An illuminating experience

Once every two years, the city of Durham hosts the Lumiere festival. For four nights (well, five if you include the preview) the city is filled with art installations designed to be seen in the dark.

Being local, I've been lucky enough to attend all five festivals held so far, and it has been interesting to see how the event has evolved in that time. The first festival, back in 2009, was a relaxed stroll. But by the 2011 event, word had got out: hundreds of thousands of visitors crammed into the narrow medieval streets, with a few choke points little better than massed scrums. So 2013 saw the introduction of ticketing: not to make money, but to restrict access to the city centre during the first half of the evening. This solved the scrums, but at the expense of the businesses within the cordon, who complained that an event meant to benefit the city's economy was actually hurting them.

The current system seems to have found a balance, with customers able to get to the city centre pubs and restaurants and a combination of ticketing and a pedestrian one-way system managing the visitor numbers.

Personally, I've found that the displays around the periphery of the city are plenty rewarding enough, if you want to avoid the queues - the piece in St Oswald's church this year, for example:

Of course it's easy to criticise those holding any major event for problems they "should have seen coming"... but hindsight is a wonderful thing, and sometimes events are a victim of their own success. Planning is crucial, of course, as is testing those plans as much as you can in advance. However, it is also really important that, once the event starts, there is a capable team on the ground with the resources and the remit to solve unforeseen problems as they arise.

Could the planning and running of Lumiere 2017 have been better? Almost certainly: there is always room for improvement, and the challenge for any organisation is to identify this and take steps for the next time. Was it good enough? I would say so, yes... and it was certainly nice to have a colourful background to my usual pint at the Station House!