While the sector has been greatly affected by the challenges of the pandemic, it has showed great resilience and adaptability. The town overall has witnessed a cultural renewal with an exemplar Local Cultural Education Partnership, worked in collaboration with Great Yarmouth Borough Council to deliver a Great Places scheme, and created its own Cultural Strategy led by a Leadership Group. In November 2022, it was announced that Lowestoft, for the first time ever, has two locally based National Portfolio Organisations which brings further investment into the town and recognises First Light Festival CIC and the Seagull Theatre contribution to the sector as cultural leaders.
The town is also 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. There is a strong emerging creative sector, and more creatives producing in the town than ever before. To support the sector, in 2021 we launched the Virtual Creative Hub which provided support, networking events and workshops to creatives delivering work in the town.
The Council has recently invested into the First Light Festival which attracts between 30,000-35,000 visitors a year over the 24-hour 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.
In 2021 Lowestoft, along with the rest of the district and Great Yarmouth Borough Council we applied to become the next City of Culture 2025. Our application was supported by over a hundred different local and national organisations. A legacy from the application process was being awarded £250,000 from the Spirit 2012 to deliver a cultural volunteering project in the area. During the same year, Lowestoft was visited by the street artist Banksy during his Great Spraycation, thousands of visitors flocked to Lowestoft and Oulton Board to see the artwork which brought a lot of excitement and national attention.
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 a district wide cultural strategy that will be published in Spring 2023, that will take account of the current needs and opportunities of the sector post pandemic.
The Historic Quarter project was developed as part of the Celebrating our Culture and Heritage section of the Lowestoft Investment Plan; a 10-year delivery plan of projects which are interlinked and will deliver a wide range of improvement to support the objectives of the town.
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The Historic Quarter sits within the North Lowestoft Heritage Action Zone which is a five-year conservation-led regeneration project and the North Lowestoft Conservation Area. The Historic Quarter has been allocated Towns Funding for two important projects.
Led by Lowestoft Town Council, the former Town Hall will be restored and redeveloped into an events space, gallery, heritage hub and café and much more. Development funding has been secured from National Lottery Heritage Fund, Architectural Heritage Fund and Historic England, alongside the £2million through the Towns Deal. Lowestoft Town Council have appointed HAT Projects as led architects to draw up a scheme which will be consulted on in the coming months. Local historians continue to be engaged during the development of the project to ensure the significance of the building is understood and widely communicated. There have been many surveys completed to enable the project to progress to the next stage of development with the aim to submit a delivery phase application to National Lottery Fund in late Spring. Activities have also been taking place across the town, including capturing people’s memories of the Town Hall and the town’s famous industries – like Birds Eye, Eastern Coach Works, Pye/Sanyo. In recent weeks the Lowestoft Stories Tricycle produced by local company Scenic Projects Ltd and designed to look like a fishing smack has been ‘mooring’ at heritage events to catch conversations and distribute evocative postcards prompting written contributions.
The second project is the restoration of the Lowestoft Scores, these are a network of narrow hillside footpaths connecting the High Street with the former fishing community. The work will see repairs to the Scores (repairs have already taken place at Crown Score Wall and Mariners Archway). Last year ESC commissioned a landscape architect to draw up a concept to improve connectivity and the visitor experience. The concept is part of a much larger ambition to bring forgotten and neglected parcels of land and redevelop them into pocket parks, including play areas, community allotments and small event spaces. With the Towns Deal the Council are able to work with partners to make enhancements to a number of Scores, to improve lighting, paving and wayfinding.
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’.
The Lowestoft Heritage Action Zones are heritage-led regeneration projects which use the historic environment to stimulate economic, social and cultural growth.
The North Lowestoft Heritage Action Zone (HAZ) was established in 2018, and focuses on the North Lowestoft Conservation Area which includes the medieval High Street, Scores, historic smokehouses, net stores, and Lowestoft’s once fine Victorian Parks. The boundary also includes areas closely bordering the conservation area, including those earmarked for new residential development to the west, the industrial setting of the PowerPark, and the open space of the UK’s most Easterly heritage park, The Ness.
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.
The Heritage Action Zones champion the value of heritage within high streets, using heritage for positive change and to address the current decline facing the areas. The projects encourage sympathetic and sustainable improvements to the built environment, where communities have pride in place and are actively engaged in the area’s protection and presentation through a programme of events and training, and will become a more vibrant place to invest in and do business, where the historic character and environment brings forward new ideas and innovation.
Lowestoft is 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.
In October 2020, Think Lowestoft submitted projects for consideration to MHCLG as part of the Lowestoft Town Investment Plan, with the Heritage Action Zones featuring heavily in strategic priority and vision for for the town.
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