December 7, 2022

Center for Artistic Heritage, the former courtrooms of Lowestoft converted

Published:
5:00 p.m. September 20, 2022



Ambitious plans to create an arts and heritage hub in Lowestoft have come a long way.

While parts of an old courthouse stood empty for more than five years, a new bar, cafe and performance space featured exhibits, lectures, live music and community events.


The Grit in Lowestoft.
– Credit: Mick Howes

The Grit – Lowestoft Center for the Arts and Heritage – is now open for bookings with its base in the former Court Buildings on Old Nelson Street unveiling a completely different use.

Lowestoft Magistrates’ Court was closed in September 2016 as part of widespread budget cuts that led to the closure of 86 courts across the country.

But its future was secured in October 2018 when local businessman Peter Colby bought the site from Homes England, the government agency charged with selling the property.

Some areas of the old Old Nelson Street Magistrates’ Courts building were quickly turned into offices and another area into Community Dental Services which opened in December 2020.

During the coronavirus crisis part of the building was used as a vaccination centre, but the courtrooms remained unused until February this year.


The Grit in Lowestoft.

The Grit in Lowestoft.
– Credit: Mick Howes

Now, after eight months of work, the building has opened its doors to the public as a new arts and heritage centre.

Since it opened three weeks ago, Mr Colby’s son, Piers Colby, said: ‘I have been involved with the Old Court building since February.

“After Dad’s company bought the building, I accompanied him when he showed potential users around.


Piers Colby at the Grit in Lowestoft.

Piers Colby at the Grit in Lowestoft.
– Credit: Mick Howes

“During these tours, I quickly realized that the part of the building that was once a courtroom could be transformed into a performance hall.”


Piers Colby at the Grit in Lowestoft.

Piers Colby at the Grit in Lowestoft.
– Credit: Mick Howes

With a vision to turn part of the old courtyard into an arts centre, Piers Colby said: “We decided to name the center ‘The Grit’ which was the nickname for the nearby Beach Village in the 1900s and make it a hub for the arts and arts events, performances, film and community activities – all promoting Lowestoft’s unique heritage.

“Richard Toombs shared the vision and helped me get the project started by setting up the bar and cafe in the old waiting room – which is now the open part, but some things are changing.

“The magistrate’s bench in the old courtroom has been transformed into a clear flat raised stage to make it a performance space.”


Piers Colby pouring coffee at The Grit in Lowestoft.

Piers Colby pouring coffee at The Grit in Lowestoft.
– Credit: Mick Howes

Mr Colby said that with the facility in use, some things are still half-finished and “it’s evolving”.

He added: “We have previously rented two halls for a craft fair, but our most notable event to date has been John Ward’s Buffalo Bill Wild West Show – a two-hour performance that included music, storytelling and a slideshow enjoyed by 112 people.

“It was really great.


Piers Colby serves coffee at The Grit in Lowestoft

Piers Colby pouring coffee at The Grit in Lowestoft.
– Credit: Mick Howes

“During the Heritage Open Days, we held three exhibits, including a rebuilt ENIGMA machine, drawings of Concorde seats and photographs from the Port of Lowestoft Research Society.


The Lowestoft Harbor Research Society exhibition at the Grit in Lowestoft.

The Lowestoft Harbor Research Society exhibition at the Grit in Lowestoft.
– Credit: Mick Howes

“We also had further discussions in the performance area with Donny Cole giving his memories of the Lowestoft Fish Market.

“The main idea is that each space here has a main role but can also be transformed into something else.


Historian Bob Collis (right) at the exhibit

Diana Moore and historian Bob Collis (right) at the ‘A Seat Aboard Concorde’ exhibition at the Grit in Lowestoft.
– Credit: Mick Howes

“So the bar and cafe may be a concert area but was also used for a craft fair.

“The auditorium has a capacity of 80 or 120 seats. It is also a concert space but can be used for conferences or cinema.

“We anticipate that Josh Freemantle will be showing Lowestoft Film Festival entries here, as we have a large screen that takes up the back wall – so it can also be turned into a community cinema.”

Small rooms next to the cafe-bar have also been rented, with other projects underway and three more units available for rent.


Leo Whisstock at the show

Leo Whisstock at the ‘A Seat Aboard Concorde’ exhibition at the Grit in Lowestoft.
– Credit: Mick Howes

Another “intact” courtroom could be transformed into a library, meeting room or conference room.

Mr Colby said: ‘We are an arts and heritage centre, and we want to combine heritage and the arts to appeal to the local community and visitors.’