A MILE of lights are to be brought back for this year’s Illuminations centenary extravaganza as a new think tank looks at ways to get more people to enjoy to the world famous display.
The Illuminations Board – made up of tourism industry movers and shakers with Lights boss Richard Ryan at the helm and Lawrence Llwellyn Bowen as patron – are coming up with plans on how to bring the display into the 21st Century by finding new ways to raise cash.
They hope that by running the Lights on people power, as well as electricity, they can spark people’s imaginations and bring about a love affair with the Illuminations ahead of their 100th anniversary.
And the group is already beginning to show results with Lights chiefs announcing a mile of new festoons will be strung up near the Cliffs at North Shore and between the Welcome Arch and the start of the Beaverbrooks feature on South Promenade.
The changes come in response to criticism from businesses and hoteliers who branded last year’s display “the worst ever”.
In some areas, bulbs were reported to be missing, while some displays had not been turned on at all.
Hoteliers also said there were too many gaps in the traditional Lights’ display.
A meeting with local businesses was held which saw the birth of the new Friends of Illuminations Steering Group, and the Illuminations Board made up of council officers, hoteliers and businesses.
Jayne Mills, of Harts Amusements in Bispham, who is one of the board members, told The Gazette: “We had been worried there could be further cuts to the Illuminations, but since we have got more business support, we have been guaranteed the cuts won’t be made and the festoons which weren’t up last year will be up again this year.
“We have also got several volunteers from the business community who have agreed to visit other businesses seeking donations for the Illuminations.
“A formal procedure will be implemented to ensure everything is above board, but we feel there is more chance of persuading people to put their hands in their pockets if the request comes from another business rather than the council.
“It’s not just about the businesses on the Promenade either. The whole supply chain benefits from the Illuminations and we need everyone to understand the impact these 10 weeks has on everyone’s financial situation.”
Shirley Hunt, of The Cranston Hotel, Alexandra Road, South Shore, who is also on the board, added: “We have also suggested we could advertise a phone number which people could use to text their donations in. Another idea is a hoteliers coffee morning at the Illuminations Lightworks depot, so people could see what goes on behind the scenes and how much money they need to fund it.”
Last year’s public collections on the Promenade were up 10 per cent to £120,000 after visitors were urged to donate £1 per person to the Illuminations fund. But business collections have plunged in recent years, prompting calls for new ideas about how to fund the Lights.
A group of Bispham traders is leading the way with Mick Grewcock and Sheila Chick, of Burbage Holiday Group, Charles Hart, of Hart’s Amusements, and Steve Hoddy of The Bispham and Cleveleys Kitchens agreeing to donate £9,000 to the fund over two years.
Illuminations manager Richard Ryan said: “Following on from comments about the 2011 display, we have managed to find the resources to bring back the first section of the Illuminations which was missing in 2011, from the arch to the Beaverbrooks display.
“That is already up, and we are also bringing back the festoons near the Cliffs in North Shore.
“This has been done because we have got slightly more sponsorship than last year but we want to encourage more businesses to back the Lights. People will see a marked improvement - a return to form.”
Town hall chiefs were dogged by problems in 2011, including a fire at the Illuminations depot and severe winds which damaged some of the tableaux.
The council sets aside around £2m from its annual budget to pay for the Illuminations but cuts of £266,700 were made last year.