Lighting Churches in the South West – conference report

Angels, St Mary M, TauntonA Conference held on July 2014 in St Mary Magdalene, Taunton, to promote efficient and greener lighting systems inside and outside churches.

Who was there? Parish officers, clergy, DAC members, architects and others.

I was in the ‘other’ category, a member of Truro diocese’s environment group. I’m keen on ‘green’: efficient and effective: does the lighting function well to illuminate what is needed (and not shine in your eyes as so many church lights seem to) and does it deliver light efficiently (lumens per watt). I certainly was aware that any review of lighting in a church needed more than a change of light bulbs. But, coming away, I was surprised at the many other facets exposed during the day.

What were the key themes?

  • ‘good’ lighting of a church needs people to think and pray a lot before doing anything: ‘to fail to plan is to plan to fail’;
  • have a clear vision of why you are (re)doing the lighting: it is part of God’s mission;
  • set your expectations high: don’t skimp; be prepared to dig deep into your pockets;
  • be clear that technology is a means and not an end – in other words think first about what is needed by the building and those who use it before giving any thought to how you achieve that; refurbishing or renewing the lighting of a church is a whole lot more than changing the light bulbs for new ‘LED’ types;
  • when you do it, do it well and it will last.

In planning a project:

  • Assess what the building can give you.
  • Audit your current energy use for lighting and for everything else. Think about its source: is it renewable?
  • Consider building usage – who? what?, when?
  • Plan lighting to be ‘minimal’ and ‘optimal’.
  • Develop a ‘liturgical plan’ and a ‘conservation management plan’.
  • Plan the decision-making process at the start; be clear about legal constraints and permissions required. do the research; talk to the DAC Secretary; look at examples.
  • Assess what works already, what doesn’t and why.
  • Consider the impact on the architecture, particularly the balance between natural and artificial light.
  • Recognise the issues: aesthetic, technical, logistical, preservation, maintenance, energy use and cost, the ‘embedded’ energy of any changes, ‘pay-back’ period, and control systems needed.
  • Be clear what you are trying to achieve: develop and state your ‘vision’.

A full report is also available (pdf).

Richard Hopper, 17 September 2014