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Colchester’s Firstsite gallery set to throw open its doors again from Friday 24 July

20 Jul Colchester’s Firstsite gallery set to throw open its doors again from Friday 24 July

Firstsite in Colchester is poised to reopen as the schools close for summer (Friday 24 July) and promises a packed programme of art and culture to help everyone to reflect, refresh and reconnect.

The doors open at 10am, with a raft of new measures in place to provide visitors with a calm, secure and comfortable visit. Visitors do not have to book tickets to attend, but numbers will be carefully managed throughout the day to maintain 2-metre physical distancing, along with a one-way path throughout. Hand sanitiser stations have been installed at key points in the building.

For added health, security and peace of mind for visitors and staff, Firstsite has also installed Perspex screens at locations such as the Welcome Desk and shop till, and staff will wear PPE in food preparation areas and where social distancing is difficult to maintain. Only cashless payments will now be accepted. The wearing of face coverings will be encouraged upon entering the building and will be required in the Firstsite shop.

Firstsite’s programme, café and shop have been carefully adapted to create a calming space, full of artworks and experiences which inspire contemplation and provide a place where people can come together in a socially distanced way, to relax and be inspired.


Firstsite is delighted to announce that it will be hosting a number of brand-new and extended exhibitions, which explore themes of well-being, connection, creativity and community:

Colchester and Ipswich Art Societies: Borders: brings together landscape pieces from over 120 local artists, depicting their mutual border, the River Stour. Through painting, print, sculpture and textile, the exhibition as a whole reflects the lure of the river as a subject. Hung geographically to mirror the flow of the river, visitors are encouraged to take a trip downstream, to encounter expressions of the river and the landscape and life that surrounds it. It’s a trip that celebrates the thriving creativity of the region, the joy of making and the enjoyment and well-being gained through experiencing art.

Afro Futures_UK: Unravelling New Futures reopens on 24 July. It explores how black experience, technology and historical narratives can inspire new ways of thinking and help us imagine new collective futures.

Key pieces include Irene Fubara Manuel’s video Dreams of Disguise (2018), Tabita Rezaire’s short film, Deep Down Tidal (2017) and Sun.REI’s kinetic sculpture Liberation Gates (2018).

Sonia Coode-Adams: Lockdown Garden opens on 24 July and features tranquil watercolour landscapes of the garden at Feeringbury Manor, created by the artist during the imposed lockdown. Whilst shielding, Sonia Coode-Adams took the opportunity to return to painting after a hiatus of many years, and through this series of artworks she celebrates the garden and explores the soothing influence of nature as the landscape transitions from spring to summer.

Tell me the story of all these things which was due to open in late March prior to lockdown, opens for the first time on Friday 24 July, running until 11 October. It brings artworks by some of Britain’s most celebrated artists, including Turner Prize nominees Tracey Emin and Cornelia Parker and Turner Prize-winner Gillian Wearing CBE, to Colchester in this new exhibition presented by Firstsite and the Arts Council Collection.

This exhibition is the third in Firstsite’s series of National Partners Programme exhibitions, and continues the Essex gallery’s collaborative curatorial process of creating exhibitions with members of local communities to reflect the lives and issues faced by local people from all sections of society. For Tell me the story of all these things, civic leaders, community organisers, artists, designers, politicians, mothers and Colchester business owners worked with Firstsite to present this remarkable examination of emotion and soft power in our society and how they can be used positively to connect, empower and build resilience.  Many pieces such as Cornelia Parker’s Neither From Nor Towards, (1992) and Evan Ifekoya’s Ritual Without Belief (2018) hold meditative qualities, encouraging visitors to pause, reflect and explore their own stories as they experience this exhibition.


Holiday Fun

If the thought of trying to entertain the children at home for another six weeks after lockdown is already giving some people sleepless nights, then the return of Holiday Fun will be welcome news indeed!

For the third year running, Firstsite will be hosting Holiday Fun, a variety of safe, socially-distanced activities for children. Coaches from the town’s football club, Colchester United, will be leading a series of physical games and challenges. Free nutritious lunches will be available to any family who feels they will benefit from this service and all children attending either activity will receive a free creative activity to take home at the end of the day.

Whilst all activities are free, booking is essential.


Opening in August, Firstsite will be screening family-orientated, independent and world films, along with selected music and theatre performances in its cinema. Again, seating will be arranged in accordance with distancing guidelines but families will be able to sit in ‘bubbles’ together.

The upcoming programme will be available on Firstsite’s website in the coming weeks.


Open daily, between 10am and 5pm, the café features a brand new menu of homemade snacks, light meals and treats including delicious vegan options designed by Café supervisor Hetal Amin, along with hot and cold drinks. Relocated to the back of the building, the café’s relaxing setting offers views of the Berryfield Lawn. Outdoor balcony seating is available, whilst customers choosing to sit indoors can enjoy artworks displayed around the café, which are also available to purchase from the Firstsite shop. Table service will be provided to all customers and all social distancing and safety measures will be in place to provide a safe and calm experience.


Alongside its design-led and exhibition-inspired product ranges and ever-changing variety of books, the Firstsite shop features a new range of products to support wellbeing and self-care, from mindfulness diaries to sketch-a-day books. Customers will be required to wear face coverings to enter the shop, which also features a sanitiser station at the entrance and a one-way system. The shop will be open from 10am to 5pm daily.

Announcing the reopening of Firstsite, Director Sally Shaw said: “It is just wonderful to be able to throw open our doors again and welcome everyone back! We have really missed our visitors and the communities we work so closely with and we really can’t wait to share this new environment we have carefully designed to help people begin to feel better after such an extreme experience. My team has worked tirelessly to implement all the necessary safety measures and equipment to the highest standard, and we have consulted with our audience to ensure everything is in place to provide a comfortable, safe and uplifting experience.

I’m also delighted that we have been able to extend AfroFutures_UK, while launching the brand new shows Borders and Lockdown Garden to showcase some of the brilliant local creative talent in the region; as well as Tell me the story of all these things, which features some really interesting early works by artists who went onto become highly successful, award-winning household names.  

The return of Holiday Fun, which we first introduced in 2017, was also something we felt vitally important to deliver at this time. We know that 25% of children in Colchester were living in poverty pre-Covid 19 and that, unfortunately, this will have risen significantly during and after lockdown. So, the Holiday Fun programme is just one of the ways we are using our available resources creatively to support our community, especially those families hardest hit in these challenging times. This thread of community connection runs through all that Firstsite does, and over the coming months our key focus will be to provide inspiration and space for our community to reconnect and rebuild resilience to face this new normal with confidence.”