Pearce Hire Winter Lights Sam Whitehead

Pearce Hire creates Winter Lights trail for National Trust

The National Trust team at Anglesey Abbey recently opened its gates to Winter Lights, a night-time trail through the heritage gardens of the listed Jacobean Abbey. Pearce Hire, the temporary power, lighting and production specialist, was chosen by the abbey’s events team to design and activate the 2km lighting and audio nature trail through the grounds.

“We may be better known in the industry for providing technical production support for festivals and tours, but this garden brief really got our creative side going,” explained Jim Brown, general manager at Pearce Hire. “The production took on another dimension and we were very happy to embrace this, and work in close collaboration with the team at Anglesey Abbey to help achieve their vision.

“The brief was clear, with the end goal of creating a ‘sense of place’ within the gardens; connecting visitors with the natural surroundings and environment they were walking through. Through this, we were able to embrace the natural beauty in the grounds and brought the space to life in an exciting, eye-catching and thought-provoking way.”

Kayley Wilcockson, senior programming and partnership officer at Anglesey Abbey, said: “Originally, Anglesey Abbey ‘Winter Lights’ was created as a way to highlight our beautiful gardens during the winter months. From small beginnings, it has grown into an inspiring annual installation which is now our largest fundraiser of the year, providing vital funds for our conservation work across the estate.  We have worked for several years with Pearce Hire and so it made sense to work in close collaboration with them on the overall creative design and they truly embraced our strapline of ‘Nature by Night, Nature by Light’.

Pearce Hire led the design and production team, supplying the full technical package including power, lighting, sound, projection and effects. In addition, some bespoke lighting units were customised in its workshop to deliver special touches for this project.

Brown continued: “On most of our projects, we’re employed by the production team after an initial concept has been developed. For Winter Lights, we took the lead in designing the creative and technical concepts so we had an opportunity to influence the process from day one.”

2021 saw Anglesey Abbey’s ‘Winter Lights’ celebrating its tenth anniversary and, having had an enforced COVID-19 year off, the team wanted to pull out all the stops with the production. Pearce Hire appointed Eddie Barcan, director of Splendid Events, to co-produce the project, ensuring a cohesive creative theme ran throughout the trail.

Barcan explained: “I was able to work as conduit between the Anglesey Abbey team, and Pearce Hire to bring a fresh perspective to the design. Throughout the planning phase, I challenged Pearce Hire to deliver the nature theme by bringing out natural elements such as fractals, murmurations and natural sounds.”

Collaboration was key to the planning, with an expanded team taking on various aspects. Lighting designer, Andrew Keightley, and John Huson, Pearce Hire’s project manager, were responsible for the lighting design and programming; Barcan and Brown sourced sustainable nature-themed wire and wicker animal sculptures and other novel effects; projection content and interactive elements were provided by Ross Ashton, director of The Projection Studio, and the Cambridge Film Project; and Gregory Ovenden produced the soundscape which covered the entirety of the trail.

As a result of this considerable collaboration, the 24,000 visitors who attended over three dark December weekends were treated to interactive projections and illuminations on trees, the house and the Lode Mill.

Another important aspect of the brief was sustainability. Wilcockson continued: “We needed to deliver an event which was sensitive to the conservation environment it was situated in. With the National Trust being Europe’s leading conservation charity, minimising our environmental impact is a key part of our day-to-day work and so it was integral to every aspect of the event from initial design, to final delivery and de-rig.  Pearce Hire totally took this on board which we were thrilled with.”

Pearce Hire utilised its experience of temporary power solutions to address the charity’s sustainability requirements. Integral to this was a synced pair of 100 kVA generators, which ran on HVO Green D+ fuel, delivering an 80 per cent reduction in CO2e emissions from previous iterations of the Winter Lights trail.  In order to further minimise the loads, running times and therefore emissions of the generators, Pearce Hire introduced a hybrid system, which also utilised the venue’s mains power supply, supported by energy from Anglesey Abbey’s solar panels.

Brown commented: “Delivering heavy generator equipment and lighting fixtures into the gardens without damaging the ground is a key challenge. Once the equipment is installed then there’s the British winter weather to contend with! Obviously all the temporary installations and artwork, cables and control systems have to survive rain, high winds, ice and snow for a month – no easy feat!”

Wilcockson concluded: “Working with Pearce Hire from start to finish has been great as always. The communication between Pearce Hire and our event management team was exceptional. We knew our brief was unique, but the team were really receptive to it, even with the restraints of working in a heritage garden. Pearce Hire were empathetic to our challenges, particularly around access, and found solutions to ensure that the event could run smoothly throughout. We were confident that from start to finish the tech support was there, and responsive if anything needed attention.”

Image: Winter Lights/Sam Whitehead