THERE may still be five weeks until Christmas but we are hard at work getting the town’s festive lights display into place.
It takes more than 300 hours and a logistical operation worthy of a military campaign to put up the thousands of bulbs and dozens of decorations, which represent an investment of around £100,000, in time for the lights switch-on on November 24 .
Will Tidmarsh, the council’s service delivery manager, said the work starts in January. “As soon as the lights come down we inspect every bulb to make sure they are working so that they are stored in good order ready for the next year,” he said.
At the end of October work began on installing the lights all over again. A two-man team, London Road Cemetery supervisor Rob Liddington and John Coles Park supervisor Peter Stoneham, begin the painstaking process of putting up the illuminations, street by street.
The team allows three weeks to get the main body of the lights into place. Bad weather and high winds can slow things down.
The council uses its own staff rather than contractors because it is more cost-effective. The lighting duo’s usual work is covered by other staff or they are covered by colleagues if they really need to be at their usual post.
There are 80 wrap-around festoons of lights to be strung around lampposts, each containing 2,000 bulbs, and 25 6ft decorative motifs that need to be hung. Then there are six large lights to be arranged across the High Street.
The Town Bridge also gets its own display, which takes an entire day to install.
In addition to the lights, at least 65 small illuminated Christmas trees have to be installed above town centre businesses, as well as the town’s own giant Christmas tree, which was selected months ago to ensure Chippenham gets the best.
The main tree doesn’t go up until as late as possible to ensure it stays fresh and watered for maximum greenery.
The lights themselves are, in the majority, wired into lampposts and each installation has to be carefully inspected as coated in weather-proof sealant to ensure it works.
The pressure is on the team to make sure that when the ceremonial button is pressed at November 24’s big switch-on the town is bathed in a sea of light. “There is a bit of pressure to get it right,” said Mr Tidmarsh, “and the staff really take a pride in doing a good job. They spend a lot of time testing the lights and inspecting them once they are up.”
Even when the lights are shining and the switch-on crowds have dispersed the council is still focused on its display. “Our team go out every evening and check to see all the lights are on. If they can do a repair on the spot they will but otherwise they are back first thing to see what the problem is,” said Mr Tidmarsh.
He regularly tours other towns to check on their displays to look for innovations that might benefit Chippenham.
Councillor Sandie Webb: “We get great feedback on the lights here but we are always looking to see where we can improve. We want to do the best for Chippenham.”