Council axes Christmas lights extravaganza

Ely Christmas Lights Switch on 2015

Ely Christmas Lights Switch on 2015 - Credit: Rob Morris

A massive lights switch on in Ely – which began 20 years ago with “just a few carol singers around a Christmas tree” - is to be scrapped.  

The annual event that in pre-Covid times attracted crowds of up to 6-7,000, has been cancelled by City of Ely Council. 

Ian Newstead and his family who have helped stage the event since day one, discovered the council’s Christmas lights committee had pulled the plug on it when they turned up to a recent meeting. 

Ely Christmas Lights Switch on 2015 (PHOTO: Rob Morris)

Ely Christmas Lights Switch on 2015 - Credit: Rob Morris

The council will continue with Christmas lights but it will not include the separate afternoon and evening spectacular run by the Newsteads.  

Held in Ely’s Market Place, it regularly attracts more than 6,000 people into the city and features everything from bus tours to stalls, hog roasts, live nativities and a host of music and dance acts. 

Mr Newstead said: “It is with much regret that the Ely Christmas Lights Switch On team advise that they won’t be returning to celebrate the switching on of Ely’s Christmas lights in 2022.” 

He said that after two years away, the preparations had already begun "to bring the fun and cheer back to the marketplace and surrounding streets in continuing this free family event”. 

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Mr Newstead added: “Unfortunately, at a recent public council meeting, we learned that The Ely Tourism and Events team on behalf of The City of Ely Council, had made the decision to cancel the event indefinitely.  

“We were advised that it wasn’t a financial or a Covid related decision but that The Ely Tourism and Events team felt the event was too big!  

The Ely Lights are on!

The Ely Lights are on! Thousands turned out four years ago to herald the start of Christmas in the city. The Market Place was packed, - Credit: Archant

“As volunteers who have supported the City Council event for 21 years, we find this baffling and are very surprised and disappointed by their decision. 

“We would like to thank the businesses and supporters who have worked alongside us over the years to create some fantastic events for the people of Ely, which we hope you have enjoyed. 

“Our heartfelt thanks go to all the volunteers who have made the event such a privilege to be part of.” 

Each year Mr Newstead has worked throughout the year to help raise money to support the event which culminated in a series of acts on stage – including stars from the Maltings panto.  

He once said: “When I first started doing this, we had just a few carol singers around a Christmas tree. 

“But it has steadily grown over the years into something that brings thousands of people into Ely and I want to keep that going.” 

Ely Christmas Lights Switch on 2015 (PHOTO: Rob Morris)

Ely Christmas Lights Switch on 2015 - Credit: Rob Morris

Cllr Sarah Bellow, chair of the lights subcommittee, could not be contacted today for a response.  

However, I understand the city council is keen to ensure continuation of the lights and feel that the separate switch on event, as previously run by the Newsteads, did not necessarily offer best value for money for local businesses.  

Many businesses did not remain open to benefit from the large crowds in the city and councillors felt that the budget set aside for the event could be better spent elsewhere.  

“There was a view we could do things differently,” one source told me. “Perhaps though the conversations with the Newsteads could have been better arranged.  

“Maybe there was a feeling of blundering on without acknowledging the work and commitment they had put in over many years.” 

Last Christmas the city council organised a scaled down switch on event at Oliver Cromwell’s House which attracted nearly 2,000 visitors.  

Minutes from the lights committee of the City of Ely Council from last July show that the chair, Cllr Bellow quizzed Ian and Lucy Newstead about the budget for the event. 

It was reported that “as it stands, the event could not proceed with the budget deficit and the cost implications to the City of Ely Council.”  

In the event the main stage event was cancelled for the second year because of the pandemic.  

It now looks as if the 2019 event will have been the last of its kind. 

Tell us what you think of the decision. Email john.elworthy@archant.co.uk