6 reasons to visit Derby this Christmas
- Credit: Ashley Franklin
Ashley Franklin discovers how some of the people behind the city’s festivities will be spending the holiday season.
GET YOUR SKATES ON
For the seventh time at Christmas, Derby Market Place will resound to the excited whoops and hoots of skaters as they skim, or perhaps stutter, across the ice. The Derby Cathedral Quarter 3aaa Ice Rink, which will attract around 20,000 visitors from 1st to 31st December, is provided by Christmas Ice Rinks Ltd.
If you have ever wondered how an ice rink is laid, the company’s project manager Alexandra Kirby explains that it’s a simple process but one that requires specialist knowledge, which is why you’ll see their team of workers preparing the rink over a period of two weeks: ‘First of all, because of the water, it’s essential you have a level base, with lots of legs to support that base.
The rink is like a giant snooker table, and it has to be firm as well as level. Once that is ready, a waterproof sheet is laid down, and that has to be specially made as it’s covering a 92 by 46 feet area. On top of that we lay the pipes. If you look at the back of your fridge, it’s the same process going on here, just a hell of a lot bigger. You then pour on the water to a depth of four to five inches and here the process is akin to your domestic central heating – just the opposite way round. You get warmth, we get cold – minus 10° to 12°C.’
Derby is fortunate to have Christmas Ice Rinks Ltd as during one recent winter of unseasonable warmth, a few ice rinks around the country had to close for a time. Not so at Derby. Rain can pose a problem with standing water but, as Alexandra points out, the rink is regularly maintained: ‘Every couple of sessions, we always get our huge scrapers out to clear the water or the excess frost that is thrown up by the skaters.’
For someone like me who can barely stand in skates and hangs on to the hand rail, how would Alexandra recommend a spin on the rink? ‘It’s well worth the effort because once you can skate, it’s an exhilarating feeling. That said, we attract skaters of all abilities and many people may come and only manage to shuffle around the rink but they just love the atmosphere. It’s a wonderful group activity.’
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SING CHOIRS OF ANGELS
Working both on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day morning may sound a chore, but not for HUGH MORRIS, Director of Music at Derby Cathedral. For one thing, he is delighted to be celebrating Christmas, as he explains: ‘This will be a special time for me, singing great music to a full Cathedral, celebrating Christ’s birth – it’s wonderful.’
The carol services on Christmas Eve are probably the biggest moment in the Cathedral Choir’s year and, as Hugh points out, it means a lot of hard work on a tight schedule: ‘It sounds crazy but we have a rehearsal between the two carol services for the music on Christmas Day morning. Put it this way, I’m more than ready for my Christmas lunch!’
Hugh usually doesn’t get home from Midnight Mass until 1am and, following an early Christmas Day breakfast, it’s off to the Cathedral for the 10.45 service. Happily for Hugh, he has the company of his two daughters as they are both in the choir. Following the service, there are small gifts for the choristers and Hugh heads home. ‘This is my first proper chance to relax and have some family time,’ he says. And his contribution to the Christmas meal? ‘I’m afraid it doesn’t get much further than carving the turkey!’
Hugh came to Derby three years ago, replacing Peter Gould when he retired after 32 years at the Cathedral. He had worked at Salisbury Cathedral, Hexham Abbey and, latterly, Christchurch Priory in Dorset. ‘I was looking for a new challenge,’ explains Hugh, ‘and although I didn’t know Derby at all, I was really taken by the warmth of the people and the can-do attitude. Also, the Cathedral is a very dynamic place to work – I have a great team both in the choirs and who support all the music making.’
When it comes to music making, Hugh finds great satisfaction in working with the choristers. ‘There’s nothing so rewarding as getting the best out of young people. We take ordinary children – in so far as any child is ordinary – and help them do extraordinary things. I love channelling the energy, joy and inquisitiveness of young minds, which seem to absorb and adapt so much better than us adults. I also love the sense of equipping them with skills, and even values that will last them life-long. Working with the choristers keeps me energised.’ I mention to Hugh that Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without Carols from King’s. Does he find that there’s something extra special about young choristers singing carols? ‘Absolutely,’ agrees Hugh, ‘but in my book, choristers are for life and not just for Christmas!’
