Review: A lesson in LED lighting at Cube Manchester

The North West Construction Knowledge Hub (NWCKH) held a debate on low energy lighting at the CUBE Gallery in Manchester on Tuesday to kick start their Brighter Futures exhibition. I was asked to be on the panel as a developer / interior designer / specifier by one of the organisers, an architect called Richard Frankland at Dwelle who I’d met at a Circle Club event previously. Have to say, I was a little apprehensive as I’m no LED expert, given I’ve tried and failed to specify it in the past as it’s proven too complicated and too expensive for my projects, but I think this was rather the point, that they didn’t want everyone there to be manufacturers or specifiers spending OPM (other people’s money!).

The others panel members from the left were: Paul Stephenson, MD of Clearvision which is an ergonomic lighting company specialising in artificial daylight; Brendan Keely, Associate Lighting Designer at BDP, the interdisciplinary design practice; Natalie Gray, Interior Designer at NoChintz, based in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, me, then host Centre for Construction Innovation Project Manager Tony Baldwinson and chair Fred Talbot.

Richard Frankland getting serious!

Fred Talbot, the super enthusiastic Granada Reports’ weatherman, chaired  the event, with his opening words very much pro-energy conservation. He joyously told how checks his meters every week and has reduced his household energy consumption down to 32 kilowatts a week (hope my memory of that figure is correct!), so he was very pro-low energy lighting and green issues generally. I am also now in deep trouble as Gracie, my niece, loves him and I didn’t get an autograph, need to rectify that… Ric?

Fred Talbot chairs the low energy lighting debate

As well as the debate, there was an exhibition of many of the different types of lamps and a variety of the low energy light fittings available on the market, which will run for the next three months. This has been done deliberately and is a great idea, as one of the reasons many small firms, designers and specifiers don’t specify LEDS is because there is nowhere for them to see them, plus how do you recommend something when you aren’t sure what the light will look like, or how it will illuminate the space? There has been much talk that low energy lamps and LEDs just aren’t as powerful a light as regular incandescents and it drives people mad to have ‘weak’ light where once they had ‘strong’, but the technology is advancing and the industry has to get that message out to consumers.

My position on low energy lighting is this: my house is full of low energy bulbs and I’m forever turning unused lamps off to save energy (fuelled originally by the dim 70’s memory of those TurnItOff stickers next to light switches), I’d love to specify LED lighting, but my interior contracts are not multi-million pound mansions with £30k budgets for lighting and whenever I have tried to spec it, like behind a beam on one of my rentals, the quote was £100 per metre! Kelly bloody Hoppen doesn’t have these issues! So, I wanted to hear the latest on LEDs and I wanted the latest to be that there’d be a lot more info and a lot less cost. We waste so much stuff, so much energy and it makes me, I’m trying to think of the right word….. uncomfortable.

Great buffet, which I missed, damn traffic. You can see the lighting on show to the sides.
The basement Cube space where the debate was held
Tony Baldwinson keeps order in the audience

Chair for the evening Tony Baldwinson commented: “The issues of climate change have meant that every industry now needs to be aware of the energy its uses and look how they can reduce their emissions. By bringing together a representative from each area of the built environment we were able to effectively discuss the importance of green technologies and how we can integrate them into a commercial environment.  The high turn-out shows that sustainability is still very high on the agenda for construction professionals and we will be offering advice to those companies throughout the North West as they strive to become more energy efficient.”

Lots of people spoke and there were some quite heated discussions! The man with his hand raised above (sorry, I don’t know his name!) talked about his work at Manchester University involved specifying LEDs for the student halls of residence and this sparked off a discussions about EPC’s and also the fact that it’s all very well when those specifying highly priced LED lighting are also the ones making the long term savings, as with the University paying more for upfront LED installation, proving their ‘green’ and environmentally friendly credentials, because they are also the ones recouping their initial spend as they are footing the electricity bills on the halls. In the same way homeowners planning on staying in their homes for many years can make lighting investments as they will be the ones enjoying the savings and therefore cancelling out the initial spend. But for developers or landlords currently looking to make financial savings, the initial lighting investment can’t easily be added on to the purchase price or the rent, and as it’s the tenants who pay the bills and therefore make the savings, the decision isn’t therefore made to invest in green lighting (this is my default position).

