Saturday, 9 March 2013

Arcadia on the East Coast of England by Julia Jones

Jaywick Martello Tower

When you think of a literary festival you think tasteful: You think Edinburgh, Oxford, Cheltenham, Harrogate, Bath and countless smaller events in delightful venues such as Aldeburgh, Southwold, Ilkley, Henley-on-Thames. You don't think Jaywick.

It's quite possible that you never think of Jaywick at all – unless you're an architectural historian interested in the plotlands of the early twentieth century (read Arcadia for All by Dennis Hardy and Colin Ward) or you're a planner or a project manager concerned with the indices of deprivation. Jaywick is on the flatlands, west of Clacton on Sea in Essex. In 1928 developer Frank Stedman bought several hundred acres of marsh grazing on which he founded the Jaywick Sands Estate. He'd hoped to build permanent houses but Clacton council refused co-operation over the rather important issue of mains drainage so Stedman sold freehold beachplots of 1000 sq feet plus a hut. These were heavily advertised and eagerly aquired. 

Jaywick Martello Tower caravan park
The plotlands movement was particularly popular in Essex – the county with the fewest grand families and big estates in all England. Speaking as an indigenous Essex dweller of many generations I am certain that our single most deeply shared desire, whatever our income bracket, is to possess our own freehold patch of land from which we can thumb our noses at the authorities. Jaywick represents something close to the heart of Essex. It also contains England's third most deprived neighbourhood.
Breakfasts from 10am

In the 1990s I was a Workers' Education Association community development manager and (among other things) I blagged and weedled lottery money to take sets of internet-enabled laptops into refuges, hostels, asylum-seeker centres, family centres and schools in poor areas thoughout the county. The idea was to avoid a have / have not situation in the new and exciting on-line world by offering confidence-building courses to educationally deprived adults, then swiftly pointing out that if they couldn't afford a computer or internet connection costs, they could get it all for free in Essex Libraries. That's one of the more interesting Essex paradoxes: the sensitivity of our social care provision is often criticised; our library resources are second to none.

Jaywick Community Centre opened 1997
I'm a privately-educated idiot with a ladidah voice so I was often at a social disadvantage as I joined in the WEA activities I'd organised.. I remember vividly one day in Jaywick when we'd been given space in the fab new community centre (built with money from the European Social Fund) and we were having one of our all-action craft and computer sessions with a hall-full of parents and children. My job was to drift around dispensing educational bonhomie and encouraging the faint-hearted to have a go on the laptops.

I was chatting to one attractive young woman who told me she was already using a computer database programme every day.
    “I need it to keep track of all me appointments.”
    “Oh,” said I, ineffably patronising, “Do you run a little business?”
    “Nah,” she replied, “It's the probation and the social services, and the housing and the child protection and the mental health and the education welfare and me lawyers … They get arsy if you don't show up.”
Feeling rather faint I asked her how she'd got into this complexity and she explained that she was separated from the father of her children and that he was supposed to come and take them out on Saturday to give her a bit of time to herself. Unfortunately he wasn't either punctual or reliable. I was a single mum of three with not dissimilar issues so I was able to sympathise. We warmed to one another.
    “And so when it got to dinner time and he still hadn't showed up. I went down the high street and I stabbed him.”
Next to the Community Centre

I was back in Jaywick today as part of the Essex Book Festival. Since my WEA visits a converted Martello tower has been added to the amenities of the area. It's two hundred years old and exists, with shabby incongruity, in the midst of multiple caravan parks. It's a coastal lookout station and thoughout the summer season it's also a “centre of creativity and discovery” hosting weekly talks and art exhibtions, workshops and story telling sessions as well as two forthcoming events for the Essex Book Festival. I'd hoped to go inside and meet the organiser but she was ill so I crept around in the drizzle delighted to see that my friend, author and former WEA tutor, Maggie Freeman's 'Writing Short Stories Workshop' had already SOLD OUT. 
Martello Tower noticeboard
 The Essex Book Festival runs throughout the month of March almost entirely in libraries, though also using schools, our two universities, a children's book centre and other commuity venues – such as Jaywick Martello Tower. My own event, a talk about Herbert Allingham's working life, will be at the leafier end of the county, in Epping Library, but today I was by the sea because the EBF has been granted money to run book-related projects in schools. Literacy levels are low in parts of the Tendring Hundred (where Jaywick and Clacton are situated) and I was on my way to discover whether The Salt-Stained Book might serve any purpose in convincing Clacton children that if Julia can write a story, anyone can. I found my way to a large junior school, bright, well-run, crowded, a cultural centre of a different sort than the lonely Martello Tower. . The headteacher had hoped to join our meeting but he was called out almost immediately to contain and support a 'looked after' boy whose life was more than usually difficult and who was therefore behaving particularly badly.

Closed for the winter
I suggested to the teachers that I should have a couple of sessions with Year 5 children towards the end of the summer term, leave them with some private projects and then return in the autumn as they start their final year to discuss and praise whatever they have managed to produce. I wondered whether some mild I Spy activity might be a way to keep them connected with the world of the SSB without turning it into a Holiday Task. The older of the two teachers thought this might be worth a try. Then he said the saddest thing. “I used to get them back into writing at the beginning of the autumn term, by getting them to talk about what they'd done over the summer but that doesn't work anymore. The change seems to have happened over the last ten years. Most of the children won't have done anything over the summer except play video games and go shopping, They won't even have gone to the beach.”
Talks, exhibitions, workshops, story-telling


15 comments:

Lee said...

OT Request!

(Apologies, Julia, for hijacking your blog post, but I didn't know how else to ask.)

Does anyone know of any reliable and readable - not too much jargon! - nonfiction books about the effects of long-time imprisonment on the incarcerated - not abduction but gaol time? (Debbie?)

