For the next few weeks, Lancaster’s Ashton Memorial will be lit up in blue as a gesture of thanks to NHS workers for risking their lives during the coronavirus outbreak.
Brent Lees of BCL Lighting, has done so many light ups of the monument at Williamson Park, that you could forgive him for losing count - but he hasn’t and is close to celebrating his 100th event.
In 2019 the company won the Unsung Hero category of Lancaster and Morecambe Sunshine Awards for the time and effort donated to helping charitable causes.
Every time he visits to change the lights, Brent climbs the 235 steps from the bottom to the top of the Ashton Memorial.
From cervical cancer to endometriosis, he has helped people to raise awareness of issues and commemorate lost loved ones and the light ups have become an important part of the city’s rich culture.
But this most recent tribute is perhaps the most poignant yet, showing NHS and emergency workers in Lancaster how appreciated they are as they continue to fight the virus from the frontline.
In light of (sorry) the current light show, LancsLive decided to delve deeper into the history behind the fascinating ritual.
How did the light ups start?
I have a long history at Williamson Park.
BCL lighting design is my company, but I primarily work at The Dukes Theatre in Lancaster as Technical Facilities Manager.
The theatre produces walkabout theatre productions in the park each summer and through that I have a lot of experience in lighting different areas of the park.
Through this association I also know the Park team members quite well.
One day I got a call from Will Griffith, who was the park manager at the time.
He had received a request from the Pancreatic Cancer Charity , who were looking for buildings to light up in purple to raise awareness.
There were, and still are, a number of buildings nationwide on the list.
Will asked me if it was possible that I could put a few colour filters on the front of the main Ashton Memorial floodlights.
I thought it was a great idea and also thought that we could go a little better and add a few LED floodlights onto the building as well to pick out the structure.
Our first light up we lit up along with over a hundred different sites, I only did the Ashton one.
We assumed it would be a one-off or maybe an annual event.
However, the Ashton Memorial is in a superb position and can be seen from afar. People and other charities were touched by the message it sent and then the requests started to come in…..
We didn’t know it would be so popular and are currently rolling up to our 100th light-up for different charities & organisations.
Some are becoming annual and some have been one-off to mark events.
Whats the criteria?
We stipulate that unless there’s exceptional circumstances then all light ups should be there to raise awareness of charities, organizations, support groups and so on.
We don’t light up for individuals, but sometimes we light on behalf of a person who has / had strong links to a charity.
All light up requests need approval from the park and Lancaster City Council before they can take place.
I look after the bookings and we have many in place, with some booking a year in advance.
The lightup season runs from September 5 until around May 15 .
We have a summer break when many other events happen in the park and the days are long with sunset being late.
How is it done technically?
The early light ups were a case of using the existing general floodlights and adding in some temporary floodlights … the kind that are used to light up your backyard.
All of these had coloured filters attached & we would change the filters each time. It took around two hours to change all of the filters.
As the popularity grew, we bought some more powerful floodlights and the method of colour change remained the same.
Weather conditions played a significant part as ladders were needed on lower sections and the upper levels could be extremely wet and windy.
We schedule where we can so that there is a ‘spare day’ to take into account not being able to access due to weather and low clouds.
We have gradually replaced most lights with colour changing LED lights, but a few (the more powerful ones) still have filters that are changed.
Every light up is done individually and isn’t controlled by a remote controlled colour switch!
Who does it?
I do the lights as BCL Lighting Design. We work on a number of other projects and support other events, but the Ashton Lights are done as our donation to charity.
Williamson Park staff are brilliant and support us with liaison and planning and they also help with anything on site.
On the very first light up a man called Ian Greene turned up at the park to take some pics.
Ian is a keen and excellent photographer - it’s his hobby and he often posts pictures on local interest pages.
Following those first pictures, Ian and I have become a kind of partnership.
I didn’t know Ian previously, but he has been up to the park in all weathers to take the first pictures of each light up. It can be pretty grim up there in mid winter!
However, Ian has photographed every one of them from the beginning and usually does the primary sharing on media.
Well, we had a full diary up to mid-May and requests have already been scheduled from September onwards.
We are on hold and will stay blue for the time being and will return once we know more about restrictions around coronavirus and the park facilities start returning to normal.
We hope to improve the equipment and infrastructure which will include enhancing other parts of the architecture and also improving light coverage on the east and south facing sides.