“Lightworks” is the Blackpool Illuminations Depot, where all the magic is made!
The Lightworks depot is an unassuming grey unit on an industrial estate in South Blackpool near to the airport runway.
Unremarkable it might be from the outside, but inside is where magic happens. It’s where all the magic of Blackpool Illuminations is created and maintained.
Watch this short video about the Illuminations and Lightworks Depot.
It’s narrated by Andrew Walker, Directed and Produced by Stuart Braithwaite and stars Richard Williams.
The Lightworks Depot
There’s no such thing as an ‘Illuminations Shop’ where you can go to buy things off a shelf! Everything that you see in the Blackpool Illuminations is dreamed up, planned out and made right here. It’s all thanks to a team of a skilled and imaginative craftsmen and engineers.
The former Illuminations depot was at Rigby Road. The Lightworks depot is a modern, purpose built building which took two years to design and build. It was opened in 2000.
The outer building and the space inside were designed to cope with the shape and size of the Illuminations themselves. For example, the shutter doors are especially high. That’s so that the drivers can take the lorries straight inside so they can be be loaded or unloaded inside. That way the massive tableaux and displays can be managed out of the wind and rain.
The floor space is also sectioned off to allow a logical workflow. The Illuminations can then move sensibly around the factory as they progress through different stages of manufacture or repair.
A Unique Job
People typically join the Illuminations team with a trade. So you might start as an electrician or welder and then learn how to adapt your traditional skills to suit the very unique requirements of your job here. Imagine having this as a career – it’s a story to tell your grandchildren!
How do they do that?
Have you ever asked yourself how new installations get from the spark of an idea to the streets of Blackpool Promenade?
Within the Illuminations team are people with skills in design, costing, manufacture, building and display.
The team starts with a brief when they’re told what to achieve with their new Illumination. Then they work out how it can be made into something that’s interesting and people will enjoy looking at.
Consideration for the weather is vital in each piece. They have to look good and they must be structurally sound and strong enough to withstand the weather, which can be atrocious!
The weight of each illumination is taken into account and the load which they put onto the poles which hold them, and they each have a lifting plan. Each one is built within a certain size for windage.
The Blackpool Illuminations team have also become experts at adapting what is normally used as indoor equipment and making it work outside in all weathers. That’s often done by developing specially built housings.
For example, the projector equipment that’s used on Birley Street in the Brilliance installation, and the projectors used on the promenade within the Illuminations display.
In the old days designs were drawn by hand, but now they are computer generated with CAD software. It can can accurately calculate strengths and tolerances and perform an analysis of the build design and cost.
The biggest change in the process in recent years is the introduction of CAD.
Once the design has been finalised, the creative part comes into play.
The illuminations are made from fibreglass, steel and wood, so the design has to be transferred from a flat plan into these materials.
If more than one feature is needed the shape is carved out of polystyrene just like a sculptor would carve a statue. The polystyrene shape is used to make a mould and the mould used to make multiple pieces in fibreglass.
That’s how the overhead road sections are made, like this one below.
Making the Lights Work
You might have wondered how the Blackpool Illuminations are controlled, and how they come on and go off every day?
The daily switch on is also controlled with modern technology. Seven substations along the route are linked by the mobile phone network and switch on and off is controlled in that way.
All the big tableaux have a little hut behind them and all of their wiring and controls are inside.
Did you know? That the Blackpool Illuminations run on 24 volts? Different voltage levels have been tried but this is the perfect one.
You’ve probably never seen a 24v lightbulb available anywhere to buy. So you won’t be surprised to learn that the lamps are made to a bespoke specification and specially imported. Plus they’re made out of plastic, including the globe, so they do in fact bounce!
All these developments and refinements over the years enable the Blackpool Illuminations to achieve a 98% lit rate at any one time.
Be a Jack of all Trades at Lightworks
The construction team have a broad range of skills between them and have to be able to turn their hand to anything. They work in steel, fibreglass, plastic, timber, fibre optics, lasers, LEDs… and many other forms of lighting.
And don’t forget they use ‘lamps’ because ‘bulbs’ grow underground!
Their skills all come together in the joinery, fitting and fibreglass shops under the guidance of foremen and engineers to create the finished product.
No two days are the same for the staff on the shop floor, the managers or administration staff.
The people who build the lights are the same ones who go out on the promenade to put them up. Everyone in the team is very hands on and able to do many different jobs.
Coming Home to Lightworks for Winter
About half of the Illuminations are brought into the Lightworks depot by rotation each winter.
They’re pressure washed clean, serviced, their paint work is touched up, and they’re repaired. They are then stored in bays and racks like these below. The service history of each one is documented with a full paper trail.
Bringing them in allows them to be moved around, reviewed and assessed from a health and safety point of view. It helps to stop some of the wind damage which they would suffer from the rough winter seafront weather if they were all left there all the time.
Each spring the whole season starts again and the process of installing them begins from about April.
Obviously they all HAVE to be in place by the end of August for Switch On!
An Amazing Sight!
Lightworks depot is an amazing place and the first time you go into this vast shed it just makes your jaw drop!
When the familiar features are neatly arranged in their racks or stood on the floor they look so big, and so very different too. They look so much bigger than they do out on the Prom in the dark night air.
The best time to see inside Lightworks depot is in Spring, while everything is in storage and refitting for the season hasn’t yet started.
Have a look around our website to see some of their wonderful creations. But nothing beats a stroll along Blackpool promenade on an autumn night, gazing up at all the miles of twinkly lights!
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