Visitor numbers at festivals and events across Lancaster and Morecambe soar

The Platform in Morecambe
The Platform in Morecambe -Credit:Lancs Live

Visitor numbers and economic boosts from festivals, venues and events in Lancaster and Morecambe soared over the past 12 months, councillors have heard.

The successes - such as Light Up Lancaster and Vintage By the Sea - have been reported as Lancaster City Council develops new ways to work and reduce financial subsidies. Last year, there was controversy about some council budget changes or proposals regarding Morecambe's Platform venue, Lancaster museums and two tourist information centre closures.

An annual tourism and culture review including The Platform, Lancaster's Ashton Hall, The Storey arts centre and cafe and Dukes theatre was given at the latest full city council meeting. Topics included music, children's dance, theatre, visual art and book events.

Labour Coun Catherine Potter, who has a cabinet remit for the visitor economy and culture, gave an annual report.


She said the city council decided to keep The Platform in-house last year but it had to be run more commercially. Changes have included launching a Friends of The Platform group and a membership scheme.

Coun Potter reported: "The friends' group has now been established and has over 35 members. Its main purpose is to secure funding to support The Platform and provide volunteers. In the financial year, 2023-24, 96 professional shows took place and nearly 17,000 tickets were sold. There were 90 community event bookings, two conferences and six festivals. These were Food Future, Comic Con, Vegan Fair, Vintage by the Sea, Baylight and the Catch the Wind kite festival.


Events staff at Ashton Hall, which is part of Lancaster Town Hall, were told to stop taking bookings while hospitality activity was reviewed in the council's outcomes based resources review. This aims to align activities with key priorities, against the backdrop of financial challenges and find new ways of working, where possible.

Coun Potter added: "Bookings didn’t resume until June 2023 so a few events were missed. However, 26 event bookings did take place, notably the 32nd Lancaster Beer Festival. The Ashton Hall’s end-of-year income was around £96,000 across room hire and bar sales. The previous closest to this was 2019-20 where the total income was £65,000."

Elsewhere, Lancaster's The Storey venue hosted seven festivals. Lit Fest, Light Up Lancaster, Jazz Fest, Lancaster Music Festival, Witches Revival, Fashion Revolution Week with the Sewing Café and Pint of Science,. There were 10 main gallery exhibitions and 28 free small exhibitions by local artists.

Coun Potter added: "The council's Lancaster venues are increasingly being used for wedding receptions and ceremonies, which is something we intend to promote further across all venues. In 2023-24 we hosted three ceremonies and eight receptions at The Storey, and seven ceremonies and one reception at Lancaster Town Hall."


Regarding investment in arts and culture, she highlighted visitor numbers at venues and organisations which have received council grants. Last year, The Dukes theatre in Lancaster had over 66,000 people attending, making it the most successful year since the pandemic. The Jungle Book was also staged place at Williamson Park, with every ticket sold and positive feedback from audiences, Coun Potter said.

The Ludus Dance charity for youngsters moved to The Storey in Lancaster, creating a dance hub and office base. Ludus also delivered the Alien Needs Our Help project working with 24 primary schools, reaching more than 3,600 people. It highlighted the importance of vaccination against illnesses.

The book and writing festival Lancaster Lit Fest held spring and autumn festivals. The autumn event in October grew significantly. Lit Fest attracted more than 1,500 people over the two festivals.


Elsewhere, More Music held large-scale events including the Catch the Wind kite festival, the Winter Lantern Parade, Holocaust Memorial Day and a Commemoration of the 2004 Morecambe Bay cockling disaster. These events drew over 20,000 people. This was in addition to the venue’s music and community workshops and performances.

Morecambe's Vintage by the Sea has celebrated its 10th anniversary and the busiest year so far. It included classic vehicles, live music, vintage crafts and a marketplace, dance classes and performances.

Coun Potter added: "It continued to be the jewel in Morecambe’s festivals crown. Vintage by the Sea is a national finalist in the Visit England Tourism Award and has won the Lancashire Event of the Year award. The festival is organised by Deco Publique and Hemingway Design in partnership with the council. It attracted over 50,000 people to Morecambe over two days in September and its economic impact is estimated at over £1.5 million."

Light Up Lancaster grew to a three-evening event of light art. It highlights key Lancaster landmarks and attracted over 72,000 people. No fireworks were held this year but the economic impact increased from £924,000 in 2022 to £2.3million in 2023, Coun Potter reported.