Have a look around “Lightworks”, the Blackpool Illuminations Depot where all the magic is made! It’s an unassuming grey unit on an industrial estate in South Blackpool near to the airport runway.
It’s not open for public visits. However, you can book onto a scheduled Heritage Tour of Lightworks to take a look around this amazing building.
Unremarkable it might be from the outside, but magic happens inside. All of the Blackpool Illuminations are created and maintained here.
This short video about the Illuminations and Lightworks Depot is 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 at Lightworks. It’s all because of the team of skilled and imaginative craftsmen and engineers.
The original Illuminations depot was at Rigby Road. The old building wasn’t fit for purpose so the Lightworks depot was commissioned. It’s a modern, purpose built building which took two years to design and build and opened in 2000.
The outer building and the space inside are designed for the shape and size of the Illuminations themselves.
For example, the shutter doors are especially high so that lorries can drive straight into the building for loading and unloading. So the massive tableaux and displays can be moved about out of the wind and rain.
The floor space is sectioned for a logical workflow and the Illuminations move sensibly around the factory as they progress through different stages of manufacture or repair.
Working at Lightworks – A Unique Job
People typically join the Illuminations team with a trade. So you might start work as an electrician or welder before learning how to adapt traditional skills to suit the very unique requirements of the job. Imagine this being your career – what a story to tell your grandchildren!
How do they do all that at Lightworks?
Have you ever wondered how new Illuminations get from the spark of an idea to the streets of Blackpool Promenade?
Within the team are people with skills in design, costing, manufacture, building and display. In fact they’re everything needed to take an display from an idea to illumination.
The team starts with a brief for their new Illumination, first working out how it can be made into something that’s interesting, that people will enjoy looking at.
It’s always vital to consider the weather because not only do they have to look good but they must be structurally sound. They’re strong enough to withstand the weather, which can be atrocious!
There’s a lot more to planning for the wind than you might imagine. Each one’s built no larger than a certain size for windage, it’s weight is calculated and they all have their own lifting plan.
The Blackpool Illuminations team are experts at adapting indoor equipment to work outside in all weathers, often done by developing special housings. For example, the projector equipment in the Brilliance installation on Birley Street and within the Illuminations display on the promenade.
In the old days designs were drawn by hand. Now they’re computer generated with CAD (computer aided design) software, the biggest change in the process in recent years. CAD accurately calculates strengths and tolerances and performs an analysis of the build design and cost.
Getting Creative at Lightworks
Once a design is finalised, the next step is to make it, transferring the design from a two dimensional, flat plan into 3D.
The illuminations are made using fibreglass, steel and wood.
If more than one feature is being made a mould is made first. The shape is carved out of polystyrene just like a sculptor would carve a statue, which is used to make a mould. The mould is then used to make multiple pieces in fibreglass.
That’s also how the overhead road sections are made, like these below.
Making the Lights Work
Do you wonder how the Blackpool Illuminations are controlled, and how they come on and go off every day?
The daily switch on is controlled with modern technology. Seven substations along the route are linked linked together and 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 has a broad range of skills between them and can 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 can do many different jobs.
Coming Home to Lightworks for Winter
Each winter, about half of the Illuminations come into the Lightworks depot by rotation.
They’re pressure washed to clean them, serviced, their paint work is touched up, and they’re repaired before being stored in bays and racks. Each one has a service history and a full paper trail.
Bringing them in means they can be moved around, reviewed and assessed from a health and safety point of view. It protects them from some of the wind damage on the rough winter seafront.
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!
Whether the familiar features are neatly arranged in their racks or stood on the floor they just look so very different. They also 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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