Chorlton Christmas Window Dressing Competition
Nothing creates a lovely atmosphere on the streets of Chorlton better than festive shop windows. Margaret Williams of Chorlton Civic Society has the story of how the competition has come to be a tradition.
During the early 1990s, my husband Frank and I, both members of the Chorlton Civic Society, were spending Christmas with our son, Alun and his French friend, Isabelle Vialat, both young artists, in Nîmes, in the South of France. Nimes has a good number of small, independent shops, so Alun and Isabelle – always on the lookout for any opportunities to earn some money using their artistic talents – managed to make arrangements with many of the local traders to decorate their windows with Christmas themes. They were allowed to paint on the windows of each shop with a unique Christmas scene incorporating reference to the merchandise on sale, and were paid by each shop owner. I toured round all the decorated shops and thought it was a delightful idea, which made the town centre most attractive .
On my return home, I thought about what I had seen and wondered whether something similar could help our local traders to gain a little publicity and to increase their sales. It was obvious that Alun’s method would not be practical here, but knowing that many of the traders made such efforts themselves with their Christmas displays, why not a competition ?
When the idea was presented to the Civic Society at the next meeting, there was general support from the members, with many offers of help, especially from Mary Paul, Jenny Slee and Phil Robinson, if I’d be willing to organise such a competition, and I was happy to do so! We decided to offer application forms – printed by Phil – to all the traders, delivered by a team of volunteers . To all the applicants we followed with decorated window stickers – also printed by Phil – explaining the competition and inviting potential customers to view the displays which we hoped would attract them into the shops and perhaps make a few purchases.
We informed the traders of the judging period and worked out a trio of judges, to include, whenever possible, an artist. Over the years these have included Dan King of Lancaster University Art Faculty, who was a staunch member of the Society, Anna Violet, Gwyn Jones and Peter Topping. Also helping on one occasion when the artist had to cancel was my own French daughter-in-law, Claire Lesteven, also an artist, when she made a brief stop here en route from New York to Brittany. We worked out a judging system noting Christmas themes, colour, attractiveness of displays both during daylight and dark (since many schemes made good use of lighting) and reference to and use of appropriate goods for sale.
Notable winners over the years have included Victoria of Chorlton Bookshop with her ever-imaginative themes; Maureen of the RSPCA charity shop who used only donated goods to form a wonderful window; Mathilde of Romano, who used her perfume and jewelry in most elegant displays; Pauline at Hurricane of Beech Road with Father Christmas’ large trousers descending a chimney; Karen at Discount Cards who had a working cable car crossing a lovely snow scene; and one of the stars was Andrew at Modern Army Store (now sadly no longer in business]. After winning third prize one year, Andrew was determined to improve and won second prize the following year, finally sweeping the first prize with a brilliantly conceived display including an active snowfall, penguins sitting happily among the gloves, torches and sleeping bags, and a ‘Count the robins’ competition, with life-size robins peeping out from amazing places!
Mary designed the certificates for all the winners, as well as all ‘highly commended’ and supplied frames for them. The winners were invited to attend the next Society meeting after Christmas where they were congratulated and presented with their prizes and certificates. All other entrants were acknowledged and thanked for their participation.
More recently it was decided to ask the judges to make a tour of all the decorated shops, without actually inviting applications, and to decide on the winners in this way. It is gratifying to know that the Chorlton Traders will now join the Civic Society to support what has become a tradition of our Christmas here in Chorlton, showing our appreciation of our independent shops.