There are several things that Lincoln is well known for – its Cathedral, the university, perhaps the football club and maybe the aptly named Steep Hill. Its historical links to the Romans and Magna Carta draw visitors from far and wide, while in its heyday the Christmas market attracted crowds of between 250,000 and 300,000.
A community comes together
While the vast majority of people coming to the city busy themselves with the more obvious attractions, especially at this time of year, a small community has been drawing attention to itself for something else. For the last 13 years, the streets that cluster round the western end of town have organised West End Lights, when people come together for a few hours at the start of December to celebrate creativity, community spirit and the tradition of light.
The event began in 2010. That year, the weather was particularly bad. Heavy snow covered the city and forced the cancellation of the Christmas market. As an antidote to the gloom and cold, a handful of neighbours decided it would be a nice idea if each of them created a cheerful window display. They then visited each other’s houses to enjoy the images on view.
All images by R Hall, used with permission.
From a modest beginning
From that modest beginning, the event has thrived. Even though Covid forced its suspension in 2020 and 2021, those behind it were determined to bring it back. A small committee of residents now organise and run the festival which can involve between 60 and 70 homes and other establishments. This year’s celebration took place on 1 December; for just three hours, groups were able to wander round the streets and enjoy the displays.
While there were plenty of Christmas trees and ostentatious external lighting displays, the emphasis in the community is very much on creativity and imagination. Many windows featured films, one of which was a stop-motion version of The Gingerbread Man. The local infant school created an eye-catching display of tea lights in the shape of a plesiosaur (the bones of which were discovered on the site many years ago), while one window used a QR code design to engage people in an interactive display.
Visitors could toast marshmallows, munch ginger cake, enjoy a hot drink, meet their neighbours and make and renew friendships. The commercialism associated with Christmas was conspicuously absent, which added to the pleasure.
A special atmosphere
Those who live in the West End of Lincoln have done so for years. They speak proudly of its almost village-like community feel. In recent years, the arrival of many university students to live in the houses of multiple occupation (HMOs) that have been created by speculators out of what were once family homes, threatened that feeling. West End Lights is one major factor in ensuring the special atmosphere that residents value is retained. No doubt planning for next year’s event is already under way.