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|