As part of these 2021-22 and 2022-23 grants, over £22.7million has been awarded to 66 cultural organisations across the country, including Firstsite.

The Capital Investment Programme aims to help cultural organisations across the country transform their buildings and equipment so they can operate safely post-pandemic, improve access, seize technological opportunities, and reduce environmental impact.


“Thanks to this generous funding, we can begin a series of improvements that will have a major impact on Firstsite’s operating model, helping us to reduce our carbon emissions and dramatically improve both the quality and accessibility of our spaces for everyone in our community.

These exciting enhancements will also ensure we are fit for purpose in a ‘post-Covid’ world with the ability to respond to emerging future challenges.” says Director Sally Shaw MBE.


Over half of the money (£582,175) will go towards replacing all the existing light fittings with LED equivalents, drastically reducing Firstsite’s carbon footprint from energy used by a staggering 68%, as Sally explains:

“The new lighting alone will improve our sustainability and reduce electricity costs by £41,000 annually. Our new lighting system will ensure our public spaces are fully visually accessible, and will allow us the flexibility and precision to best present our amazing exhibitions, lighting all artworks effectively; this lighting will also enable us to highlight and celebrate our building’s unique architectural features so our visitors see the Firstsite building design in all its glory.”


Firstsite’s cinema, which shows a wide range of films, from world cinema and family films to live screenings of theatre, ballet and opera, will benefit from an investment of nearly £110,000, in the form of new projection equipment and an upgrade to the sound system.


Not only that, Firstsite has ambitious plans to start broadcasting live streamed events from the space, allowing audiences to enjoy all the gallery’s talks and events from wherever they are in the world.


This functionality will also be shared with Firstsite’s community partners to allow them to dramatically expand their reach online.

Sally explains, “We are not just receivers of existing culture here in Colchester, we are makers and presenters of our own rich, varied and complex content. These new broadcast facilities will allow Firstsite, and also our communities to share this creativity with everyone, whether on our doorstep or the other side of the world!


The floor in the Firstsite studios will also be replaced after 10 years of wear and tear from a variety of daily activities, including art lessons, dance, school visits, parties, community groups and the regular Holiday Fun programme which provides free family meals plus art and sports activities to families who require additional support during school holidays.


Nearby 15 Queen Street, which Firstsite owns, will also be given some much-needed TLC. The building is used by community groups and offers an important location for Refugee Action Colchester, who support over 300 families in Essex.


Parts of the exterior and interior will now be refurbished and repaired, to ensure the building can continue as a valuable resource for local organisations working with Colchester’s residents.

While hearing loop facilities are already available at Firstsite, they are only installed in certain areas. With the Arts Council’s Capital Investment Programme funding the facility will be expanded into Firstsite’s meeting rooms and studios. Furthermore, the project will provide a mobile hearing loop facility for visitors in the gallery spaces.


Such investments and improvements will contribute to Firstsite’s famous sense of welcome, accessibility and inclusion, along with allowing the organisation to increase its focus on environmental impact.


Sally adds: “This is a literal and metaphorical ’light bulb’ moment for Firstsite. Not only will these upgrades enable us to make our entire building more accessible and support the needs of our communities, but through this project we are starting on a path of evaluating the full breadth of our environmental responsibility and shining a light on that for ourselves and for others.

“This will be the first in a series of projects that we will deliver to achieve net zero carbon by 2030 in accordance with the COP26 outcomes. Along the way we will share our progress with our audiences, which we hope will light the way for others to collaborate with our team, and others, and together build a more sustainable future for us all.”


Darren Henley, Chief Executive, Arts Council England said: “World class creativity and culture needs a resilient and sustainable infrastructure to allow it to flourish. With these investments in the buildings, equipment, and digital systems of cultural organisations across England, we are helping to secure the future of that infrastructure, and making sure that people from every part of the country can continue enjoying all the benefits it delivers for years to come.”


Ingleton Wood, a Colchester-based property and construction consultancy, supported Firstsite with the funding application bid and has been appointed to provide multi-disciplinary services including building services, project management, and health and safety.


Wesley Henderson, Director and Building Services Engineer at Ingleton Wood, said: “We are thrilled to have helped Firstsite receive significant funding from Arts Council England to reshape its sustainable future, having used our expertise in successfully obtaining grant funding to make a strong and compelling case for Firstsite’s investment and the community and sustainability benefits that it will deliver.


“The new LED lighting system in particular will play a major role in future-proofing the much-loved community venue whilst reducing its carbon footprint. We look forward to working with Firstsite on these exciting plans.”


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