming together, it is also an incredibly lonely time for some. Although many will be gathering for Christmas lunches with family, a classic wintery walk, and Christmas Eve drinks with friends, this is not the case for everyone.

I hope that this Christmas will be better than last, which saw much more restrictive lockdown measures than we currently have. However, I know that for many people, this won’t be the case. It is an especially difficult time for those without family with which to celebrate. Particularly for elderly without close relatives, Christmas day doesn’t seem to bring a huge amount of cheer. Those in hospital over Christmas will have a very different experience too. At Christmas, I would like to spare a thought and a moment of reflection for those unable to celebrate with loved ones.

I want to mention the incredibly valuable service that Ipswich Hospital Radio provide. This year, the station celebrated 50 years of bringing entertainment to the wards of Ipswich Hospital. However, in the last two years, the nature of their work has changed as a result of the pandemic, with limited patient interaction. The volunteers dedicated to making the hospital radio station a success provide an uplifting and interesting channel, for those who are likely to feel isolated. This has been more important than ever during the pandemic, when access to loved ones has been limited for patients.

Tomorrow morning, on Christmas Day, I’ll be on Ipswich Hospital Radio to wish everybody a happy Christmas, supporting the channel and giving my personal message of positivity for those who are finding Christmas a difficult time.