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Tripping the festive light fantastic for great causes


Brighten up: Tim Hancock showing off his lights

Brighten up: Tim Hancock showing off his lights

Winter wonderland: Michael Lynn outside his home

Winter wonderland: Michael Lynn outside his home

Generous lady: Adele Johnstone has raised thousands for charity

Generous lady: Adele Johnstone has raised thousands for charity

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph


Brighten up: Tim Hancock showing off his lights

What a bright idea! Homes here are transforming into bright beacons of festive fun, creating magical displays to raise vital funds for charity. Kerry McKittrick chats to three local people about the big switch-on.

Most of us get stressed decorating a tree and untangling a string of lights, for some Christmas just wouldn't be Christmas unless the whole house (and the garden too) were festooned with lights, snowmen and Santas - a mere bauble just won't cut it.

Now, some of us have to go Christmas crazy bedecking everything - inside and out of our homes - with enough lights to illuminate an entire street. Glowing snowmen take up residence in the garden, while Santa and his reindeer land on roofs.

The fun celebrations, though, often have a serious purpose raising thousands of pounds for charities across the season of goodwill. Some of the jaw-dropping light displays can attract visitors from miles around who are happy to donate to a good cause while they're there.

The Shepherd family in Buckinghamshire have used their collection of 25,000 Christmas lights to raise over £4,000 for a cancer charity. Meanwhile, in Bristol brothers Lee and Paul Brailsford have spent more than £10,000 on their displays over the last 20 years, with more than 50,000 lights decorating their mother's house.

The pair have also raised more than £30,000 for the Bristol Royal Hospital for Children.

We talk to three Northern Ireland people who have decided to light up Christmas for good causes.

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'So far we have raised over £1,200'

Tim Hancock (17) is in his final year at Lurgan College. He says:

Dad bought an illuminated figure for both me and my younger brother when we were born. The plan was that we would take them to our own houses when we grew up.

I loved going to the sales with my dad and we would buy and buy until we ended up with the start of the collection as it is now.

Our first display was in 2013, and this year we have about 60 illuminated figures throughout the garden.

A family friend, Andrew Wilson, had usually put on a bit display up in Maghaberry but he had to stop because he had been diagnosed with cancer. I got in touch with him and took over a lot of his collection - he asked me to take the lights because he wanted me to continue what he had started.

Up until then we had always put on a little family display but then we bought new figures too so we decided to do it for charity to see how it went.

That year we raised about £300 for Charlene's Project, a charity that brings education and sustainable projects to developing countries.

Last year we decided to dedicate the display to Andrew who passed away last summer - after all, a lot of the lights in the display came from him. We collected for the charity which had looked after him in his last days, Marie Curie Cancer Care.

We're collecting for Marie Curie again this year. Unfortunately a lot of people have a connection with cancer so it's getting a good response. So far we've raised over £1,200.

The lights start to go up around the second weekend of October and they get switched on, on the last Saturday night of November.

It is a lot of work because we need to be in the house when the lights are on and we've had a dedicated power supply put in with its own timer.

We spend between £100-£150 on electricity but we do get a lot of help.

Local companies provide us with platforms, scaffolding and donations towards the running costs - it has become a real community effort.

I always went round displays when I was a kid and loved the idea of doing something like this but I never thought it would actually happen."

'It takes a month to put it together'

Retiree Michael Lynn (61) lives in Ballinderry with his wife Phyllis and they have two grown-up children. He says:

We've got lights in the front garden and the back and my wife organises the inside lights.

We've been doing a display of lights for 22 years now. Phyllis started buying little Christmas lights and ornaments and that developed into quite a collection. Eventually we said we should do it properly so I started buying Christmas lights and decorating the house.

We've bought little bits every year and added to the collection. Some of the stuff we have on display this year we've had for more than 15 years and they're still going strong.

I do a different display every year so not all of the decorations get used every year - there are always a lot left in storage. Although I use different decorations every year there isn't a particular theme, it's just based around Christmas. This year I've made a little Santa's workshop outside and we have the reindeer and Santa's sleigh on top of the house.

It takes me a whole month to put it together - all the fittings are already on the house and the fence so it's just a case of hanging the lights up.

The lights go on from 5pm until 9pm and we're always in the house while they're on. They're on timers and I go out each evening to make sure there are no dud bulbs. We have a small wishing well where people can throw a donation in if they want to.

If people turn up with children then we invite them into the house - Phyllis does the living room up with Christmas trees and all sorts of animated toys and the kids love to see that. There's a model village too and a band that plays music, and each different cuddly toy plays a song and moves.

For the last couple of years we've donated the proceeds to the Friends of the Cancer Centre.

Phyllis' sister was diagnosed with breast cancer - she's just finished all of her treatment now. We thought it was a fitting cause to donate to. We don't raise that much but we tend to get between £100-£150 most years. It depends on who comes to see us. In Ballyclare, where we used to live, people would come to see us from Belfast and Antrim and the cars would be queued down the street. It was all word of mouth as we've never advertised it.

We've built up the collection slowly over the years and I've replaced a lot of the lights with LED and energy saving bulbs. The electricity costs around £80 each year and we have the lights up all of December and the first week of January."

'The display just gets bigger and bigger each year'

Adele Johnstone (64) is a retired nurse and lives with her partner Jack Troughton near Markethill. They have seven grown-up children between them. She says:

We've been putting on a Christmas light display for nearly 18 years now. It started after my husband passed away 20 years ago. I was a little down at Christmas so my sons bought me some lights for the house as I've always liked them.

The following year Jack and I had met and he got me a few more lights. By this time we noticed cars driving past the house would slow down to have a good look so we decided we should do something constructive and put out a bucket for charitable donations. It's grown from there ever since.

The display has got bigger and bigger each year - Jack started dressing up as Santa and we would open the house for people to look round - sometimes local folk bands come and play. When we were at full throttle I wanted children from all backgrounds to come for a night out and enjoy it.

Unfortunately a couple of years ago health issues caught up with us and we had to stop. This year we have put the lights up outside the house, but we're not doing inside as we can no longer cope with lots of people knocking on the door the way they used to. People can still come and look at the outside and give a donation, though.

Over the years we raised money for the Southern Area Hospice simply because it was a worthy, local cause. This year I've got involved in a dog rescue association called Cavaliers In Need so we'll split the donations between the two charities.

I really enjoy the lights themselves so it's an added bonus that we're able to raise some money for charity. It's a lot of hard work - it can take over a month to put the lights up and then an electrician friend double checks them for me."

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