Bradwell shines bright at Christmas

Bradwell Winter waterwheel Video Mike Joseph

In a world increasingly concerned with the climate crisis and the environmental cost of energy, the Derbyshire village of Bradwell has conjured up some sustainable sparkle for their Christmas lights via the Bradwell Hydro Project.

I love Christmas, I confess it. I won’t say that I had my daughter purely to give me an excuse to haul in an enormous tree every year but if you happened to get that impression, well, it wouldn’t be too wide off the mark. I love brass bands and Solstice Bells. I love Jingle Bell Rock and a hot turkey roll. I love a warm mug of freshly-nuked, over-priced mulled wine, and the smell of allspice and orange.

But there’s a problem, isn’t there? The shimmering specks of glitter on my advent calendar, Christmas wrapping paper and cards make them non-recyclable. The strings of lights across the high streets may gladden the heart, but they also devour energy to push up the bills and dump yet more carbon dioxide into our over-heated atmosphere.

Can we sparkle at Christmas while keeping 1.5 alive?

The Bradwell Hydro Project

Of course we can. There is such a thing as biodegradable glitter, you know. And, up in the top left corner of Derbyshire, a small team of enthusiastic amateurs has harnessed a natural resource to light up their village, guilt-free.

Bradwell lies in the Hope Valley, in the ancient borderlands between Mercia and Northumbria. In 2017, engineer and local resident Mike Joseph decided it needed Christmas lights. He had previously worked in New York and fully understood how a beautiful display can lift the spirits. He also spotted the potential of Bradwell Brook, which runs the length of the village. Such is the climate of the Peak District, the brook in December is reliably fast and furious. Mike felt sure it felt it could power a water wheel.

He was right. He and his neighbours, Richard Patton and Andy Nash, constructed the first iteration out of bicycle wheels and kitchen sink bowls. They installed it in the brook and hooked it up to a generator, which they also built themselves.

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For the last five years, trees in Bradwell have been lit up at Christmas by lights powered from the water wheel. The lights are LEDs housed in plastic tubes, which – you guessed it – were also built by the team. The modest build costs have been met by grants from the Peak District National Park Authority, local councils, businesses, and volunteer groups.

Lighting up the heart of the community

However, this project is about more than just a bit of free sparkle. From the very beginning, the Bradwell Hydro Project team has involved the community, particularly the local junior school, in every aspect.

They run classes talking about energy sources, renewables versus fossil fuels, how to generate electricity, and the different designs for a water wheel. The children get stuck into it all; from the arrangement of the lights in the trees to the font used on the project message board.

On the Grand Ignition night the junior school children draw lots to find out who will win the ultimate prize – flicking the switch to turn on the lights.

Revolution leads to evolution

Every year, the team uses the lessons learnt to improve the project a little bit more. In 2017, the original wheel turned two million times over the Christmas period. Impressive enough but last year, an improved wheel and a longer season resulted in more than six million revolutions.

Unfortunately, the wheel was severely damaged by rainstorms in January so it has been rebuilt again. This year’s version is better, faster and sleeker. It also has lights in its very housing!

Don’t take my word for it – come and see for yourself!

The Grand Ignition will take place at Bradwell Town Bottom playing fields, S33 9JQ at 6 pm on Saturday 5th December.

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