While the sector was greatly affected by the challenges of the pandemic, it has showed great resilience and adaptability. The town overall is witnessing a cultural renewal with an exemplar Local Cultural Education Partnership, strong emerging creative sector with more creatives producing in the town than ever before, and growing multi-art offer.
The town is steeped in history, largely due to its role in the fishing and shipbuilding industry and has a range of volunteer-led museums and heritage centres. Artists are inspired by the expansive landscape with big skies and wonderful light, sandy beaches and links to the Broads National Park and Carlton Marshes.
In November 2022, it was announced that Lowestoft, for the first time ever, Arts Council England would appoint First Light Festival CIC and the Seagull Theatre as National Portfolio Organisations (NPO’s) in recognition of their contribution to the sector. Since 2019, East Suffolk Council has invested into the First Light Festival which attracts 40,000+ visitors a year over the 2-day multi-arts festival, whilst delivering year-round cultural and engagement opportunities for schools and residents.
Through the Towns Fund, East Suffolk Council is working with the Marina Theatre Trust to upgrade a much-loved theatre, through extending its stage to attract a wider theatre programme. Furthermore, ESC is working with Lowestoft Town Council to secure funding for the restoration of the former Town Hall and for it to become a space for community activity, including a gallery and heritage hub.
The Lowestoft Cultural Strategy Celebrating Culture on the Edge: A New Dawn launched in late 2019, set out an ambitious plan to raise the profile of culture in the town, in terms of boosting the local economy, more creative opportunities for more people and supporting pride in place. The Council is now leading on the district wide East Suffolk Cultural Strategy 2023-2028 which was published in February 2023, and sets out how arts and culture, heritage and creativity can and will continue to exert positive impacts with our local communities across East Suffolk.
The Historic Quarter sits within the North Lowestoft Conservation Area, and encompasses the historic High Street and Scores which provide physical links between the High Street and the Denes.
The Town Hall redevelopment forms part of the Lowestoft Town Investment Plan. Led by Lowestoft Town Council with support from East Suffolk Council, the vacant Grade II listed Town Hall will be restored and extended to become an inclusive centre for the community and visitors to the town. It will be occupied by ‘anchor tenants’ including Lowestoft Town Council and the remainder of the building will have public / community use at the forefront.
Led by: Lowestoft Town Council
Partners: East Suffolk Council, Shelia Moss King Associates, HAT Projects and PLB Ltd
Cost: £9.2m (Towns Fund £2m, East Suffolk Council £900,000, National Lottery Heritage Fund £3.2m)
Timeframe: Summer 2024 – Spring 2026
Linked to First Light’s themes of time and tide, the year-round programme will include a winter fair, Easter celebration and late summer bank holiday event, all with music and cultural activity, food and drink traders and a range of local producers. There will also be regular ticketed events targeted at a Lowestoft audience, that by the end of the project would take place monthly. Linked to and promoted by the First Light Festival brand, the pitch fees, drinks commission and ticket income from the year-round events will increase so that by 2027 they will be self-sustaining.
This project will support an annual First Light Festival that will embed cultural growth by supporting year-round activities that promote and utilise local cultural assets including the seafront, Historic Quarter, Station Quarter, and Cultural Quarter.
It is anticipated that First Light Festival will drive investment in the cultural sector, attracting creative industries and people to develop Lowestoft into a cultural hub. It will increase interaction with local communities and artists, demonstrating an ongoing commitment to cultural regeneration activity, increasing opportunities for social interaction and growing social cohesion.
In 2022, First Light Festival CIC, along with the Seagull Theatre, became Lowestoft’s first National Portfolio Organisations (NPO’s), and will receive annual funding between 2023-2026. Arts Council England identify NPO’s as ‘leaders in their areas, with a collective responsibility to protect and develop our national arts and cultural ecology’.
Led by: First Light Festival CIC
Partners: East Suffolk Council, Arts Council England, Suffolk County Council
Heritage Action Zones champion the value of heritage within high streets, using heritage for positive change and to address decline. The projects promote sympathetic and sustainable improvements to the historic environment through capital grants, enhance the vitality of the high street through a cultural programme of activity, as well as engage with communities to celebrate Lowestoft’s fascinating heritage.
The North Lowestoft Heritage Action Zone (HAZ) ran from 2018-2023, and focused on the North Lowestoft Conservation Area which includes the medieval High Street, Scores, historic smokehouses, net stores, and parks. The North Lowestoft HAZ completed in 2023 but is succeeded by a Partnership Scheme in a Conservation Area (PSiCA) to continue investment in the historic environment in the High Street. In 2020, the North HAZ was joined by the London Road, Lowestoft High Street Heritage Action Zone (HSHAZ) which encompasses part of the South Lowestoft Conservation Area which will end in 2024.
Lowestoft was one of only seven places in the country to benefit from two Heritage Action Zones and is joint funded between East Suffolk Council and Historic England, delivered in partnership with Lowestoft Town Council, Lowestoft Vision (Business Improvement District and part of the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce) and the East Suffolk Building Preservation Trust.