CHRISTMAS is traditionally a time for bringing people together, but in Old Amersham that's true of businesspeople rather than families.

Owners of shops, restaurants and pubs are hailing the success of the town's inaugural Christmas Shopping Crawl, which saw scores of extra visitors descending on Amersham for their festive presents.

Jen Garrity was the chief organiser of the Crawl and she said setting everything up has helped create a bond between businesspeople that wasn't there before.

She's hoping that can be built upon and the Shopping Crawl is just the start of something big among businesses in Old Amersham.

Mrs Garrity, the owner of the Coco Marie boutique in Market Square, said: "There's definitely less of a 'them and us' feel. We're working together and realising how much we can achieve and thinking positively about the New Year, and the things we can do.

"Old Amersham's got so much to offer and the shopkeepers realise that we have to remind people we are here. It can be easy to get apathetic about things."

She said a revamped business association would be an important way to consolidate the businesses' relationship with one another.

One already exists but the group doesn't have its own website to encourage new membership, leading to a decline in interest.

Mrs Garrity said: "If it can be restarted, or a new one created, that would be a really positive thing for the high street. It would be wonderful to have an inclusive association whereby both the chain stores and the independents can join together. The more people that take an interest in it, the better."

The Christmas Shopping Crawl, which took place at the start of December, was seen as a way of encouraging new shoppers to visit Old Amersham and to raise awareness of the number of independent stores in the town.

A hamper packed with £1,000 worth of goodies from the participating stores was offered up as a competition prize in a bid to attract more shoppers into Amersham.

It was won by Amersham resident Sarah Wiseman after her name was picked out in the December 15 draw. She picked up the hamper with her mum Glynis, who said they had discovered some hidden treasures while taking part.

The original shopping crawl was the brainchild of retail guru Clare Rayner, based in nearby St Albans. Her idea originally took off in the USA as a follow-up to Independence Day, with a month long celebration of independent stores taking place Stateside from July 4. Her idea was slower to take off in Britain but she spotted a gap in the market for a similar celebration to take place in the run-up to Christmas. After the success of similar events in other towns elsewhere in the UK, a total of 24 businesses in Old Amersham decided to get involved and they reaped the rewards of a successful weekend's shopping.

Mrs Garrity said: "The reaction was definitely better than expected. People seemed like they were really enjoying themselves.

"It was especially beneficial to some of the shops slightly tucked away and off the main high street. They said it was great people had discovered them.

"The support people have given the indies is wonderful and a lot of chain stores will have benefited as well."

Ideas for future events are already being dreamt up by shopkeepers and restaurateurs, with plans for a repeat of the Shopping Crawl in the pipeline for Easter.

Mrs Garrity said: "It would be more family orientated and more inclusive, and it's a great way to get more people coming down here still.

"We would run it across a week rather than just two days. A lot of people want to get involved but may be away for a couple of days over Easter."

Speaking of her experience of organising the Christmas Shopping Crawl, Mrs Garrity added: "I've learned so much. It's been a real privilege to get to know some of the other shops in the Old Town. I can't wait for the next event."

For more details on Amersham's independent shops, type 'Old Amersham Indie High Street' into Facebook.