As we approach Christmas, our local communities come together once again for their annual Christmas lights switch-ons.
These are always special events bringing friends and neighbours together and they’re an important part of community life. It was the city centre and then Hoole a couple of weeks ago; Blacon this week and of course the formidable Ann Charlton will be leading Kingsway residents as always on Saturday night.
But the event that has meant the most to me personally this year was the lights switch-on in Handbridge last Saturday. I wanted to be there to join in and had to leave Chester Rugby Club’s match against Sale early, but it was worth it.
The residents and businesses have worked hard to make the event happen. But it is understandably hard, when small businesses are battling in a tough economic climate, to get them to give additional focus to community events. And in Handbridge it is trickier because it is hard to close the road over the Old Dee Bridge, meaning you are squeezed in more to the narrow pavements.
Several months ago, Handbridge resident Julie Rowlands came to see me. She is one of the leaders of small but dedicated group of Handbridge residents running these events and she wanted advice on how to take things up a notch.
The best advice I could give her was not in fact advice, but an introduction.
In Hoole, three women have been blazing a trail for community development. Sue Mason, Samantha Jackson and Linda Hobbs, ably assisted by local businesses, won a special award at the 2015 Great British High Street Awards and they are in London again soon for this year’s finals.
So, we sat down in the Faulkner Arms – run by Darren Lea, another member of the Hoole team – and I introduced Hoole to Handbridge and then left them to it. The partnership has blossomed. Yes there’s a friendly rivalry there too, but ideas are shared, mistakes are avoided and successes are achieved together.
One of the best things I have done since becoming an MP has been to introduce the team from Hoole to the team from Handbridge. Because sometimes the best solutions are the solutions we find ourselves. Just give talented people their own platform and let them get on with it. And who knows, in a couple of years’ time, it will be Handbridge in the final of the Great British High Street awards. The team will deserve it.
This Saturday is Small Business Saturday and the two high streets are going head to head – Handbridge Vs Hoole. There are prizes for the most shops visited and the most money spent supporting local businesses. This is the kind of spirit our city celebrates and I love it.