31st August - 4th November 2018
Maintenance and Repair - Blackpool Illuminations
The illuminations features have to stand up to all weathers. As they are mainly situated on Blackpool promenade they not only are exposed to the winds from the North Sea but also the salt the sea spray contains. The creates a huge problem for the Illuminations department, one which they have been fighting for the last 100 years. For example a painted steel support may start out 9mm thick, after a challenging year on the prom that might have reduced by 1mm. While this doesn´t sound much, if that steel work was not inspected, in a matter of a couple of years the steel could become so thin it is unable to support it´s feature! Traditionally all the features were removed from the promenade each year, taken back to the depot and maintenance and repairs carried out over the winter. Unfortunately due to diminishing funds the Illuminations Department have started to invest in more maintenance saving features. These features are things like instead of giving illuminations features a single coat of paint they now receive 3 coats, instead of painted mild steel they now have the steel structure galvanised which guarantees a minimum of a ten year life. They have started using a plastic type board to replace traditional plywood, while the plastic is more expensive it need much less maintenance The above are just a couple of methods the department use to save money and stretch their budget as far as they can. As the years go by the Illuminations team are learning what works in such a harsh environment and what needs modifications.
Above right you can see the Green Machine tableaux having repairs and maintenance carried out.
Here you can see the Hickory Dickory Dock feature. It is very difficult to show you the scale of these features. The clock face section you can see is approximately half of the full feature. In the bottom left of the image you can just make out a Scissor Lift which is approximately 2.5 meters high, so the complete feature must be over 10m high!
The Illuminations Department moved to their purpose built building in 2010. This building design was created by the Illuminations Department themselves, as they were the experts in their field as no one in the world does what they do on such a scale and with such regularity. They say they achieved 95% perfection with it´s design. The old illuminations dept site was on Rigby road and was exceedingly old, a huge compromise and not fit for purpose. I was told that it was originally a donkey stables before the Illuminations dept took over. In it´s later years it has been said that if the building on Rigby Road had been used to house animals it would have been closed down due to animal cruelty!
Here you can see an astronaut in production. The astronaut has been created from one of the original 1950´s astronaut that hung on wires over the public! Many years ago the astronauts disappeared from Blackpool but one was found in Southport buried up to his knees in the amusement park.
The Illuminations department managed to "do a deal " whereby they borrowed the original astronaut and created a mould from it. They then were able to create a number of replicas, one of which is now back in Southport looking as good as new. Some of the others can be seen here undergoing electrical testing. These have had to be modified from their 1950´s relatives to be as maintenance free and energy efficient as possible. They now run on efficient compact fluorescent lamps, the originals used filament lamps. They have also had to create access points to enable them to maintain the workings. Once they have passed their electrical tests they go on to the spray booth. This room is huge, I was told it is the second largest purpose built spray booth in the UK. The largest being at Westlands to paint helicopters.
The Illuminations Department´s Depot houses some of the illumination features while they await maintenance, repair and re-installation on the promenade. Below you can see the Tardis, a Dalek, and some of the motorcyclist that make up one of the tableaux. You can see Noddy and Big Ears in Noddy´s car alongside one of the bears.
I was lucky enough to visit the Illuminations works in 2013 and the information I have provided is as I understand things. It is not to be taken as fact as I may have interpreted things differently to they way they are. Hopefully I have provided you with a very small insight into what goes on behind the scenes of Blackpool Illuminations Department.