THERE will be no official Christmas lights switch-on events or council-run lantern parades in Cheshire West and Chester this year, due to the ongoing risks posed by coronavirus.

Cheshire West and Chester Council has confirmed that its traditional lights switch-on events and lantern parades, which see hundreds of people crowd together to watch spectacular displays, will not be going ahead.

The council has also confirmed the traditional Chester Christmas Market, which it runs in partnership with Marketing Cheshire, will not be going ahead in its usual format.

However, a taskforce named 'Operation Christmas' has been set up with the aim of saving Christmas this year and making the most of the festive celebrations in a safe and socially distanced way.

It has confirmed there will still be Christmas trees and lights displays throughout the borough, while there are still some seasonal treats people can attend.

The Destination Chester network of Marketing Cheshire, CH1ChesterBID, Cheshire West and Chester Council, Storyhouse, Taste Cheshire, Chester Cathedral, Chester Indoor Market and We Love Good Times have joined forces to work out how shoppers and residents can make the most of the festive season.

Market operators, who would normally be providing markets and events across the borough including artisan, farmers and Christmas markets, are working closely with the council to develop new ideas, and to complement other activities being planned and to support high street recovery.

The new group welcomes ideas and suggestions from businesses and traders as the plans are developed.

Storyhouse has just announced its Christmas show. A Christmas Carol starts on November 7 and runs until until January 17.

Storyhouse is currently the only major theatre in the region planning to stage a full-size Christmas show whilst most UK theatres are remaining closed until at least spring next year.

Councillor Carol Gahan, Cheshire West and Chester Council Cabinet Member for Legal and Finance, said: “Chester is a very special place throughout the year but at Christmas, the lights, buildings and the giant Christmas trees look like a picture postcard of festivity.

“We cannot give up delivering the gift of Christmas in Chester to residents and visitors this year.

"There will have to be some changes, we will miss the big events, like the lights switch-on and the parades, but keeping people safe has to be the priority.

"Instead we are working on different plans, which will still make Chester a real Christmas cracker, and hopefully some of the innovative and creative ideas coming out of the working group will mean our city is even better to be at Christmas for many years to come."

CH1ChesterBID manager Carl Critchlow said: “We have seen Chester businesses adapt quickly and creatively over the last six months, giving us a real sense of hope and optimism as we head towards the festive season.

"This is a tough year for trading and we are encouraging shoppers to support the high street as it evolves. This Christmas will be one we have never seen before, but we are looking at this as an opportunity to give visitors a unique and merry experience in Chester.”

Marketing Cheshire’s ‘Simple Pleasures’ has been running through the summer, sharing all of the things that make the city special to residents.

Joe Manning, Marketing Cheshire chief executive, said: “Chester has a lot to offer visitors this Christmas and we will work with our partners in the Destination Chester Cluster to bring the experiences together so that visitors and residents can enjoy our city safely.

"This will build on the work undertaken this summer to reopen the city.”

Dean of Chester, the Very Revd Dr Tim Stratford said: “Naturally, the Cathedral sits at the heart of Chester’s Christmas festivities, and though this year has been challenging, we’re determined to offer light and hope to everyone in and around the city.

"Our annual Christmas Tree Festival will spread across the entire building – we’ve been overwhelmed by the number of schools and businesses who’ve been in touch keen to contribute this year.

“Meanwhile, a host of other exciting events and services are being developed in line with current government guidance.”

Chester Cathedral's events include the return of The Snowman, which sees an orchestra complement a screening of the much-loved children's classic, along with some surprise guests.

Due to Chester Zoo's strong record on safely managing people at attractions during the pandemic, The Lanterns event is still going ahead, and tickets are selling fast.

Jamie Christon, chief operating officer at Chester Zoo, said: "We’re really delighted to be able to go ahead with our much-loved Christmas event again this year.

"We’ve significantly reduced the amount of visitors we’ll be able to welcome this year and made a few changes to the event to enable social distancing, but we’re sure it will feel as special as ever.

“We can’t wait to welcome people back to The Lanterns, see lots of big smiles on faces and, at the same time, raise valuable funds so we can continue our mission of preventing extinction as a wildlife conservation charity.”

Elsewhere in the borough:

  • Ellesmere Port – The Christmas tree and lights will go ahead without a switch-on event and there are plans to replace the lantern parade.
  • Northwich – The Christmas tree and lights will go ahead but with no parades or large switch on.
  • Winsford – The Christmas lights will have a virtual switch-on through social media.
  • Tarporley – There will be a Christmas tree and lights; Santa may be making an appearance in a shop window.
  • Helsby – There will be a Christmas tree and lights.
  • Frodsham – The Christmas tree and lights will go ahead but no parade or large switch on.
  • Tarvin – There will be Christmas lights.