PREPARATIONS for Christmas are now in full swing at the historic Newburgh Priory estate, near York – despite the national lockdown.

More than 20,000 Christmas trees are currently being prepared for sale, as the estate gears up for the festive season.

Newburgh Priory owner Stephen Wombwell believes that Christmas this year will be very important – as families across the country try to forget about the global pandemic which has blighted 2020 so far.

Stephen said: “This has been a terrible year for everyone and the impression I’m getting is that people want to bring a bit of festive cheer and celebrate the best they can.

Anecdotal evidence so far suggests that the sale of Christmas decorations has been swifter than ever – and the quintessential Christmas decoration is the Christmas tree.

Stephen Wombwell and his childhood friend, Will Standeven, have been growing Christmas trees on the estate for the last ten years. Now they are selling them in bulk across the north of England this Christmas, as well as setting up a special retail outlet at Newburgh – and giving trees away to local schools.

“The national lockdown will inevitably present challenges. But we are well-prepared and will work strictly within all Covid-19 guidelines. We are working towards opening our retail outlets as we normally do,” explained Stephen.

Stephen decided to start growing Christmas trees to diversify the estate’s income shortly after he took over the running of the priory from his father who retired in 2010.

The fact that he is doing this below the tomb containing Oliver Cromwell’s headless body, which lies in the Newburgh attic, only adds to the excitement – as Cromwell tried to ban Christmas.

He explained: “If all goes well, I am hoping that in a few years’ time, up to 25 per cent of my income will come from selling trees, but at the moment it’s a waiting game. We’ve had eight years of growing trees with roughly £100,000 worth of outgoings a year.”

All of the wholesale trees will be sold through Infinity Christmas Trees – a consortium it set up two-and-a half-years ago with a handful of other growers from across the UK. The aim is to sell quality trees that are sourced into the local area to reduce the environmental impact of Christmas tree distribution.

The operation at Newburgh employs a couple of people but it can increase to up to 12 people when they plant up to 35,000 trees in the spring. The number of jobs, particularly seasonal jobs, will increase exponentially as the operation expands.