Light Up Lancaster: Beloved extravaganza returns to light up Lancastrian lives post-Covid lockdown

At this year’s Light Up Lancaster festival, there will be light-based animated sculptures, a waterfall of light, and an imaginary creature named Luma brought to life by a unique combination of light art, robotics, inflatables, and puppeteering.

Thursday, 4th November 2021, 4:55 am
The fireworks spectacular. Pic by Robin Zhaler

Safe to say that organisers have taken the theme of Flights of the Imagination and run with it.

Returning after a year out due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the two-day free event is set to blow people’s collective socks off this year. Having initially been designed as a small after-dark, multi-artform trail before the city’s annual fireworks spectacular, the festival has taken on a life of its own, capturing imaginations across the North West.

“One of the great things about the festival is that the city centre is taken over by families, which changes its entire complexion,” says the event’s creative producer, George Harris. “The event is called Light Up Lancaster but, of course, there were no lights last year and, for most people, last November was just lights-off in terms of being able to do things.

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Light Up Lancaster. Pic by Robin Zhaler

“To have it back this year is just so refreshing,” he adds. “And it’s needed: to celebrate together once again is going to be magical. Over two nights, the best part of 45,000 people turn out in their droves and there’s something for every age group; to have grandparents, parents, and children all out together is so rare.”

Taking place on November 5th and 6th, the festival will also feature an art fair where families can try traditional crafts including Islamic paper art, paper lantern-making, and henna. The multicultural celebration is brought to the city by Preston City Mela to ring in the end of Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights.

Attractions at Lancaster’s new High Street Heritage Action Zone will also take visitors on a tour of the Mill Race area, following a trail of animation, projection, and live music in the footsteps of a young Afghan refugee as she searches for fellow creative spirits. The festival will then culminate with the Fireworks Spectacular at 8pm on Saturday.

“We started planning in January and it’s been tricky to organise everything because all our meetings have had to be online and, whilst normally we’d invite people to look at sites, this year that wasn’t possible because we were still in lockdown,” says George. “Logistically, we’ve had to spend more time on everything, so it’s been a real challenge.

Entwined Light, funded by the SHINE programme

“But, because we’ve got a light trail consisting of 20-odd different installation pieces, people aren’t gathering in huge numbers at one thing so, in terms of outdoor events, it’s about as safe as you can make it,” he adds ahead of his fifth festival as creative producer. “Straight off the bat, we decided to have fewer things indoors, so that’s worked out well.”

Organised by Lancaster City Council, Lancaster BID, and The Dukes, the festival is funded by Arts Council England, Lancaster City Council, and Lancaster BID, and is part of the Light Up The North partnership, a network of light festivals in cities across the region.

And, when it comes to planning such a unique undertaking, George emphasises one facet: light is king.

“We share knowledge across the Light Up The North network so that people get really high-quality art on the night and the end result is truly mesmerising,” he says. “And it’s a shared experience because it’s out on the streets. It just seemed ideal, given how everyone has had such a tough time during the pandemic, to throw off the shackles.

Lancaster University's Exploration Zone. Photo by Robin Zahler

“Imagination can take you anywhere and we invited artists to do just that and transport us all into a magical never never land of light art,” he adds. “They have come up with fun, playful and beautiful installations that audiences are going to be enchanted by. We want people to see fantastic art without paying a penny, so it’s great news that the festival is back.“I think it’ll light up

people’s lives as well as the city centre.”

Air Giants bring Luma to Sun Square. Image by Paul Blakemore