Dark days for Innerleithen

There is something sinister about a local authority, staffed by public servants (paid out of the public purse, whose strings are being tightened day by day), which chooses to send staff into the heart of a small town and take away something of great value without prior consultation.

It is a spiteful act, akin to an adult stealing the football of a child, just because it can.

Scottish Borders Council is certainly watching Innerleithen, keen to thwart public enterprise and wrest control from the town for its own Christmas lights. Last week, expensive equipment, belonging to the town, vital for the running of the Christmas lights was removed and taken away.

In these times of economic hardship and austerity, it is hard to see why such a provocative act was set in motion. Economic necessity maybe, but the lights are entirely funded by local people who dig deeply and willingly into their pockets. The electricity bill alone, footed by local people (not, as has been suggested, by Scottish Borders Council) comes to around £700 for this short period of illumination. Health and safety maybe, but the lights are installed by a well-run, experienced team of seasoned professionals, current practitioners who keep abreast of regulations and respond to concerns if expressed.

From the end of October this hardy bunch is seen on the High Street to make sure everything is made ready for the grand switch-on in the middle of December. So important are the lights to the town that a new, and enthusiastically-received event, was piloted in December 2011 – Switched-On Sunday – involving many local traders and townsfolk. How can this event be run without the lights that are pivotal to it?

The Christmas lights (and all the activity surrounding their installation, switch-on and dismantling) are an important part of the mix that sets Innerleithen apart from many, as having a strong community spirit.

The lights are the beating heart of the town on winter nights – coming into town and seeing the town emblem proudly illuminated on the gable end of the Union Club is knowing that you’ve safely arrived. Innerleithen is a “Big Society” already, prepared to abandon armchairs and pubs in favour of joining in with celebrations on a cold, windy and often rainswept street.

It beggars belief that Scottish Borders Council could try to wrench the winter heart out of the town in such a bullying fashion.

I would strongly suggest that the powers that be reconsider and work with our team to make restitution and to facilitate our Christmas lights being switched on in December 2011.

Jackie Couchman

Innerleithen

(See story: page 10)