Thanks in advance for any suggestions.

Ann Palmer said...

The word Jaywick more than caught my eye; it highjacked it. Paired with arcadia? I wondered if Jaywick had been rehabilitated but sadly, no, despite your disarming comment that if Julia can write a story anyone can. I remembered a poem I wrote many years ago when I was teaching in CLacton called 'I'm Feeling a Bit Down Today.' I remembered that it had a comment about Jaywick. It didn't. Jaywick was off the map, even more than Clacton was. I have managed to find this old poem and here are the last four lines:
This sense of angst, this Sartrean nausée
Overwhelm me any working Monday
But mainly since, habito ergo sum,
I live in Clacton, therefore I am glum.

Dennis Hamley said...

When I was a kid, I remember several of my school friends going to Jaywick Sands for holidays and coming back saying it was marvellous and they'd had a terrific time. I tried wheedling my parents to take me to this obvious demi-paradise but they, rightly as it now turns out, refused. So we had holidays in other seaside places, staying in retired railway carriages taken off the rails and dumped on the sands, and invariably enjoyed them and I still haven't been to Jaywick. This was an inspiring post, Julia, describing wonderful work. But there's nothing wrong with Clacton, Anne. We used to take the kids for days out there years ago because it was the nearest sea to Bletchley. They enjoyed it anyway. I even applied for a job there once at the old St Osyth's College and was very miffed when I didn't get it.

julia jones said...

Dear Dennis - Ann Palmer knows whereof she writes. She's Peter Duck's previous owner, lived in Harwich, taught in Clacton and has probably sailed up and down the long Essex coast more times that you can say Et in Arcadia Sum (or waddever) before breakfast. Did you love the photo fromthe Martello Tower caravan part which said "why not stay forever? - it's easier than you think"

julia jones said...

Lee - I can't think immediately ofthe book that you want. Do you think that an organisation such as the Howard League for Penal refore might be able to point you in the right direction. When I did some work organising courses in Chelmsford Prison the mainorganisation I dealt with was the Ormiston Trust. They might also be able to offer advice. Sorry I can't be more helpful. A most interesting request and if you DO find such a book I'd love to know about it. I wonder whether Prison Visitor have a support organisation which would offer appropriate publications?

CallyPhillips said...

Feeling somewhat bereft today of intelligent comment status, but just wanted to say how interesting this was. There. Said it. Like a different world. Though I have a feeling that locally Buckie (and even Fraserburgh and Peterhead) have some similarity with whereof you speak. Certainly there are more than 7 teaching positions vacant at the High School in Pe'erheid (sic local dialect) So I guess anyone wanting a teaching job - North East Scotland's yer place! Rurally lovely with wee pockets of that Scottish speciality the ability to create mini urban poverty enclaves amidst all the beauty. Why is that? Is it because they thing that if you're poor in a rural environment you must be made to suffer? Good thought provoking stuff Julia. And what a shame that the heidie who had to go out and deal with the looked after boy couldn't get said looked after boy to recognise himself in Donnie! Maybe you'll achieve this later in the year. I live in hope.

julia jones said...

Thanks Cally - well, it's the head teacher who's invited me in and he HAS read the SSB. Initially though I'm going to be working with some middle of the academic range kids - the ones who aren't either brilliant or in revolt and who therefore are so easy to miss. The SSB session are meant to be something special and confidence-boosting for them - and I am immensely looking forward to it. I thought the head was a REALLY good guy and I was glad for the hapless child that he had someone like this in charge of his school day. But as we all know even a good school may not be enough when everything else in the child's life is so insecure

Bill Kirton said...

Lovely post, with all sorts of associations, Julia. Makes me realise how separated I've become from the sort of community involvement and belonging I remember from my own youth. On the other hand, I was part of a literacy week at a local primary school not so long ago and the creativity and freewheeling imaginings of kids from very varying backgrounds were very refreshing.

Kathleen Jones said...

Fascinating and sad, Julia. I had a spell as writer in residence at a very troubled secondary school and remember the stress of trying to connect with children who were no longer able to connect with anything. The staff barricaded themselves in the staff room at break times! They asked me to do a couple of sessions with 'excluded' children but I realised very quickly that I simply didn't have the required skills to help them. Have felt sad ever since.

julia jones said...

Yes, a very brave and reslient 'looked after' child recently explained to me that there had simply been 'too much going on in her head' to be able to connect with school as well.

Jan Needle said...

tried to comment earlier, julia, but computer change seems to have thrown me back another ten years. terrific post. i loved it. and so to bed with hot brick on my head...

Lee said...

Hi Julia, thanks for the suggestions. I'll get back to you as soon as I've got something to report.

Reb MacRath said...

Great post--and a fascinating introduction to another world, for me.

Claudia Myatt said...

A thoughtful post, Julia - it's the kind of district in which Herbert Allingham's stories would have been popular in an earlier time.

Good luck with the Allingham talk, sorry I can't make it. I'm impressed with the range of content and authors for Essex Book Festival - off to a session on children's illustration with Martin Salisbury and others in Chelmsford Wednesday evening.

Pauline Fisk said...

Lee, the Perrie Lectures is an annual event for the purpose of stimulating dialogue between criminal justice organisations, the voluntary sector and anybody with academic, legal or practical concerns for offenders and their families. From 2012 its lectures have been made available on its own YouTube channel. Don't know if anything amongst these would point you in the right direction, but here's the link: https://www.youtube.com/user/theperrielectures I was given it when I interviewed the Governor of Shrewsbury Prison a few weeks ago for my blogsite, My Tonight From Shrewsbury.

Julia, thank you for an introduction to Jaywick. Though the Fisks all hail from the East of England, I know almost nothing about what goes on in that side of the country, I'm afraid.