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5 Questions with... Rachel Capell

The Oxford Christmas Light Festival is returning in a lockdown-friendly format this week (Fri 20th-Sun 22nd November), and for 2020, the idea of recognising light in the darkness is timely. We chatted to organiser Rachel Capell about what you can expect from this year's unique festival.

Daily Info: Tell us about what you normally do

Rachel Capell: The Oxford Christmas Light Festival has been running since 2009 when it was a single event called Light Night. Over the years it’s extended and now it covers a whole weekend. The idea has always been to reach out to our different communities and gather in the city centre to have a great experience together exploring what Oxford has to offer. It’s a free event, mostly taking place outdoors and lets people discover some of the city’s hidden corners as they roam from event to event. Lots of Oxford’s cultural organisations take part, with light themed installations, events, workshops and displays. In recent years the festival weekend begins with a lantern parade around the city centre showing the fabulous willow lanterns that school children and community groups make in the weeks beforehand. It’s always a wonderful sight and a great way to start things off.

Credit: Jeff Slade

DI: How has the festival had to adapt to the lockdown measures?

RC: We have to thank the amazing work of all the cultural partners who have made immense efforts to work out how their projects can go ahead under Covid restrictions. No one wanted to call a halt to the festival, everyone was keen to find a way through. We knew during the summer that it wasn’t going to be a festival like previous years and were planning to put a lot of it online anyway. There were events that were intended to be live with socially distanced access and ticketing but in the end these have been filmed and will be streamed on the website instead. We’ve got a great collection of films ready to stream - dance, music, light displays and more. Luxmuralis, who usually project beautiful light displays onto the iconic buildings in Oxford city centre, have made a special film to launch the festival that we’re unveiling on Friday 20th November, the opening night.

Obviously the lantern parade couldn’t have gone ahead but our cultural partners have, again, come up trumps by making videos and how-to sheets so that people can make their own lanterns and window decorations. So we’re hoping lots of people join in and decorate their homes with them. Streets can register their displays on the website as a local light trail that neighbours can enjoy too - the next best thing to a lantern parade. We’re also hoping to lift people’s spirits with a Doorstep Celebration. We’re getting as many people as we can to either turn on their Christmas lights or flash their house lights at 5.30pm on Saturday 21st and come to their doors to see everyone’s lights. It should be really uplifting when we can’t come together as we normally would.

DI: What is planned for when things get back to normal?

RC: Well, we’re already planning for next year’s event - but whether that will be back to normal we obviously won’t know yet! We’ll be looking at a mix of live and virtual events and activities. We’re especially keen to include more local communities so watch this space...

DI: How can people support you now?

RC: We’d love to see how people are getting involved in the festival, which is difficult when we can’t actually see and talk to them. Sharing pictures of the creations they make from our resources, their lanterns, their illuminated street, their doorstep celebration would be amazing. We want to create a gallery of people’s pictures showing what this year’s festival was like. If they post to their social media and use hashtags we can find their pictures and add them to the website. We’re using #oxlightfest20 and #bethelight.

Credit: Brenna Duncan

DI: What are you doing to relax/have fun while stuck at home?

RC: There’s not much time for that until after the festival so ask us again on 23rd November!

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