The Marina Theatre – Lowestoft’s Cultural Living Room
Since the establishment of the Marina Theatre Trust as a registered charity more than five years ago, we have gone through a significant period of change, all with a very clear purpose of seeking to build a solid and resilient community-facing organisation that will look forward with conviction to a bright future, thriving in the hearts and minds of the people of Lowestoft.
The Marina Theatre is the second-largest theatre in Suffolk, hosting a diverse live programme of more than 200 performances – comparable in diversity and scale to most theatres in the East – including touring drama and musicals, comedy, opera, classical and contemporary music, dance, children’s shows, community performances and an annual pantomime. We also present over 275 films and live screenings each year.
Sitting proudly at the centre of Lowestoft, the UK’s most easterly coastal town, the Marina originally opened in the Victorian era. Our auditorium seats 775 and is visited by over 80,000 people per year. We are at the cultural heart of the wider Waveney and East Suffolk communities, drawing audiences from across our region; from the eastern coastline and inland to Norwich and south to Suffolk’s coastal towns and villages. People come through our doors to enjoy events, meet up over a tea or coffee and just spend time together and we want to encourage more of that so that we become better known as Lowestoft’s social and cultural living room.
The Marina is firmly rooted in its community & plays an active part in the arts ecology of the East, working with regional partner theatres & companies such as Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds, New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich & High Tide. The Marina is also a key cultural member of Lowestoft’s Cultural Strategy Board, Cultural Education Partnership, Lowestoft Vision & the Great Places: Making Waves Together project. We have a strong commitment to support the people of Lowestoft and the wider area not simply by presenting an outstanding and varied programme in our auditorium but in delivering a variety of learning and social programmes outside of our building.
We launched our outreach, learning and community offer in 2017 with the mission to inspire, educate and create opportunities for the whole community to engage with the arts but also to engage more with each other. We’ve launched three youth theatre groups and a weekly over 50s drama group, hosted open days, school holiday activities, and programme-related workshops. We provide opportunities for local schools including curriculum enrichment workshops, skills days and performance opportunities. In our first full year, these activities have engaged over 4,000 people from all walks of life. It is vital for us to expand on what has been an incredibly successful launch period widening our reach across our region and bringing more people through our doors.
Waveney/East Suffolk in which Lowestoft is located is an area noted for its levels of economic inactivity and deprivation compared to the wider regional and national picture. Office of National Statistics data has helped to inform our early stages approach to deliver a programme of community and outreach activities designed to respond to local needs where currently 6.1% of the population is registered as unemployed compared to 3.1% across the East region as a whole. Our audience analysis undertaken in 2018 points to high proportions of those of retirement age and above within our catchment area which has clear impacts on discretionary spending across our sub-region. As at June 2017, 42.3% of the population of Waveney was registered as Long-Term Sick compared to 18.3% across the region. Among those in employment 26% are in low paid caring, leisure and other service occupations compared to 16% across the East. In 2017, gross weekly pay for men in full-time work stood at £496.00 locally versus £622.90 in the wider East region and for women, £398.00 versus £502.10 across our wider region. Among those aged 18 – 21 in Waveney, 7.1% are currently claiming out of work benefits compared to 2.2% across the East as a whole. Educational attainment levels remain significantly below those across the East region as a whole. In
Waveney, those attaining NVQ3 equivalency (i.e. 2 or more A levels, advanced GNVQ or NVQ3) stood at 36.7% for 2016 compared to 53.5% for the East. Into this environment, we launched our outreach programme in late 2016.
Other key statistics from 2018 which further demonstrate the spread of our activities:
• 120 in the Once Upon a Festival with Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds
• 300 young people for START project in conjunction with RPO
• 31 schools directly engaged with
• 20 regular Next Stagers
• 50 young people in our youth theatres
• 300 year 10s engaged with confidence and interview workshops supporting the Network for East Anglian Collaborative Outreach programme (NEACO)
• 100 young people took part in pantomime schools workshops
• 2 work experience placements
• 12 young people took part in a 10-week confidence and well-being project with NEACO
• 21 creative practitioners worked with us at the Marina and across Lowestoft.
Our strategic and educational partners recognise that we have a valuable role to play in continuing to deliver a growing programme of activities for people of all ages and backgrounds from across our sub-region and in supporting them to shape delivery strategies that address key issues around educational attainment, career and skills development as well as general health and well-being. We feel like we have only started to scratch the surface in delivering a diverse programme which resonates powerfully in meeting local needs.
Our next five years is a period filled with new opportunities and a set of considered outward-facing ambitions. We want to position the Marina at the centre of the mid-scale regional touring community – regionally and nationally; an established and respected partner in the delivery of high quality drama and musical theatre to be enjoyed by audiences across the UK. At home, we look to deepen our relationship with the people of our town by playing to our strengths as a community hub, here to serve their needs not only for entertainment but for wider social interaction.
Everyone who comes through our doors talks about the wonderfully warm welcome they receive from our staff and volunteers and we will be looking to capitalise on that in the years ahead to build a stronger sense that during the day and in the evening, the Marina is Lowestoft’s cultural living room – where they can enjoy events and workshops or simply come to us to spend time together.
We’ve set ourselves some ambitious yet realisable goals over the next few years, to:
• Widen access to our work to even more people from all walks of life by encouraging them to enter our theatre but also by taking our performance programme out to them across our sub-region.
• Develop our building and add new facilities that enable us to deliver full access, more wide-ranging outreach and community activities and capitalise of opportunities to grow our commercial revenues.
• Respond to audience aspirations and shift our programme to include more received drama, musical theatre, comedy and live music.
• Build aspiration among the young people of Lowestoft and deliver inspirational activities that will create exciting career pathways.
• Support older members of community and respond to their needs, addressing issues of isolation and well-being and improve their quality of life, establishing the Marina as a social daytime hive of activities.
• Expand our philanthropic relationships with individuals and organisations from all walks of life in order to begin the process of developing a diverse and sustainable revenue generation model, not overly reliant on income from any one source of revenue.
The Theatre has been managed by the Marina Theatre Trust – a registered charity – since 2011. We work closely with our landlord Lowestoft Town Council who also provide funding of £150,000 p.a. under the aegis of a management service agreement which equates to less than 10% of turnover. The remaining income is either earned from box office, auxiliary spends or fundraised from statutory and private sector sources.
We welcome opportunities to discuss our plans further and to seek support from a broad range of interested individuals and organisations to deliver a thriving Marina Theatre for the communities of Lowestoft. We hope you will consider being a part of our success over the next five years.