'Phenomenal response' to Lowestoft Heritage Festival

International Boatbuilding Training College Rob Harbord Lowestoft

Rob Harbord with handmade oars that were demonstrated at the International Boatbuilding Training College open weekend. - Credit: Mick Howes

Volunteers behind one of the largest heritage festivals in the country have hailed a "phenomenal response" from the public.

Boasting a line up of almost 120 free to explore events across town, organisers of the Lowestoft Heritage Open Days Festival revealed that more than 18,000 visits took place this year as attendances topped pre-Covid pandemic numbers.

The award-winning 10-day celebration of Lowestoft’s culture and heritage was staged during September on a budget of just £1,000 and it contained more free to enjoy activities than any individual town or city in England.

Events took place across north and south Lowestoft, Carlton Colville, Corton, Oulton Broad and Pakefield, while several live events were performed to capacity audiences as some content was also streamed via the internet.

Festival highlights included music recitals, talks, guided walks and exhibitions as well as opportunities to visit buildings rarely open to the public.

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There was a free vintage bus service and free entry to one of the region’s top transport museums on the opening Saturday.

herring blessing ceremony Pakefield Lowestoft

Diana Moore, Curate Rev Becki Bensusan and Rev Sharon Lord blessing the herring at the popular Herring and Ale Fayre. - Credit: Mick Howes

The festival, for which this year’s national theme was Edible England, then culminated in a special Herring and Ale Fayre held on Oddfellows Green, Pakefield which attracted some 4,000 people.

Chair of the Lowestoft Heritage Open Days volunteer steering group, Diana Moore, said: “We have been absolutely thrilled with the response this year with a phenomenal 18,000 visits taking place across over 100 events staged in just 10 days.

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“It is gratifying to be able to showcase the rich diversity of attractions that Lowestoft, so often undervalued, has to offer and we thank every individual and organisation that helped us to curate such a varied series of events and the public who came along in their thousands to both celebrate and learn more about the unique culture and heritage of our town.”

The festival was last fully staged in 2019, attracting some 15,000 visits, going on to win a prestigious national award.

Alice Taylor, net-making, at the Lowestoft Maritime Heritage Fair.

Alice Taylor, net-making, at the Lowestoft Maritime Heritage Fair. - Credit: Mick Howes

During 2020, the event had to be scaled back considerably due to the Covid-19 pandemic with many activities moving online.

This year’s festival attendances surpassed organisers expectations with the tourist information facility at Lowestoft railway station which hosted the festival information hub welcoming scores of visitors.

The Lowestoft Heritage Open Days Festival committee.

The Lowestoft Heritage Open Days Festival committee. - Credit: Kate Ellis

Martin Halliday, development officer at Community Rail Norfolk, said: “We were delighted to support the Lowestoft Heritage Open Days Festival again this year, with Lowestoft station hosting both the festival information hub and a series of talks, film screenings and exhibitions inside the Parcels Office.

“This is the fourth year running that we have been able to assist, utilising our Lowestoft Central Project and Wherry Lines Community Rail Partnership facilities and it was gratifying to hear so many positive comments about the festival and welcome so many visitors from both within the area and further afield, many of whom arrived by train.”

This year’s festival was financially supported by a £1000 grant from Lowestoft Town Council.

Andy Pearce Lowestoft town councillor

Lowestoft town councillor Andy Pearce speaks at the civic ceremony on South Pier, Lowestoft. - Credit: Mick Howes

Cllr Andy Pearce said: “Lowestoft Town Council was pleased to provide financial support to the festival this year and we were absolutely astounded by the sheer range and quality of activities available and the incredible response from the public.

"Our sincere thanks go to Diana Moore and members of the festival steering group for their hard work in curating, managing, and promoting such a terrific series of events.”

The Excelsior took centre stage at the Lowestoft Maritime Heritage Fair.

The Excelsior took centre stage at the Lowestoft Maritime Heritage Fair. - Credit: Mick Howes

Other highlights of the festival included a chance to look around the Grade 2 listed Royal Norfolk and Suffolk Yacht Club, celebrations marking the 100th birthday of historic Lowestoft fishing smack Excelsior, behind the scenes tours of the St John Ambulance station, Lowestoft Town Football Club and the last surviving smokehouse on the Beach Village.

Classic 1963 Austin ambulance latest SJA emergency ambulance Lowestoft

A classic 1963 Austin ambulance and the latest SJA emergency ambulance showing how ambulances have improved over the last six decades. - Credit: Mick Howes

There were also talks by leading local historians and tours around Corton village, once home to the Colman family who created the iconic mustard brand, and a special talk and dinner celebrating Lowestoft’s fishing industry and its relationship with top chef, Madame Prunier.

Planning has already begun for the 2022 event with more details set to be revealed later this year.

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