City of Lights: Truro’s midwinter lantern festival
PUBLISHED: 13:12 25 October 2017 | UPDATED: 13:12 25 October 2017
Now in its 21st year, the magical parade of lanterns will fill Truro’s streets in November to mark the start of winter – and the celebrations to come
Cornwall has many wow factors: the beaches, the dramatic cliffs, the sunsets over the Atlantic – not to mention the artwork, wildlife, architecture, gardens and, well, you get the idea.
And this month’s wow comes encased in paper and filled with light on the streets of our capital city for one night only. I mean, of course, the City of Lights parade, which takes place on 22 November this year. The festival will see around 700 lanterns of all shapes and sizes head through the centre of Truro in front of a crowd of 30,000 people who come from all over the world to see one of the biggest parades of its kind.
‘When City of Lights started 21 years ago we wanted to create the possibility of a new tradition for Truro,’ explains its artistic director Tony Crosby who has been with the festival since it began.
For many of us it is the giant lanterns that we remember most of all: and these, along with others lanterns are created along a different theme each year.
‘City of Lights aims to simulate the artists’ imaginations each year with a good theme and in this, our 21st year, our theme is Glow,’ adds Tony. ‘I think this is a good description of the event as a whole, as it speaks of illumination, warmth and a sense of pride. We want this to be a special day in Truro where City of Lights home and heart is.
‘We like to keep our lanterns a secret for the night. One of the key elements that keeps City of Lights fresh every year is that we put a bunch of artists in a secret workshop with materials. Ideas are grown and shared, lantern sculptures created and the artists always come up with the unexpected. This year they have a chance to excel themselves with a theme that can go in many directions. Perhaps this is another year to expect the unexpected!’
The event has gotten more and more popular every year, with more people wanting to get involved. But that success comes at a cost. And that cost has increased as the event has gotten bigger – there is a lot of health and safety involved, as well as the cost of creating the lanterns themselves. Last year’s 20th anniversary event took an unexpected turn with an urgent pleas for funds to help safeguard the future of the parade.
Just a £2 donation from everyone who attends would cover the cost of the event and help towards the following year,’ explain organisers.
The work to create this night goes on throughout the year with around 300 volunteers involved – around half of those on the night as stewards and the celebrated ‘bucketeers’ who raise money on the night. Other volunteers will be involved in workshops with schools and community groups who have been busy creating their lanterns over the last month. This year’s lantern artists include Imogen Bone, Tony Crosby, Laura Drayson, Jill Hudson, Sue Loydell, Mike Hindle and Liz Tyrell.
For the first time this year – there will be a VIP area (in a secret location) where a limited number of guests will enjoy unparalleled views of the parade up the High Street and along Boscawan Street while enjoying a glass of Prosecco and some nibbles. The VIP ticket - priced at £25 will help raised funds for the event. There will also be a new friends scheme (£10 individual, £18 couple, £25 couple). Friends will get a sneak preview of the lanterns before they head out into the public - a chance to get up close to the big lanterns, capture a selfie or two. Other fundraising events include a raffle (where you can win one of two year-long subscriptions to Cornwall Life as well as gift vouchers for dinner at Truro’s Bustopher Jones).
Behind the scenes a small team – of mostly volunteers – work tirelessly throughout the year to bring this us one magical night and its wings have slowly spread throughout the community which art residencies and other events planned throughout 2018.
‘Every time it captures me,’ says the event’s marketing coordinator Charlotte Davis reflecting the feeling most visitors experience at the spectacle. ‘I get a lump in my throat and the hair raises in the back of my neck.’
And while the simplicity of the lanterns – created from paper and glue – remains the main appeal, the organisers are also looking at how to use new technologies to keep refreshing the event.
In 2014, the organisers had digital installations around the town to commemorate the anniversary of World War I. But people didn’t make the connection between the two elements.’
And if you can’t wait until the event to see the spectacle, some of last year’s giant lanterns have found new homes – including two suspended from the ceiling of Lemon Street Market.
‘Imagine the number of lanterns made over the years: many thousands by the children and more than two hundred by the artists,’ says Tony of the past 21 years. ‘That is quite a spectacle in anyone’s eyes. A lot of stories told and inspiration shared, everyone will remember their favourite lantern. But none of this happens without a remarkable and dedicated team who work tirelessly across the year to make this all happen and for Truro to shine.
‘This year the City of Lights team is also remembering someone who sadly will not be there to see this year’s parade Bill Mitchell, the director of the extra ordinary Cornwall based landscape theatre company Wildworks who died earlier this year. Anyone producing outdoor spectacle in Cornwall owes a huge debt to Bill who inspired and showed what was possible if you put community, place and imagination together. This one is for you Bill.’