Crowdfunding spotlight: Light the Night at Clifton Suspension Bridge - Museums Association

Crowdfunding spotlight: Light the Night at Clifton Suspension Bridge

On the evening of Friday 22 October, the residents of Bristol saw the skyline turn blue. Following months of planning and a successful crowdfunding campaign, Clifton Suspension Bridge was aglow with a technicolour lightshow for one magical night.

In autumn 2020, the Museums Association and Crowdfunder UK kicked off #SupportOurMuseums, a crowdfunding campaign offering museums and heritage sites across the UK a helping hand after months of Covid lockdowns and site closures.

The Clifton Suspension Bridge Trust soon joined the campaign, with “Light the Night” promising to “spread a smile across Bristol”. Funds raised were to support the educational work of the bridge’s visitor centre and to create a special evening of bridge illuminations.

The visitor centre is a free entry venue supported by a team of volunteers, which relies on income from donations, shop sales, tour tickets and project funding. When it closed for lockdowns during the pandemic, it suffered an almost complete loss of income.

Courtesy of the Clifton Suspension Bridge Trust

The campaign was a runaway success, raising £13,390 (plus Gift Aid) in only 28 days against an initial target of £10,000. #SupportOurMuseums has now raised more than £300,000 (plus more than £30,000 in Gift Aid) across 39 projects over the last year.

Every individual and business who pledged could vote on the colour of the illuminations, and blue emerged as the winner with 35% of the vote. The bridge is ordinarily only illuminated with white LEDs, which are strung across its chains. It rarely basks in colourful light, as the process requires additional specialist lighting equipment.

The exact date of the show was kept under wraps until shortly before the launch to stop large crowds from gathering at the site, but the illuminations were live-streamed on the bridge’s Twitter account so everyone across the city and the UK could enjoy the show safely. The date of 22 October was picked to mark the changing of the seasons and to bring cheer as the nights grow longer.

We spoke to Laura Hilton, the visitor services manager at the Clifton Suspension Bridge Trust, who told us more.

When we closed the visitor centre in March 2020, like many museums we lost almost all our income sources overnight. We were able to design a series of online activities to keep in contact with our audiences, but we weren’t sure how to continue raising money when we relied so heavily on in-person experiences. When the Museums Association announced the #SupportOurMuseums campaign, I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity.

We knew that we needed a really exciting tangible focus for the campaign: something that would make people excited to be a part of our project. It took us a while but we eventually hit on the idea of lighting the bridge. It’s a lot more complex than most people imagine so it doesn’t happen very often, but when we are able to do it, it’s a wonderful thing to see and it’s remembered for a long time. After such a difficult year in 2020, we thought illuminations would be a really special moment for the local community.

We had considered crowdfunding before, but we’d never been brave enough to take the plunge. I felt comforted by the support offered by the Museums Association and Crowdfunder UK – but the level of one-to-one help and encouragement we got exceeded my expectations!

I was absolutely staggered by the support that we got during the campaign; not only from local people but from local businesses too, and I learned that you should never be shy to ask for donations or financial support as you may be very happily surprised.

We had to add an extra reward tier too, just for the generous donation of our headline sponsor, Clifton College, and the project has led to a further two year sponsorship of our education programme with ITS Technology Group. And 52 of our individual donors chose to remain completely anonymous too: the only reward they wanted was to see the bridge lit up!

During the live campaign, the Crowdfunder took over our lives! I was constantly refreshing the page to watch donations coming in, and was getting excited texts and emails from volunteers and staff each time we hit a nice round number.

Thanks to ongoing Covid restrictions and some bridge maintenance activities, the illuminations took place somewhat later than planned – but everyone has been so wonderfully patient with it and the extra time allowed us to add in a couple of surprises.

Laura Hilton, Visitor Services Manager, Clifton Suspension Bridge Trust