BURLEY-in-Wharfedale has this year marked 38 years of its famous Christmas Lights display. They say, “mighty oaks from little acorns grow” and that is certainly true of the Christmas display! It started 38 years ago when village resident Tom Sumner put a simple set of BBQ lights on a tree in the fountain area at the bottom of Station Road; the area was being renovated as part of a village project. During this project, the local butcher, Dick Hargrave, was asked if a set of lights could be put up in the tree and run over to his shop on the corner in order to use his power supply. He readily agreed and so it began….

The following year the display was added to with some extra lights borrowed from Bradford Council so covering a small area at the centre of the village. This continued for several years as a family affair with Dick the butcher and Tom Sumner and his children helping each year, and the lights extending further with some funding help from the then Burley Community Council.

By Christmas of 1994, the display had grown to such an extent that it needed more helpers, and articles in the local paper asked for volunteers. This resulted in more people being involved, a proper community activity.

In 1995, Bradford Council withdrew funding for the Christmas tree. The villagers did not moan but carried on with the help of local businesses and for many years Burley-in-Wharfedale’s Christmas tree was provided by Yorkshire Water and collected by the Burley-in-Wharfedale Round Table.

When that source finally ended, local people donated overgrown trees from their gardens and finally, the decision was taken to grow a permanent tree. The Christmas Lights display was by now growing bigger and better each year and receiving acclaim from far and wide.

Since 1995, there has been a switch-on ceremony and, over the years, many famous faces have officiated at this: from TV presenters to sports stars as well as local personalities. In 2019, the lights were switched on by Sylvia Tilford, another village legend, known in particular for her exceptional work on the parish council and with the Burley Summer Festival.

There is also a Christmas Market which started as a few stalls on the park and with the help of Burley Chamber of Trade has grown to a full street market. Together with children’s rides, a steam engine offering rides, a craft fair, choirs and a visit from Father Christmas, the event now provides a whole afternoon of entertainment for all the family!

The Burley lights continue to improve and are maintained and upgraded with funding from the Community Trust, Burley Parish Council, BADCOT and the general public. As with any large-scale project, there have been challenges over the years but Tom and his team have always succeeded in overcoming any problems, going from strength to strength. For example, new streetlights with sockets and timers on have been installed by Bradford Council and there has been much help from Bradford Festival Lights. The local press has always helped by reporting favourably on the village’s endeavours.

Storage of the lights has always been an issue, but thanks should go to the Corner Shop (Deli), Dacre Son and Hartley, Burley Cricket Club, the old Post Office and all who have provided space free of charge in their cellars, garages, containers and so on. Without them, the lights could not possibly have grown as they have. It’s no easy feat safely storing £25000 to £30000 worth of Christmas features, lights, nativity scenes, equipment and so on.

More recently Bradford Council kindly gave us the old toilet block in the centre of the village and removed the internal walls and cubicles, so some items are stored there. Sadly now the roof requires urgent repairs to stop water ingress damaging the items inside.

As with any community project, funding is an ongoing concern and the costs continually rise; often it’s the unseen costs which are the biggest challenge. Basic equipment such as rope, clips and cutters all need to be paid for, together with safety equipment such as ladders, ladder collars and so on:

the list is endless.

This really important village event brings everyone together and also results in valuable income for the local shops, pubs and businesses, and helps raise funds for many local groups. Anyone wishing to join Burley Community Trust, only £15 per year, would be very welcome as this is the Trust’s main source of funding, together with the annual Duck Race.

Anyone wishing to help with the Christmas Lights display please contact Tom Sumner on 07932 791583. He and the team are always looking for new volunteers to join the happy band; it’s a friendly group and it’s a good way to meet new people - all ages and abilities welcome! There’s a fantastic display of lights up in Burley now but help is also needed with taking them down in January!