THERE IS NOTHING LIKE A DAME
What’s the ideal Christmas present for a pantomime dame? If you’re Morgan Brind performing in Derby LIVE’s panto Beauty & the Beast, the most welcome gift costs absolutely nothing: ‘Christmas Day is the one day when I can relax, knowing I don’t have to shave or put on makeup. Believe me, that is a lovely present.’ This is perfectly understandable when you realise that on the days when Morgan has both a 10am and 7pm show, he will have been at work for 13 hours and changed clothes 22 times.
Morgan eats, drinks and breathes Christmas all year round: as co-founder and producer of Little Wolf Entertainment, his job is preparing, planning and producing pantomimes. This year, Morgan will have designed four pantos, written two of them, directed one and appeared in another. For Morgan, you don’t just have to love panto to do his job: ‘You have to be passionate about it,’ he states, ‘and I love the fact that we get to be part of thousands of people’s Christmas tradition.’
It’s a huge task, too, especially when you are responsible for the show – notes are given, vocal and physical warm-ups are conducted, fight scenes are rehearsed daily for safety reasons, and it takes up to 30 minutes to apply makeup and slip into the first of several costumes.
When the panto is over, Morgan will have a few moments of cold turkey – ‘it’s a cliché, I know, but you say goodbye to a close-knit family’ – before he takes a little holiday. ‘After that break, Christmas starts again for me,’ says Morgan, ‘in February!’
There is one tangible present Morgan usually receives at Christmas which will remind him of his panto role throughout the year: ‘It’s a gift I get from my panto “sons” which I cherish,’ explains Morgan. ‘However, I do get some odd looks when friends see me drinking from a mug inscribed “World’s Best Mum”.’
To soak in the atmosphere of the high street in Derby at Christmas, you need to walk in the winter wonderland that is Bennetts in the Cathedral Quarter. The sight of their 20ft tree soaring up to the glass roof in the atrium is enough to make you feel slightly giddy about Christmas.
This year’s tree has come from the plantation on the Snelston estate near Ashbourne, run by Charles Stanton. ‘We are delighted to provide the flagship Christmas tree in Derby,’ says Charles. ‘It’s testament to the hardiness and quality of our trees and the fact that in terms of its needles, it’s renowned as a non-dropper!’
As Bennetts’ managing director Simon Ingham reveals, the tree would be even bigger if the store only had a doorway wider than its 43 inches. ‘It’s always a squeeze,’ says Simon, ‘but it’s usually a straightforward operation – through the front door, tip first, and then pulled upright with ropes, before being secured with stainless steel cable. We then have to use scaffolding to decorate the tree.’
Once I see the tree in place, it feels that Christmas has truly begun, and it’s the same for the staff, says Simon: ‘Not surprisingly, there is instantly a festive atmosphere in the store at the sight of the tree which always excites the staff, and the pace really picks up, which it needs to as this is a hugely important time for us, especially as we are the ideal destination store for Christmas.’
Away from the tree, the festive décor in Bennetts is especially felt in the room festooned with Christmas decorations, giftware and lights, alongside the sections of gifts, cosmetics, clothing and food. Simon is keen to point up the Barbour brand this Christmas – ‘they have put a greater emphasis on gift boxes which makes for an easy purchase.’ And, while you’re shopping, says Simon, don’t forget to take time out to dine in the Brasserie: ‘It continues to really impress me with its consistently high quality; and the smoked haddock risotto is just stunning.’ For Bennetts, Christmas will start again in February when the first Christmas decorations are ordered, ready for delivery in August.
Each Saturday in December, it’s estimated that over 100,000 people will throng into intu Derby, a sure sign that the company that took over the Westfield indoor shopping centre is thriving. This will be intu Derby’s third Christmas, and the second for General Manager Adam Tamsett who may only be 31 years of age, but cuts an impressive, confident and personable presence as he looks forward to this vital time for the centre.
