First Light Festival

A 24-hour arts festival for the UK's most easterly town - the place where the first light of dawn hits our shores every day.
Type: Brand Identity, Placemaking & Events
Date: 2019 - present

First Light Festival is a truly unique, multi-arts beach & beach front festival that, as the sun rises, celebrates the UK’s ‘First Light’ of the day as it touches Britain on the seafront of its most easterly town, Lowestoft.

First Light originated as part of Hemingway Design’s strategy for Lowestoft South Beach Vision, commissioned by Waveney District Council in 2017 with an aim to make Lowestoft a ‘must visit’ destination.

It took place for the very first time over 24 hours of the midsummer weekend in June 2019 on Lowestoft’s South Beach and seafront. With free access and 160+ innovative and engaging events, it is a festival with a difference that celebrates Britain’s most easterly town. In its first year, highlights included a headline set from BBC Radio 6 DJ Gilles Peterson, a talk led by Simon Mayo, a midnight screening of Danny Boyle’s Sunrise, accompanied by a Q&A discussion with the director himself and Talvin Singh performing just as the sun came up over the sea.

It is estimated that 30,000 people were in attendance over the course of 24 hours, with visitors rating their experience as 9.4 out of 10. Its economic impact was considerable, specifically, an investment of £90,000 of business rates retained by East Suffolk Council was converted into between £700-£900k of direct spend at the festival. This is in addition to wider financial benefit to local hotels, restaurants and bars, which all sold out!

When it became clear that festivals were cancelled for 2020, our team wanted to make sure that the First Light community still came together. We devised ‘First Light From Home’; a curated and interactive schedule of entertainment over the summer solstice weekend. The virtual event offered ways for everyone to engage with the festival and was a great success, fetching 16.7K video views and a grand total of 49.4K visitors across the website.

Highlights included an interactive session of spoken word, music, video and live performance with The National Youth theatre; live DJ sets from local talent streamed on Facebook and Instagram; musical performances and poetry. To keep kids and creatives alike entertained, we also hosted workshops on the First Light Festival website where our community were guided in getting creative with household products. To top off an already jam-packed weekend, the audience was invited to a live broadcast of the sun rising over the Suffolk sea on the longest day of the year. What a way to wake up!

“Exciting things are happening in Lowestoft after a number of years of stagnation if not decline. Starting with East Suffolk council working with HemingwayDesign, a non-standard, left field, creatively led, community focused design agency to create a vision for Lowestoft’s South Beach, and the hugely impactful, and nationally celebrated First Light Festival, co founded and curatorially led by locally focused arts agency Flipside. There are a number of exciting and potentially game changing projects and initiatives that have been funded following on from this, including infrastructure projects, and the creative repurposing of the East Point Pavilion. There can be no doubt that the creative and arts led “noise“ that started on the South Beach is sounding loud and clear nationally and helping the town receive its long overdue share of national infrastructure budgets “ Kerry Blair – head of operations, East Suffolk Council

After a three-year hiatus due to the pandemic, First Light Festival returned on the 18th and 19th of June 2022. With music, dance, poetry, comedy, science, art, storytelling, DJs, beach bars, outdoor cinema and much more, we welcomed both locals and visitors to South Beach for a full weekend of activities. We introduced an additional night of wild camping on the Friday evening, and extended the celebrations right up to the Sunday evening where the fun continued at East Point Pavilion.

In November 2022, the festival was granted National Portfolio Organisation (NPO) status by Arts Council England, an incredible achievement for everyone involved in the project. You can read more about this here.

In 2023, First Light returned with an outdoor programme of free, un-ticketed activities for all. With new arts venues, pubs and restaurants, fancy beach huts and a restored pier, the UK’s most easterly town is getting its mojo back, as recognised by The Guardian in 2023.

Keep an eye on the First Light Festival Instagram to hear the dates for 2024.

There can be no doubt that the creative and arts-led ‘noise’ that was amplified massively by First Light is sounding loud and clear nationally and helping the town receive its long overdue share of national infrastructure budgets.

Kerry Blair, East Suffolk Council