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First Light Festival one year on: How ‘untested gamble’ put town on tourist map

PUBLISHED: 10:44 20 June 2020 | UPDATED: 10:44 20 June 2020

Eddie Lambert, four, front, with Maya Day, five, and Elliott Barnard, four, inside the dragon on the beach at Lowestoft's First Light Festival. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Eddie Lambert, four, front, with Maya Day, five, and Elliott Barnard, four, inside the dragon on the beach at Lowestoft's First Light Festival. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Almost a year ago to the day around 40,000 people basked in the sun and under the stars on Lowestoft’s South Beach for a weekend like the town had never seen before.

Children paddle in the sea along with the straw 'Pakefield Man' at Lowestoft's First Light Festival. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYChildren paddle in the sea along with the straw 'Pakefield Man' at Lowestoft's First Light Festival. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The inaugural First Light Festival welcomed visitors from around the UK and beyond, including some from New Zealand, with an array of arts, music and workshops to keep the crowds entertained for 24 hours straight.

Yet this year’s outing, due to be held this weekend, has been forced to move online in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Kerry Blair, head of operations at East Suffolk Council, said: “Last year was more successful than we could have ever hoped for.

“We thought about 10,000 people would come, but it was completely untested and a bit of a gamble.

The First Light Festival in Lowestoft as captured at night. Picture: Mick HowesThe First Light Festival in Lowestoft as captured at night. Picture: Mick Howes

“According to the police estimate, there were around 40,000 people. The sun was shining and it was fantastic.

“It did exactly what we hoped by bringing people in with contemporary and interesting entertainment and activities.”

While the 2019 festival, held on the weekend of June 22 and 23, generated up to £900,000 in economic benefits, it also greatly increased the profile of the town on the tourist map.

Mr Blair said: “I spoke to people from London and Kent and all over, many of who had never been to Lowestoft before, but a survey found 98pc of them would come again.

Elise Day, eight, on the back of the dragon, at Lowestoft's First Light Festival. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYElise Day, eight, on the back of the dragon, at Lowestoft's First Light Festival. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

“We knew we had a fantastic location and a great beach and we wanted more people to come and see it.

“It is a hidden gem and people don’t know how wonderful it is.

“We wanted to throw our doors open and welcome people and the town did just that.

“There were so many heartwarming stories of great hospitality from the residents and businesses.”

People enjoying Kensington Gardens as part of the Lowestoft's First Light Festival. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYPeople enjoying Kensington Gardens as part of the Lowestoft's First Light Festival. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The 2020 festival was postponed in March following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Blair said: “It was a really hard decision to cancel because we were so excited to have it and so many other great things happening in Lowestoft, but the most important this is public safety.

“It was the right decision and I am pleased there will be lots of online activities.

“As we emerge from a really difficult period, the town has a really bright future.

The First Light Festival in Lowestoft at night. Picture: Mick HowesThe First Light Festival in Lowestoft at night. Picture: Mick Howes

“The festival is about Lowestoft being the leading light of what happens along this coastline and the council continues to support it and we are looking forward to the plans for 2021.”

A range of activities will be held throughout the festival’s 24 hour period, starting at noon on Saturday, and will be streamed on the First Light Festival Facebook page.

Some of the crowds at the First Light Festival in Lowestoft. Picture: Mick HowesSome of the crowds at the First Light Festival in Lowestoft. Picture: Mick Howes

Beverley Coraldean of Print to the People teaches Annette Pierson, right, how to print a t-shirt at Lowestoft's First Light Festival. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYBeverley Coraldean of Print to the People teaches Annette Pierson, right, how to print a t-shirt at Lowestoft's First Light Festival. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

A crowded beach for Lowestoft's First Light Festival, with the Sunlight Stage on the left. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYA crowded beach for Lowestoft's First Light Festival, with the Sunlight Stage on the left. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Enjoying the popular Beach Bar at Lowestoft's First Light Festival. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYEnjoying the popular Beach Bar at Lowestoft's First Light Festival. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Yoga in the Well-being by the Waves wigwam at Lowestoft's First Light Festival. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYYoga in the Well-being by the Waves wigwam at Lowestoft's First Light Festival. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

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