Back your Illuminations! That was the rallying cry to Blackpool businesses today from TV star Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen.
He says resort firms must stop taking the Illuminations for granted and get their hands in their pockets.
The BBC Changing Rooms presenter, who has been using his design skills to come up with new tableaux and displays for the past five years, was in town to back the Friends of Blackpool Illuminations bid to fund new ideas and keep the public coming back.
And he said while the council continues to put in £2.1m to keep the Lights on, more money was needed to improve what he called the greatest free light show on earth.
He said: “When you live somewhere it’s inevitable you take it for granted, it’s only natural, but the people of Blackpool are living in the most extraordinary jewel box of cultural heritage, one of Britain’s greatest, and one that is all about happiness and enjoyment.”
He said the Illuminations were a national icon and one known across the world.
“We need to engage the whole community and the biggest expression of the community in Blackpool is the Illuminations.
“Nowhere else has anything like that, the rest of the world would love to have them. We are not at crisis point but we must be more positive and support the Lights. Just imagine what it would be like without them.”
He said he realised some business people in the town say they get no direct benefit from the Illuminations, but added they had to understand the extension to the season brought a real economic benefit.
“I know some people have a gripe with the council, but this is not about parking problems or drains.
“The money does not go to the council it goes towards the future of the Illuminations.”
Shirley Hunt from the Friends of Blackpool Illuminations said in 2002 the businesses of the resort raised £100,000 to wards the cost of the lights.
Last year they contributed £21,000. The collections made on the Prom from visitors raised £112,000 – up 10 per cent on 2011.
She added: “I know there’s a recession on and everyone is struggling for money but if every business donated even £5 or £10 that would help.”
Alan Cavill, Blackpool Council’s assistant chief executive for regeneration, said the Illuminations annually brought in £250m to the town’s economy. He said the council was facing making cuts of around £14m because of the reduction in the Government settlement but, despite that, it would continue to fund the Lights.
Martin Ruddy, from the King Edward Avenue Association, said his hotel Martin’s saw a direct benefit from the Illuminations.
He said: “We need to support the Illuminations, they definitely extend the season and bring in business.”
Coun Graham Cain, the council’s cabinet member for tourism, said: “The council is committed to funding the Illuminations and we have some great ideas for the future but we can’t do it alone.
“To realise those brilliant ideas that people like Laurence have designed, it needs substantial support.”