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Row as High Street stores fail to pay £25 for town's Christmas lights appeal

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: November 28, 2012

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An unseasonal row has erupted in a seaside town after High Street stores were accused of failing to support an annual Christmas lights appeal.

Lloyds TSB, WHSmith and Costa Coffee upset organisers in Lyme Regis, Dorset, by reportedly turning down a request for a small tree on their shop front.

It was claimed that takeaway food outlet Pasty Presto also initially refused to pay the £25 cost but the company later said that there must have been a misunderstanding and has now said it will look at having a tree installed in time for a parade through the town this weekend.

Over the last 12 years, the main thoroughfare has been a riot of festive colour thanks to the volunteers who run the project and collect £25 from each retailer.

But this year, the corporate giants gave various reasons why they either could not afford the fee or were unable to allow the mini fir, complete with lights, to be erected.

Now, organisers fear the sour taste left by the affair could spoil the spirit at the big switch-on, which begins with a parade of lanterns made by local school children.

Chairman Barbara Austin, a local councillor who launched the festive lights appeal in 2000, said: “Our annual display gives everyone a little lift in the dark depths of winter.

“We know times are tough at the moment but I would have thought that would have been even more of a reason to make an extra effort this year.

“If the small retailers and independents can stretch to £25 I would have thought the likes of the bigger stores could do so too. They rely on the townsfolk the rest of the year.

“Lyme is a close-knit community where everyone does their best to help one another. People also have long memories though and I don’t think these chains are doing themselves any favours in the long run.”

Mrs Austin said the display costs a total of about £7,000 and the district and town councils contribute about £4,000 annually.

The remainder has to be raised from collections and the charge to businesses.

She added: “I get stopped by pensioners in the street who push £5 into my hands because they love the lights so much. I’m very disappointed at the attitude of these firms if the truth be told.”

Virgil Turner, who works as a retained firefighter and window cleaner, is the man charged with putting up the lights and chasing up payments from local companies.

He said: “I’d rather not say too much.

“This job is difficult enough as it is but I think some of the excuses for not taking part which are put forward at times are a bit lame.”

After being contacted for a response, two firms said they would do what they could.

Pasty Presto and Costa are trying to arrange for a tree and lights to be erected in time for Saturday’s switch-on.

A Pasty Presto spokesman said: “We always support local events.

“There must have been a mix-up and we will be investigating. We will try and sort out a tree in time.”

Costa franchisee James Whitty added: “It is a simply matter of logistics but if there is a way round it then we’ll try to find one.

“We are supporting other events in Lyme and we have to prioritise in terms of what we think is worthwhile.”

A WHSmith spokesman said: “With over 1,200 stores it is not possible to be involved in every initiative. However, we seek to channel our support in order to maximise the positive impact.”

Lloyds TSB made no comment.

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