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Lowestoft's First Light Festival set to return in 2022 as East Suffolk Council ploughs £200,000 in to event




Funding of £200,000 has been committed by East Suffolk Council’s cabinet for the First Light Festival to return to Lowestoft beach next summer, with the council expecting it to be a “joyful nexus of cultural recovery” for the town.

The inaugural event attracted 30,000 people to the town’s South Beach, but Covid-19 forced the event to be postponed in 2020 and 2021.

Councillors are pushing ahead with the festival’s return next summer, and at Tuesday night’s cabinet meeting committed the six-figure sum to ensure it can go ahead.

The inaugural First Light Festival on Lowestoft's South Beach, 2019. Picture: Kate Ellis
The inaugural First Light Festival on Lowestoft's South Beach, 2019. Picture: Kate Ellis

Craig Rivett, the Conservative cabinet member for economic development, said: “Clear of Covid restrictions, the beach full of visitors and residents alike, bigger and better than before – that’s what we want to see.”

“The First Light Festival 2022 will be bigger and better than before with the youth focus and the clear message of leaving no trace.”

The cash includes £114, 277 available from the 2019/20 business rates retention programme, coupled with an additional £85,723 from growth funds.

The inaugural First Light Festival on Lowestoft's South Beach, 2019. Picture: Kate Ellis
The inaugural First Light Festival on Lowestoft's South Beach, 2019. Picture: Kate Ellis

The event is expected to cost around £414,000 in 2022, with the remainder of the funding coming from earned income and grants.

The inaugural event gave the town an economic boost of around £900,000 as festival-goers flocked to the beach.

That year featured a 100 per cent booking rate with hotels and B&Bs for the night of the event, while car park income shot up 183 per cent.

Craig Rivett, East Suffolk Council deputy leader and cabinet member for economic development. Picture: East Suffolk Council (51015771)
Craig Rivett, East Suffolk Council deputy leader and cabinet member for economic development. Picture: East Suffolk Council (51015771)

Cafes, bars, restaurants and stallholders all benefited from the footfall, too.

More than a third of visitors – 35 per cent – had never visited the town before, with 96 per cent saying they would visit again, according to research by the council.

Cllr Rivett said that “so many bought into what, at the time, was an idea on a piece of paper,” while Labour councillor for Pakefield, Louise Gooch, added: “Nobody who went would ever forget it – it was phenomenally beautiful.”

The 24-hour festival will once again feature music, dance and theatre performances; art and science activities; DJ sets; comedy routines, open mic sets; poetry readings; community swims and film broadcasts.

Elsewhere, large illuminated artworks are being planned to light up the beach at night, while schools will also be involved in a host of collaborative programmes.

A plan is being pursued to continue the event long-term with a reducing dependence on council funding.

That includes ambitions to become a National Portfolio Organisation with Arts Council England that will bring longer-term funding, as well as commercial sponsorship and earned income opportunities.

The council’s report added: “The First Light Festival has been the flagship cultural event in Lowestoft since the inaugural festival in 2019.

“It has changed internal and external perceptions of the town being a tired, run‐down seaside resort and put Lowestoft on the national and international map as an energetic and creative place.

“It has re‐imagined the South Beach and celebrated Lowestoft’s unique position on the east coast and is central to Lowestoft place making ambitions.”

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