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Ely Cathedral shines bright with Pharos

Ely Cathedral is located in the picturesque city of Ely in East Cambridgeshire. The site can be dated back to AD 763, when it began its life as an abbey church built by St Etheldreda. The current building dates from 1083, and Ely was raised to cathedral status in 1109.

As part of the Church of England, Ely Cathedral is committed to being carbon neutral by 2030. To help achieve this, the lighting at Ely Cathedral is currently being upgraded to a more energy-efficient and sustainable system.

While the Cathedral is primarily a place of worship, it is also an important heritage attraction, a venue for music and events, and an occasional location for filming. It was therefore key to ensure that any new lighting scheme was capable of showing the architecture off to its full potential, while supporting a range of uses and enhancing the Cathedral’s daily round of worship. The new system will reveal more of the detail and beauty of the building while being less visually intrusive.

The work has been split into phases, with phase 1 focusing on the exterior of the Cathedral’s Octagon Tower.

Light Perceptions, specialist lighting consultants for historic buildings, were appointed to the project. Their brief was to remove the existing flood lighting and design a scheme that was flexible and controllable while offering higher levels of energy efficiency.

The flexibility of the external system is important as it allows the Cathedral to use colours and dynamic lighting to mark special occasions or events, such as red, white and blue for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, or the colours of the liturgical calendar. The previous lighting allowed for only a single colour. In addition, the new system has removed the need for someone to change the lighting manually when required, which incurred time and cost.

Light Perceptions worked exceptionally well with the Cathedral to obtain the permissions needed. These are especially exacting for a Grade I listed building governed by the Church of England’s regulatory system.

To deliver the control aspect of the exterior lighting design, Pharos Architectural Controls was selected by Light Perceptions. A Pharos TPC (Touch Panel Controller) is now used by the Cathedral, offering a customisable 4.3” touch screen with a single Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) network connection. The touch screen interface allows Ely Cathedral to create multiple pages of controls and configure their appearance to provide immediate visual feedback.

The advanced technology of the Pharos TPC allows for control of lighting levels and playbacks that can gracefully transition between scenes, timelines, effects and pixel-mapped media.

To bolster the system further, a Pharos EXT has also been used. The EXT is an extension for the Pharos TPC and together they form a standalone, mains-powered lighting control system with flexible output and show control options. In addition, the EXT provides local DMX and DALI output for the TPC, as well as power and other hardware interfaces.

Tim Edwards, Director of Operations for Pharos Architectural Controls commented: Ely Cathedral is a beautiful structure, and it is hoped that the new lighting will allow visitors to appreciate its rich architecture, especially once all phases are completed.  

It’s great to see the Cathedral to now have flexible system from Pharos that allows it to use the lighting for special occasions and other celebrations.  

Bruce Kirk, Director at Light Perceptions said: “Ely Cathedral is visited by thousands of people every year, which makes us incredibly proud to know we have contributed to the new lighting system now that phase one is complete. It’s another hugely successful project to add to our strong portfolio as we celebrate our company’s 20th anniversary. 

“The outdated lighting was no longer fit for purpose, using high levels of energy and therefore costing far too much. The new lighting system will give the Cathedral the ability to control the lighting easily, and embrace this to its full potential. Light Perceptions has worked with Pharos on a number of projects and, as always, their contribution and market-leading technology has completed the lighting scheme perfectly.” 

The Very Revd Mark Bonney, Dean of Ely, added: “The effect of the new lighting on the exterior at Ely Cathedral is superb. Not only are we reducing our energy use, the beauty of the fourteenth-century Octagon Tower is more fully revealed at night.  

“It is wonderful that the exterior of the Cathedral can now mark occasions and events through more flexible and controllable lighting. Using the lighting to show support for the people of Ukraine was a poignant moment for us.”