Lowestoft, the country’s most easterly point, is seeing huge investment in its infrastructure, but cultural activity can also be a key contributor to its economic growth and prosperity, says First Light Festival director Genevieve Christie.
Tell us about the First Light festival and how it has been impacted by the pandemic
“For us, the Covid pandemic came on the back of a hugely successful 2019 inaugural festival, which was very much about place-making and the regeneration of Lowestoft, shifting the narrative around how people see the town and shining a light on its really wonderful attributes. It has a fantastic coast and beach, as well as being the second largest town in Suffolk, and the festival was about encouraging people from the town and the outlying villages and hinterland to look to Lowestoft as a place where cultural activity can really thrive.
“We had to make the decision in 2020 that it was not possible to put on a safe festival. So, what we have done over the past eighteen months is keep a lot of our community connections with the groups and individual artists that we set up when we initiated the festival. Maintaining those connections was really important and enabled us to programme quite a lot of digital work. We produced a video about how to make your own film and this was sent to various arts practitioners who then made short films that were shared in schools and with the general public. In addition, we kept our partnerships going so we could put on a lovely winter solstice event, and most recently we were still able to create a safe and really enjoyable, place-making mini festival. I think that was a wonderful introduction for people to start feeling confident and reconnecting with each other, the place, and some really beautiful visual art.”
Tell us about next year’s event
“We are really looking forward to planning First Light 2022 and reaffirming the wonderful event we had in 2019 on the beach with a main stage and other venues, but also some new elements. We are very keen on a youth music aspect, so there will be a separate stage for that and a new theatre and spoken word stage. Wellbeing will be important too, so we will have open-air yoga and other activities, really connecting with the environment.”
You are a member of the recently established New Anglia Clean Growth Taskforce. Will First Light have a focus on the environment and sustainability?
“The science part of what we do is incredibly important because of our relationship with Cefas and the Natural History Museum. That will feed into our environmental focus, particularly in relation to renewable energy, and also the sea and issues with plastics, because the arts can help people to understand some of the enormous issues that are connected to environment and climate change. So, that will be something we will be focusing on very much in our programming.”
Increasing social mobility is also an aim of the festival. In what ways can cultural events help drive up aspirations in the region?
“In places like Lowestoft there is work to be done to show, outside of Covid, how vibrant the creative industries are and their enormous value to the economy. Things like the Local Cultural Education Partnerships are very important in schools in promoting culture and showing young people they can make a career in the creative industries. Of course, you must have culture happening in those places for people to connect to it. When you create something on the scale of First Light, that helps enormously because it immediately galvanises people in all sorts of ways, and they want to be part of it. Cultural activity helps our own personal expression, confidence and aspiration and you can take that in many directions.”
From the Third River Crossing in Great Yarmouth and the Gull Wing Bridge in Lowestoft to the towns’ joint bid to become the UK City of Culture in 2025, and not to mention the Banksy art trail, there is a lot happening in the area. What collective impact does this have?
"It’s incredible to see all that and each one thing that happens builds confidence and fosters inward investment. The kind of connectivity that the Gull Wing Bridge will deliver, and also the new flood defence system, is vital and will make a huge difference to the town. All those things seem to have taken a long time to get going and the fact they are now happening – coupled with an understanding that a town is not just a road system and infrastructure but the animation that goes on in it – means we will develop new, very people-centred town centres that are fit for the way we live going into the next decades.”
How important are campaigns like Head East, which was launched this summer to advertise the region’s cultural offer?
"I think Head East is a fantastic campaign, taking you from Felixstowe, the Waterfront in Ipswich, Christchurch Mansion, all the way up our beautiful coastline, and it brings together all of the cultural activities that are going on for people to see very easily and knits together the geography. Head East is a great name as well because the East of England has got so much to offer, and it really needs as much light as possible shining on it. First Light was about highlighting that Lowestoft is the most easterly place in the country and having that celebration around the midsummer weekend to see the midsummer sunrise – that resonates with people nationally and even internationally. We have live-streamed sunrise for the last few years, and we have had people from all over the world watching that. It’s captivating and things like that help people to realise that the East of England is the most spectacular part of Britain.”
Genevieve is among the speakers taking part in Delivering Greener Events, part of New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership’s Clean Growth for Business programme. To get practical advice and ideas for your next event, conference, or workshop, click here