George Xia (above) held the floor for quite some time and represented the whole of China, I think! He spoke of the 4000 LED manufacturers there and what he saw as the huge advances in both technology and reliability taking place. He mentioned just about every country in Asia 😉

Eddie Akka from Buy LEDs Direct Ltd was a bit of a character, with son to his right he sells and manufactures low energy lighting from a base in Trafford Park. He was absolutely passionate about the ease of use and quality of product of LEDs, differing from some others in the room who questioned quality control and reliable standards. He was also very animated about a scheme I’d heard about, the 0% interest loans from the Carbon Trust which are designed to help businesses invest in energy saving projects.

Colin Pearce, above, is Key Account Manager at Philips, one of the major manufacturers of LED lamps and bulbs, so he was clearly very enthusiastic though at times also honest that the technology had a way to go before everyone was satisfied. I think he though he’d be the person everyone pounced on with regard to the problems in the industry but it was a far more positive affair than that!

This lady talked about her work as a lighting designer recently with M&S and how it is looking very seriously into using low energy lighting throughout the stores. She may have regretted mentioning it as she was then tasked, personally, with ensuring M&S policy on lighting went entirely green 🙂

Now Paul Hindle from Lumenata Lighting Design Ltd made me jealous! Fitting out huge mansions with amazing lighting technology on £30k budgets, oh a girl can dream…. I’ve visited some large residential projects where such systems are in place and of course they blow you away, but to me it’s a shame that there is almost becoming a bit of a ‘them and us’ situation in that it just doesn’t seem realistic for ordinary householders to have such lighting in their homes, average three bed semi’s or terraces for example. At the end of the debate, Ric Frankland asked how many of the participants actually had LED lighting at their home. It was only a handful and they were the installers and manufacturers. It would have been more if we’d invited some footballers 😉

Steve Millington from Manchester Metropolitan University made what I found some really interesting points about the emotional connections and importance of lighting, how it really makes us feel. He talked about the amazing lighting in the city of Lyons, whose annual Festival of Light on December 8th started as a tiny candle lit event in 1852 and now features the most cutting edge lighting displays to be seen anywhere in the world. Then he talked of the very passionate responses people have to lighting. He describing research done at the famous Blackpool illuminations where, when questioned, people thought a new cutting edge fancy pants lighting display was just part of the regular illuminations 🙂 He also talked of the high levels of feeling inspired by those bonkers Christmas displays you see on houses in December, the snobbery about them and also the sense of festivity and fun they inspire. One man who decks his home out and who had been criticised by the green police had made a valid point – he didn’t fly abroad, drive a Land Rover or buy lots of stuff, so he considered his carbon footprint to be pretty low really – his guilty pleasure were his lights.

All in all, the whole room was hugely positive about the low energy lighting subject, but recognised it’s current limitations – the lack of education and information unless you were one of those ‘in the know’, the somewhat hit and miss quality, the difficulties of quality control, the sometimes questionable claims on just how much ‘light’ is given out by fittings and the current high prices which rule out whole swathes of consumers.

And how telling is that? Despite all these negatives, everybody in the room wanted it to succeed.  Because if the technology is there, why should we carry on wasting energy? It isn’t simply because Part L tells us we have to include it, we want to, but the quality and price have to be right. It was a really interesting event, and I even managed to get in a plug for Earth Hour West Didsbury style tonight 🙂

One day I know I’ll be writing about a Moregeous project incorporating this technology and I just hope that day comes around soon, maybe it’ll be out little new build which finally gets built this year!

A few more pics of the evening for you:

The funky girls from NoChintz
Fred holding court
Me whittering on as usual
Nice pic of Ric Frankland
The lights in action

Time for food, I'm off!

Thanks to Ric Lowe for allowing me to use his images of the evening. He can be contacted for commissions on 07971 255405 or

4 thoughts on “Review: A lesson in LED lighting at Cube Manchester

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  1. Blackpool Illuminations have been using LED lighting in their displays for many years. In the early days they were bespoke creations from their own team. Now with LED lighting technology moving at a rapid pace they can buy off the shelf units that they can integrate into their displays. These range from multi colour LED flood lights to IP addressable lamp chains.

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