Gabrielle Spandley to turn on the Chichester Christmas tree lights

| November 2021

12-year-old Gabrielle Spandley from Tangmere will do Chichester the honour of switching on the city Christmas tree lights this year after being selected as the winner of Chichester BID’s recent ‘Light Up My Life’ competition. Launched last month, the public were invited to send in nominations of local champions who have made a real difference over the last 12 months and deserve recognition.

Gabrielle, who has Autism and suffers from a congenital heart condition, was nominated by her mother Helen for the selfless bravery and determination she showed last summer during lockdown in undertaking a triathlon on Tangmere playing field all on her own as well as holding a toy sale to raise money for Sage House Dementia Hub. Gabrielle also competed in a second solo triathlon this summer at her Grandmother’s house to raise money for The Sussex Snowdrop Trust.

Helen Spandley, Gabrielle’s mother said: “I’m over the moon that Gabrielle has won this competition. She absolutely loves Christmas. Switching on the Christmas tree lights in our local city centre will be a special moment that will stay with her forever.”

She continued: “Even with her health issues, Gabrielle always wants to go the extra mile to help other people. She belongs to Chichester triathlon club junior and whilst she isn’t the most athletic or the fastest, she has the biggest heart and always wants to achieve. I’m so proud of her completing both triathlons on her own with no one watching and no other competitors around to spur her on.”

Matt Horstead, owner of men’s clothing store Dartagnan and one of the competition judges said: “Choosing a winner was extremely difficult. All the nominations we received were wonderful and heartwarming. Reading them made me feel very proud to be a Chichester local knowing we have such incredibly brave and selfless people living among us. Gabrielle is a true inspiration. Covid and lockdowns have challenged all of us but when someone like Gabrielle, despite the personal challenges she faces, shows such grit, determination and generosity, it gives all of us the motivation to keep going.”

Other members of the judging panel were Helen Marshall, CEO and Vice Chair of Chichester BID; Canon Precentor, the Reverend Jack Dunn of Chichester Cathedral; Andrew Churchill, Director of The Oxmarket Gallery; Lynne Brechin, President of The Rotary Club of Chichester and Michael Spencer, Manager of Marks & Spencer in Chichester.

The Christmas Light Switch On will take place on Saturday 27 November with activities led by The Rotary Clubs of Chichester. At 4.45pm the Oakwood School Choir will start the celebrations by singing at The Market Cross. The Chichester Festival of Light Lantern Parade will meet outside Café Nero in East Street from 4.45pm, commencing at 5.00pm with a slow march up East Street towards The Cross. This will be led by the Chichester Town Crier, Richard Plowman, and the TS Sturdy marching band. Everyone is invited to join in with lanterns and torches helping to make this a joyous occasion as we welcome Christmas to our lovely city.

Following the parade and the blessing of the tree by the Dean of Chichester Cathedral, The Very Reverend Stephen Waine, there will be a countdown to the switch-on of the lights by Gabrielle and her family at 5.30pm. This will be followed by musical entertainment and community carols led by students from the University of Chichester and joined by Chichester City Band.

Helen Marshall, CEO and Vice Chair of Chichester BID comments: “The switching on of the lights by our real-life-super hero Gabrielle signifies the start of Christmas in Chichester. Christmas is going to be very special this year and we have a whole host of activities and events planned that will encourage friends, family and the local community to come together and create some magical Christmas memories.”

Following the switching on of the lights on 27 November, Chichester city centre will have a whole programme of festive events throughout December including four Twilight Shopping evenings on Thursday 2, 9, 16 and 23 December from 4pm – 7pm. During these events there will be street entertainment, live music, school choir performances, a children’s trail as well as festive foodie treats and drinks to be enjoyed. There will also be free parking from 4pm on each of these evenings in the Avenue De Chartres car park.