The Art of Christmas in Southport

One of our favourite resorts is turning into tinsel town with a twist to attract shoppers, writes Martin Pilkington

The Twelve Days of Christmas TrailThe Southport College students’ Twelve Days of Christmas artwork will be hidden around the shops in Wayfarers Arcade from December 1st. ‘Wayfarers sponsor a junior squad at Southport Football Club, and they are launching the Twelve Days of Christmas Trail – they’ll be given a little booklet and put on the stopwatch to see who does it quickest,’ explains Margaret Tarpey. After that, free maps will be available for anyone else who wants to take part in the competition.

That’s EntertainmentAlong with those highlights of every primary-school parent’s year, school nativity plays, Southport has two top seasonal offerings. Southport Dramatic Club is performing Goldilocks and the Three Bears at the Little Theatre from December 19th to January 6th. And Southport Theatre has its celeb-studded panto from December 6th to the 31st. ‘We’re hosting everyone’s favourite fairytale pantomime Cinderella, with Atomic Kitten’s Natasha Hamilton, Kent Riley from Hollyoaks, and Coronation Street’s Pauline Fleming. We’re going to have a ball this Christmas (sorry)!’ says the venue’s marketing manager Emma Baldwin.

Park lifeThere are plenty of car parks in the town, including at Southport Floral Hall, Marine Drive and near the town’s railway station. There are also limited time, on-street pay and display parking.

Santa Claus is Coming to TownFather Christmas is making two simultaneous appearances in Southport this year, so there’s no excuse for missing him. He has a grotto in Wayfarers Arcade at the weekends from December 1st, and every day from the 17th to the 21st; and another with plenty of helpers at Southport Market on the last two weekends before Christmas, and Monday 24th.

ShoppingSouthport is one of the county’s top shopping destinations, offering the Central 12 and Ocean Plaza retail parks as well as its famous town centre amenities with a host of independent stores.Like most traders Christine Clarke of Sweet Memories in Wayfarers Arcade looks forward to a busy December. ‘The arcade is done out at Christmas in a lovely traditional style, and it’s packed every year - with a mix of generations too, old and young. A lot of our Christmas stuff is made to order – like hand-made chocolates, Christmas puddings with rum and raisin – last year we sold them out, and all the truffles, to the point where we went to the shop of the lady who makes them, bought everything she had, and sold out again!’

Off the beaten trackA five minute walk away from Lord Street is Wesley Street, which has a village atmosphere and award-winning floral displays in summer. Here you will find a real mix of independent shops, cheerfully painted in pastel shades.Chapel Street is another hot spot. It has now been pedestrianised, allowing easy access to many of the big multiples. The refurbished old market is also a must visit.

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Bah! Humbug – Alternative ActivitiesA brisk stroll along Southport’s magnificent pier will clear the effects of that small sherry from your head, not however on Christmas Day when it’s closed. If though you feel it isn’t a walk without hitting a very small ball into an even smaller hole with weapons singularly ill-designed for the purpose, Southport is England’s unofficial golf capital. For devotees Open venue Royal Birkdale is one of six championship courses nearby, or for occasional sufferers the town has the oldest municipal course in the country on Park Road West. Southport is bookended by splendid stretches of coast, the wetlands at Marshside a bird-watcher’s paradise, and Ainsdale Beach one of the Northwest’s best.

Santa has been making his usual magical appearance in Southport this Christmas (in two places at once, in one instance). However, it’s not magic but hard work and an early start that puts together the resort’s festive programme for the rest of us to enjoy.

‘From nothing in July we now have a strong identity for Christmas here,’ says Margaret Tarpey, who runs a Southport firm pivotal in promoting the town.

‘We can’t compete against Liverpool ONE and the Trafford Centre on their terms, so we wanted to come up with a theme and a campaign that would show we are different.’

That theme is Discover the Art of Christmas in Southport. Local artist John Zehentner was commissioned to produce the oil-painting of Lord Street and its Band Stand that adorns posters and the 100,000-plus leaflets that are being distributed to homes within a 40-minute drive of the town.

Other members of the thriving local art scene are providing pieces to be displayed in restaurants and shops to reinforce the idea.

Younger local talent has been drafted in, too. ‘We got in touch with the art and design department at Southport this summer, and as part of the curriculum they are making the Twelve Days of Christmas artefacts that will be displayed within stores in Wayfarers Arcade,’ says Margaret, of Concept PR. It meant Christmas came early for the budding Banksies in more ways than one. ‘This really allows the students to work to a real brief from an actual customer, great preparation for when they start in the working art world,’ says Gillian Williams from the college.

Southport starts with a seasonal advantage – there is something very Victorian about the town that chimes with our snow-on-the-ground, real-Christmas-tree vision of the best bits of Christmas, none of which include high-powered lasers. The crowds flocking to shop in the elegantly canopied Lord Street and porticoed Wayfarers and Royal Arcades confirm the attraction.

No surprise, then, that other Yuletide indispensables feature in the town’s plans. The big parade on November 18th was kicking off the festivities followed by the switching on of the Christmas lights, said Sarah Carter, Events Officer with Sefton MBC.

A town-centre carol concert will be held on December 15th, led by the Julie Ann Carr Singers. ‘And you have to have the Salvation Army Band of course – it wouldn’t be right without them,’ says Margaret Tarpey.

We love Christmas, but many traders depend on it, hence the co-ordinated efforts made by the town. ‘There is a real boost to business for the hotels and guest houses, and of course our restaurants, at Christmas and through December.

People come for a weekend, doing a bit of shopping, then a nice meal out,’ says Attilio Sergi, chair of Southport’s restaurateurs’ association. ‘But you have to be spot on at Christmas, everything must be just right.’ Which for the retail outlets and eateries, is their own particular art of Christmas.

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