The organisers of Britain's only non-stop beach festival and management at a popular community theatre are celebrating after receiving national recognition.

Lowestoft Journal: First Light Festival in Lowestoft in 2022.First Light Festival in Lowestoft in 2022. (Image: Newsquest)

First Light Festival C.I.C in Lowestoft and the Seagull Theatre in Pakefield have become the first two organisations in town to have been awarded National Portfolio Organisation (NPO) status.

Lowestoft Journal:

With the latest round of funding from Arts Council England announced last Friday, it means The Seagull and First Light Festival C.I.C are among 276 organisations who will join the portfolio from April next year.

Joining the existing 714 cultural institutes in Arts Council England’s portfolio, both The Seagull Theatre and First Light Festival C.I.C will receive funding over three years.

Lowestoft Journal: The Seagull Theatre, Pakefield.The Seagull Theatre, Pakefield. (Image: Seagull Theatre)

The Seagull said that joining the National Portfolio "will provide the theatre with additional funding for three years from 2023" which will allow them to "expand and develop" their current work, while First Light Festival C.I.C will "deliver further and more in-depth creative experiences in the region."

Lowestoft Journal: First Light Festival Lowestoft.First Light Festival Lowestoft. (Image: First Light Festival)

For theatre management, it culminates a 15-year process of growth and development for the community-focused venue.

Based in the former Morton Road Infant School, the Seagull was formed when the previously local authority funded arts training venue closed in 2007.

From humble beginnings of boarded windows and a leaking roof, the not-for-profit organisation has slowly built a respected reputation for the quality of its arts development and its supportive programme of community services.

It runs an extensive dementia support programme alongside several different youth groups and free activities for people with learning disabilities.

The theatre now plans to offer more funded opportunities for local creatives to develop new work as well as being able to expand their youth offer and commission an annual season of high quality but low price drama performances.

Lowestoft Journal: Inside the Seagull Theatre, Pakefield.Inside the Seagull Theatre, Pakefield. (Image: Seagull Theatre)

In years to come, the theatre hopes to work closely with the First Light Festival to develop more arts opportunities in the town and find even more ways to fulfil its mission to "transform the community through the arts."

Having run the hugely successful First Light Festival since 2019, as well as a series of creative and community programmes - including the Market Place Project and the successful redevelopment of Lowestoft’s East Point Pavilion - now as a portfolio organisation, First Light Festival C.I.C will contribute to "ensuring that more people in more places can find fantastic, fulfilling art and culture on their doorsteps."

'Fantastic news'

Seagull Theatre manager Karen Read said: "This is such fantastic news for us, but also for our community.

Lowestoft Journal: Karen Read, Seagull Theatre manager.Karen Read, Seagull Theatre manager. (Image: Seagull Theatre)

"What has been developed at The Seagull is a space for our local community to get involved with the arts and to be supported.

"We know that our town has some challenges and have from the outset sought to use theatre and the arts to support local people in finding their own ways to improve wellbeing and develop the community.

"This offer from the Arts Council is really recognition of all the hard work put in by our volunteers, our staff, the local creative community and of course our wonderful audiences who have supported us over the years.

"We look forward to paying back our community with even more opportunities in the future."

Genevieve Christie, chief executive of First Light Festival C.I.C, said: "This is a huge step forward for First Light, and a real recognition of the vibrant, cultural place that Lowestoft is.

Lowestoft Journal: Genevieve Christie.Genevieve Christie. (Image: Newsquest)

"Our vision is to shine a light on the creative people and communities that call the town and its hinterland home, and this three-year funding cycle will allow us to showcase this high-quality talent on a national platform.

"Lowestoft has long been a unique hub of artistic inspiration and community spirit, and this investment in the town will allow First Light to further develop this ambition, both at a grassroots level, and as part of the county’s wider creative landscape."

Clare Matterson, chair of First Light Festival C.I.C Board of Directors said: “This is sensational news for the organisation.

"As an NPO, we’ll be able to extend the reach and depth of our work, and continue to create exciting, engaging opportunities in the town."

Craig Rivett, Deputy Leader at East Suffolk Council said: "This is fantastic news and a well deserved boost for First Light Festival C.I.C and Lowestoft.

Lowestoft Journal: Craig Rivett.Craig Rivett. (Image: Mick Howes)

"We are proud to have provided financial support for events which have created so much enjoyment and really put this part of the country on the map.

"The C.I.C is run by a brilliant, imaginative team and this is a real reward for what they have achieved."