With Christmas fast approaching, seasonal lighting and a whole host of decorative features are appearing in and around Douglas town centre.
Working behind the scenes to ensure the success of not only Douglas Borough Council’s Christmas lights switch-on ceremony, but also many other large-scale events staged by the Council, including the fireworks display, Remembrance Sunday service, Civic Sunday and Douglas Carnival, is a team of Council officers, operatives and administrative staff.
Among this ‘silent army’ Electrical Services plays a key role, as Assistant Electrical Services Manager Andy Butterworth and Electrical Operations Superviser Paul Davies explained.
‘It’s about advance planning and teamwork,’ said Andy Butterworth. ‘For the fireworks display we start a good month or so in advance, liaising with our Council colleagues, the Department of Infrastructure and third-party suppliers Ahead of the evening of Friday November 2 when the display was held, there were barriers, 18 traffic signs and some 270 road cones to be put out along Douglas promenade, to create a single-line traffic flow to counter any crowd overspill onto the highway and ensure the safety of the public. And throughout the event itself Paul and I, along with three others from our team, were on site and in radio control to attend to any traffic and crowd control issues and then remove all the cones, signs, etc, after the event.’
‘The procedure’s largely the same for the Remembrance Sunday service,’ said Paul Davies. ‘Our role is essentially traffic and crowd management, but we’re also responsible for positioning the dais and lectern at the War Memorial and the saluting base opposite the Sefton Hotel, although this year, there’s been the added consideration of the promenade refurbishment project in relation to the Sefton island.’
Andy Butterworth said: ‘Christmas is the biggest event Electrical Services is involved in. We’re out on the streets taking down decorations in January, then around May or June orders are placed for any new decorations needed. Some items can look amazing when you see them at an exhibition or in a brochure but we have to consider what will fit in the best in the context of Douglas town centre.
‘The team are out in all weathers, putting the lights up from the beginning of October. This might seem early, but there are lots of lighting schemes to be installed - and this year we’ve also had to be mindful of the regeneration work taking place in the town centre.’
Among the schemes are nine projector lights to illuminate some of the town centre buildings including Douglas Town Hall; 35 post-mounted ‘snowflake’ and ‘star’ decorative features, many destined for Lord Street, Prospect Hill and Bucks Road and more than 80 red ‘pyramid’ trees which, for Christmas 2018, have been extended from Strand Street, Duke Street and Castle Street to Victoria Street and Prospect Terrace. These features are supplemented with decorations fitted to street lighting columns in the vicinity of St George’s Church and along Athol Street and the North Quay. A good number of these require bespoke brackets, the work of the Electrical Services blacksmith.
‘Two years ago we introduced “net lighting” into the schemes,’ said Paul Davies. ‘In 2017 there were five bays from the Strand shopping centre to TK Maxx area but for 2018 there will be 11 bays reaching down to Marks & Spencer and for 2019 we’re looking at extending the bays from the Strand Centre to the end of Castle Street.’
Andy Butterworth added: ‘We’re also responsible for the five large Christmas trees in the town centre: natural trees at the town hall and in Market Hill, an artificial tree outside Trinity Church, the “string” tree on North Quay at the junction with Ridgeway Street, and the “symphony” tree in Regent Street. Then there are the lights in Summerhill Glen and the festoon lighting along Douglas promenade, where more than 10,500 lamps have to be maintained, Santa’s grotto to be illuminated and the trees inside the town hall and the Henry Bloom Noble Library to be set up.
‘Along with installing all the lighting schemes - all of which are low-energy - there are around 70 time clocks that have to be set by hand to switch the features on and off, while another 60 features are controlled by a central management system.
‘For the switch-on ceremony it’s a major undertaking for the team, working with third-party suppliers to erect the stage and run power to it and to Santa’s grotto. Then about two hours before the official switch-on we check all the systems to make sure everything’s working correctly.’
Both Andy Butterworth and Paul Davies emphasised that it is the Mayor pulling a mechanical switching handle on the stage that turns on the Christmas lights. ‘There’s a perception it’s all done remotely, but that’s not the case, though we do have a failsafe alternative, just to be doubly sure,’ said Paul Davies.
Andy Butterworth said: ‘Much of the work has to be done in the early morning or evening because there’s always the Electrical Services’ “day job” to be done – not least converting all of the Borough’s street lighting to LED lanterns - and we’re only a small team of six electricians, four craftsmen labourers and a blacksmith.
‘It’s hard work but very rewarding. All of us in Electrical Services take great pride in decorating the town for Christmas and delivering a scheme in accordance with Members’ wishes.’
Environmental Services Committee Chair Councillor Ritchie McNicholl said: ‘Despite continuing pressure on its budgets the Council remains committed to injecting fun, colour and vibrancy into the life of the Borough through staging high-quality community events which attract people from all over the Island to Douglas. It is thanks to the dedication and tireless efforts of many Council officers and staff, all working tirelessly behind the scenes, that these events enjoy such a strong following and are unfailingly successful.’
Regeneration and Community Committee Chair Councillor Stephen Pitts said: ‘Summerhill Glen is hugely popular – especially with young families - with new features and attractions around every corner and dramatic lighting which transforms the glen into a truly enchanting place after dark. Much of this is down to the imagination and vision of the Electrical Services team who have created a unique attraction that never fails to delight.’