YOUNG and older people alike flocked to Newtownards to enjoy the return of the Christmas Market and the big Christmas lights switch on, last weekend.

Dancers as young as three and older musical residents in their seventies were just some of the 200 performers who took to the stage to perform as part of this popular community celebration. A stretch tent provided some shelter from the inclement weather at Conway Square and gave 70 traders the chance to share their wares with a wide array of handmade gifts and local produce. Hailing the event as a massive success, despite the challenging weather conditions, Derek Wright, president of Newtownards Chamber of Trade, said a number of local businesses had reported their ‘busiest trading day of the year’. The large community celebration was organised by the chamber and supported by the council, in recognition of Newtownards winning the prestigious High Street of the Year Award at this year’s High Street Heroes.

Said Mr Wright: “It was a really busy day, with lots of people and a lot of businesses reported it was their busiest trading day. We had over 70 traders in the stretch tent joining our businesses.”

Expressing disappointment that some features such as the trapeze act had to be cancelled due to high winds, he was pleased the town had been able to mark their success as High Street of the Year.

“We have a strong retail offer and this was a celebration of our winning the High Street of the Year award from High Street Heroes,” he said. Acknowledging the tough trading background of the current cost of living crisis, Mr Wright praised the town’s ‘resilience’ saying: “From children aged three years old to men in their seventies playing in a band we had a real mix of community events. It shows Newtownards is a strong community town and everybody gets involved.

“The chamber also called on so many volunteers that were helping us out behind the scenes. It is all about getting involved and supporting each other in difficult times.”

The chamber president is hopeful the successful switch on celebration will mark the start of a busy trading season for the town. “Newtownards is now the largest town in the borough. It is a good strong shopping town, with good independent retailers who have been here for a long time. Even some of the people who work in these stores have worked there for 30 or 40 years. “We also have lots of new businesses, people who are working very hard. We would ask local people to support local. We are keen to show we have a strong offer with a good mixture of businesses from food to fashion, to furniture with a range of services such as hair and beauty. There are lots of reasons to come to Newtownards.”

With an array of convenient town centre car parks also on offer, Mr Wright said local businesses are now attracting visitors from across the province, from as far afield as Lisburn and beyond, as well as their regular customers. Looking to the future, Mr Wright is keen to incorporate a fixed cover for Conway Square into the fabric of the town. He said: “This is the first time we had a stretch tent for Newtownards and it changed the whole look of the place. It demonstrates what we are looking for in the future is a fixed covering for Conway Square.

“This will allow events to be held in the shelter from Northern Ireland weather. The chamber is working very hard on that as part of the future of Newtownards. They are very popular in European towns and cities and transformed areas into more of a plaza. Retail has changed in the last 10 years and we have to adapt and keep strong.”