Even the most hardened Scrooge would struggle to suppress smile gazing down Arundel High Street when the lit Christmas trees wink from buildings on both sides of the road. Soft white lights strung on Norway spruces; a town that sparkles on the darkest December night. Does Christmas get any more Christmassy?
“Arundel is already a magical looking town,” says Ash Kent, one half of the husband and wife team, behind the Arundel-based company Festive Illuminations, who deck town in Dickensian style every year. “But the trees make it even more special. It’s lovely to walk anywhere in Arundel, in the new town or old town, turn a corner and see five trees in a row lighting up a street.”
It’s been 10 years since lit trees were mounted onto the facades of houses and businesses in Arundel. What started as a Millennium project in 1999, has grown from a few 4ft trees with netted lights to a local business that in December 2019 installed just over 300 trees – each one individually strung with lights.
“Yes, we now attach all the lights by hand,” explains Ash. “For every tree, we need 35 pieces of rose wire. It takes a long time, but it is worth it because they look amazing.”
As the business has grown, so have the trees, which all come from a third-generation Christmas tree farmer in Kent. Arundel residents, and delighted visitors, now marvel upon 6ft Norway spruces. Festive Illuminations, which Ash runs with wife Eloise, also supplies trees up to 18ft for clients including The Kennels at Goodwood and Chichester Cathedral.
To put up hundreds of lit trees in a few days takes a team. And that team, now 10 strong, is homegrown. As the three truck and trailer units roll into town, in the run-up to Arundel by Candlelight, residents know the festive season is about to launch.
“I love the fact that people in town really get behind the trees every year,” says Ash. “We get excited messages saying, ‘I’ve just seen the first tree go up!’”
It’s not just residents who fall for the charm of Arundel’s Festive Illuminations. “We get emails from visitors, through the Visit Arundel website, asking if the trees are still up,” explains Ash. “They are keen to come to Arundel to see the trees before they are taken down.”
What happens to the trees after they are taken down?
“Every 6ft spruce has 200 bulbs on it, and we unstring all the lights by hand,” laughs Ash. “We do that so that we can save as many lights as possible to re-use the following year.” Because the lights have been on trees in all weathers for weeks, some do rust. “Any lights that cannot be re-used are sent to a metal recycling company, which melts the copper,” says Ash. As for the trees, they are destined to live on – feeding new plants. A local tree surgeon transforms the trees into mulch (on Ash and Eloise’s driveway), which the couple use on their garden.
Lighting up life for local charities.
Every tree ordered from Festive Illuminations plants a seed of hope for local charities. For the past five years, a portion of the proceeds from each tree in Arundel has been donated to the Chestnut Tree House children’s hospice; trees in Chichester benefit Brent Lodge Wildlife Hospital. To date, Festive Illuminations has donated more than £1,600 to local charities.