Night of Heritage Light

By Matt Snowden, PR and Communications Executive at the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers

The challenge was to promote and celebrate the work of lighting designers – a reticent group whose skill is little understood and often unrecognised.  The dramatic success of the Night of Heritage Light certainly created impact and far-reaching attention.

Held on 1 October 2015 as part of the UNESCO International year of Light, the Night of Heritage Light was a spectacle that lit the UK from top to bottom. Organised by the Society of Light and Lighting (SLL), a division of the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE), it saw nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites across the country that are usually dark at night lit up by professional lighting designers.

The project involved some fascinating back stories of these beautiful sites and the teams that lit them, providing ample material for a rapidly growing press interest.  These stories brought the subjects to life  as more than just a pretty tableau: The lighter descended from the man who originally created the lighting at Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire returning to finish his Grandad’s work; the usually hidden paintings illuminated at Blenheim Palace and the ambitious plan involving a rowing boat at Devon’s Jurassic Coast.

The brief was to communicate the ‘art and science’ behind lighting, and to get the message across that light is far from just a workaday thing all around us that we can just take for granted. The SLL represents all professional lighters who work alongside their allied professions in building services engineering, lighting everything from homes and offices to stadiums and streets, and it’s one of those industries that you don’t notice if it’s done right.

But that casual acceptance of lighting working quietly in the background belies the work and expertise that goes into making sure it works properly. There is a vast array of knowledge and expertise behind the industry that ensures it is specified and installed properly, maintaining dizzying variables from colour temperature to flicker rates in order to keep us happy and healthy. These affect everything from how well we sleep to how productive we are at work, and the industry needs a constant supply of young minds to keep it at the top of its game.

On the other side of the coin is the artistic element to lighting. It’s also a creative industry, with the way light is used in building being tremendously important to how people perceive them. With the rise in LED technology creating a whole new palette of colours and types of light to choose from, we are entering a boom time for lighting, and the industry also needs creative thinkers who can turn a wall into an installation.

Communicating all of this in one big event was a tough ask, and the message came through not in the monuments, but through the lighters themselves. Speaking in the local press, on the radio and on The One Show – the passion and skill behind the displays the lighters put on was plain to see. The dedicated band of volunteers operating on shoestring budgets and with borrowed equipment were clearly in their element putting their trade on show at local landmarks. It was their stories that really brought their technical trade to life on the big stage, and from the local kids playing in the LED glow at Ironbridge Gorge to those watching at home – a few may even have been inspired to take a look themselves.


Night of Heritage Light received a Highly Commended accolade at the Construction Marketing Awards in December 2016.