It’s Adam’s job to ensure that the malls run ‘like a well-oiled machine’ which sounds a daunting task given that he has 180 staff to manage in a centre with over 200 stores. However, Adam has retail in his blood, with ten years’ experience and a Marketing and PR degree. ‘I’m never daunted and I’ve never said no to a challenge,’ affirms Adam; ‘and I love Christmas!’
‘Essentially, the key to running a centre like this is people,’ continues Adam, ‘and intu Derby is a very caring company. Amidst all the stresses and strains of the job, it’s important to have a smile and a laugh. In fact, “We Make Joy” is our mission statement.’
One statement made earlier this year shows that intu is in tune with the fact that we prefer to combine shopping with eating and/or entertainment. In the last year, intu Derby opened the Hollywood Bowl, Paradise Island Adventure Golf and more restaurants, thus spreading footfall into the evening. As Adam points out: ‘intu has made a difference here by investing and, in doing so, created a better ambience. We’ve paid attention to the fact that Derby has a strong family catchment and we like to think we’re at the heart of the community. For example, we have Tell intu, where the public can give us honest feedback and rate us.’
From now until Christmas Eve, Adam and his team will be working flat out, with lots of festive events planned, though ironically, with the need for constant forward planning, they are already turning their attention to spring and summer fashions, with Christmas 2018 under discussion early in the New Year.
BEYOND THE CALL OF DUTY
With up to 1,500 engagements a year and an especially busy schedule during Yuletide, Christmas Day will be welcome relaxation for the Mayor of Derby, John Whitby.
‘It’s not just busy,’ says John, ‘it can occasionally feel relentless. Mind you, I am used to being busy as I’ve long been a councillor and foster carer and held down a day job, so in some ways this is easier! I like the fact that every day is completely different to the last but you have to get used to there being no such thing as a weekend!’
I last met the Mayor – and his wife Juliette – at a dinner and was reminded of a tradition in High Wycombe where the Mayor is weighed on large scales in full view of the public to see whether or not he/she has been getting fat at the taxpayer’s expense. So, how is Derby’s Mayor faring with the constant round of lunch and dinner functions? ‘I was aware that I would often be getting more than a square meal a day,’ says John, ‘so I’ve been doing much more exercise than previously. I’ve needed to anyway as I’m doing the Derby 10K in April for my charities.’
The Mayor’s chosen five charities include: the Derbyshire Children’s Holiday Centre, which has a holiday home in Skegness; Safe and Sound; Children First; the British Red Cross; and the Derby Museums Trust. John is delighted with the support he’s been receiving and is well on the way to his £25,000 target.
John is also promoting green initiatives – he has launched a bike scheme – and fostering – John and Juliette have been foster parents since 2000. ‘We are passionate about fostering because you constantly have the opportunity of making someone’s life better; and if you do, it’s a great feeling.’ John and Juliette will be reminded of that feeling on Christmas Day, as they and their 16-year-old daughter Jasmin and 11-year-old son Reuben will be joined by a former foster child who will be coming round with her family.
‘Christmas is the best time of the year,’ states John. ‘It’s magical if you’re a child and, if you’ve got children, it becomes magical again, and I think it will feel that much more special as the Mayor, not least with the festive functions we’ll be attending.’
With many Christmas concerts and services to come, the Mayor is looking forward to ‘becoming very familiar with the complete set of carols.’ John is used to an entirely different genre of music – he was a member of the Derby rock group The Beyond at the turn of the 90s, when they were signed by EMI and played support once to the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. As John says: ‘While every Mayor around the world has brought their own unique perspective to the role, I’m confident that I’m the first to have played in a thrash metal band!’ There’s a chance The Beyond may play a reunion gig in 2018 to aid the Mayor’s charities. As to other pressing issues in the New Year, John comments: ‘I’m up for re-election next May and that’s when I’ve also got to find a job. I had to resign in May as my employers wouldn’t let me have a year off! For the moment, though, I’m enjoying the great honour of being Mayor of such a marvellous city.’