Feature, Hospitality/Leisure

Budgets are tight at this East London theatre – so they couldn’t afford not to go LED

All the lighting at the Theatre Royal in East London – apart from the stage lighting – is the responsibility of Graeme Bright, buildings and facilities manager. Here, he sets out his plans to improve efficiency without busting his budget. 

My responsibility is the public lighting in the theatre

I’m responsible for all the aspects of the operations of the building, including health and safety, and security, which includes lighting. The public areas come under my remit but the performance space doesn’t. But we’ve got rehearsal spaces, private hire spaces,offices, dressing rooms… We have a bar and a restaurant, cellar areas – they are my responsibility. What we’re talking about is the normal lighting in a building, and then emergency lights, that’s my area.

When it comes to lighting the theatre, the biggest challenge is money

We’re a charity, so funding is always tight. Our budgets are tightly managed, and we have to try to operate within those parameters. We were redeveloped in 2000, so, like any property these days, trying to change the fittings is a challenge. Designers have a range of different fittings in buildings and there are so many different types of lights for different areas. When we’re looking at replacing those for more energy efficient ones, it’s about finding the right ones for the affordability and practicalities of the different spaces.

It’s difficult to find the right products

Finding the right product is difficult for many reasons. First, there are so many companies out there now. Second, because of the different spaces, we try to identify and break those spaces down and focus on that one particular light, depending on how many we’ve got, to find the right solution. Installation is tricky too, because we’re open seven days a week and the offices and the rooms are all used during that time.

“I made a decision about three years ago that any replacement would be an LED replacement”

We’ve been doing LED replacements for two to three years now and I made a decision about three years ago that any replacement would be an LED replacement. On top of that we’ve been focusing on bigger projects. So we’ve done 90 per cent of the office spaces, all of the corridor spaces, about 40 per cent of the public spaces. This year we’ll be filling out all those smaller areas that we haven’t done yet. There are lots of T5 tubes, and I don’t think there’s anything comparable at the moment.

We’ve got a workshop area, and the auditorium, which is part of a dimming system. There are probably about 200 lights and that is a bit more complicated. It is in the performance area, and the dimming must be smooth. LEDs aren’t quite there yet.

I went to LuxLive last year and was extremely impressed with the number of organisations out there. So it was a much better kind of perspective for me to be able to go to these places and actually speak to so many different companies, all in one place.

I’m most proud of what we’ve achieved in the office corridors

The corridors in the offices were quite a big task over a vast area. There were 128 bulkhead lights that were on 18 hours a day, and we were able to get all of those switched over in a short period of time. The switchover has had quite an impact on our energy usage.We achieved a 40 per cent reduction year on year, and were the leader in energy saving in the theatre consortium group of theatres.

We’ve funded these projects ourselves

We’ve looked at various funding options, but we’ve haven’t embarked on any, as yet. In the early stages we got baffled with the processes of going about it, and we felt that we weren’t getting the true information. And I think we didn’t really fully understand the electrical consumption of our building. We’ve embarked on quite a detailed understanding of that over the past year and a half. I’ve allocated and tried to balance my budgets to try to identify an amount of money each year to invest, so we’re not tied up into any lease or finance scenarios.

Moving forward, if we look at the auditorium lights for the public spaces, that would have to be publicly funded, so we would look at various companies. And I know we liaised with Siemens at one point and we’ve talked to Salix at another point, and we’ve also been participating, to a certain degree, in Refit, which is run by the London Mayor Office.

Installing the latest technology can be hard

I think there are many great technologies out there, it’s just the feasibility of getting them installed. There are smart technologies that sense what’s happening in the building and adjust the lighting, heating and other building services. The downside is that you have to have the infrastructure and the capital to put that kind of system in. Lots of charities probably don’t have that kind of capacity without external support. I think one of the problems I’ve found is that changing behaviour with respect to energy use is difficult. If we can move to an automated scenario, we take that problem away, to a certain degree.

There is pressure for a charity to be as efficient as possible

It’s a requirement of our funding from the Arts Council that we participate in ways to reduce our CO2 emissions and energy use. We now participate in the London Theatre Consortium Initiative, which is connected to Julie’s Bicycle, an organisation set up to deal with the mayor’s and the Arts Council’s objective to try to make theatres more energy efficient.