The illumination trail debut bringing winter magic to Maidstone

Maidstone Business Success Story Glow Illumination Trail

“The fact that Maidstone Borough Council gave me, a small independent start-up, a chance when others said no is brilliant.”

Despite a successful career in finance spanning 20 years, Lisa’s real love has always been for the arts and she would take on roles in events and production alongside her day job whenever she could. Her passion has seen her working in theatre, live music and creative industries, including leading London venues, as well as being founder and producer of The Cabaret Club in Medway for five years, and producing The Lost Picture Show, a touring cinematic experience.

But it was a trip to an illumination trail in 2018 in London that spurred Lisa to leave the world of finance and take on a creative role full time.

“I visited with my husband and son and despite the fact there was torrential rain that day, I just loved it,” she explains, “I realised I would love to create something like that and started looking into it straight away.”

So enthused by her visit, Lisa soon took the decision to go it alone and set up Glow Arts with the aim of launching her very first illumination trail this December. Having chosen her home county as the location, Maidstone’s Cobtree Manor Park was top of the list for her debut event which is described as a ‘magical, illuminated wonderland with mesmerising light and art installations, spectacular projections and charming soundscapes.’

“I went to Cobtree a few years ago and thought it was amazing. It had been snowing and it just looked so lovely. So many elements of the park are perfect; it has lots of little sections, woodland, a meadow, conifers that look like Christmas trees and an avenue of trees that will look stunning lit up. It’s like something out of a film.”

Maidstone Borough Council has been great, Lisa says, supporting her when other councils wouldn’t.

“Even the groundsman at Cobtree Park has been amazing,” Lisa adds, “He’s really responsive and always willing to help me solve problems.”

Despite focusing on delivering spectacular, high-end events, making the arts accessible to all has been one of the business’s key values from the start, as Lisa says, “This type of event is expensive to produce but we’re working really hard to get the balance right between an amazing experience and affordability. It was also important to me to put on an event on people’s doorsteps in Kent: somewhere as many people as possible can attend.”

As part of this drive for inclusivity, a number of sessions have been reserved as ‘sensory slots’ for those with additional needs and neurodiversity. The trial will also be tested by wheelchair users to ensure suitability for disabled visitors.

Keen to involve the local community too, Lisa successfully applied for Arts Council Funding and is holding workshops with a local primary school where children will create lanterns for display on the trail.

As well as the usual teething problems many new businesses face, like so many others, Lisa had to contend with issues caused by the pandemic. With the world reopening and events firmly back on the agenda, suppliers are fully booked or sadly, many are no longer in business meaning sourcing basic supplies such as toilets and fencing has been a challenge. But it’s been a valuable learning experience.

“To anyone starting up on their own, I’d say cash is king; so many suppliers want payment up front which can make managing your cashflow really difficult. It’s the number one reason new businesses fail so try to get as much capital in place as early as you can: through friends, family or applying for funding,” Lisa advises.

“Also, make sure you have a solid business plan in place. Network as much as possible; you never know how that one person you meet could make the difference between succeeding or not. Then – just go for it! If you’re passionate, you’ll make it work.”

As the anticipation builds for the trail launch in December, Lisa is already thinking ahead to next year

“All of our pre-Christmas sessions are sold out already so I’m thrilled it’s proving popular,” she says, “My plan is that this will be an annual event at Cobtree and I’ll also expand Glow Arts to start putting on private events, too.

“For now, I’m just excited for the launch and to see all the past few months of hard work come to fruition!”