Worthing’s favourite developers

For some time, Worthing’s been singing to the tune of one local property developer. Roffey Homes are behind a number of developments in the town.

Established in 1960 as a building company, it’s since 2000 that the company has taken off; all the directors are members of the Cheal family, and presumably the change in direction came when the children took over their father’s business. All Roffey Homes work is carried out by Westbrooke Developments – registered at the same address and with the same set of company directors.

Everything Roffey Homes build is billed as ‘iconic’ but in fact, they’re all pretty bland regeneration-lite architecture. It’s all blocky, all crams as many ‘luxury flats’ into as small a site as possible, all degrades the public realm with poor integration with the street, and is all aimed not at local people who need homes, but at people who wanted a second home by the sea, or somewhere to commute from. In short; they’re not developments that are good for Worthing’s people.

Worthing Pier

They’re not the kind of buildings that are recognised as good planning anywhere (Jacobs, Mumford and Tibbalds are all turning in their graves), but in a town that’s been desperate for change (pre-Roffey, there have been no significant developments since the 1970s) and which has a large incoming population who don’t understand the grain of the town’s history, they’re big shiny signs that change is happening. Council officers can point and them and say ‘we’re delivering regeneration’ and councillors can say; ‘look what was built on my watch!’ It’s a great example of the Politician’s Syllogism:

We must do something, this is something, we must do this.

But actually the ‘something’ is doing huge damage, although it’ll probably be 20 years before the scale of that is understood. Remember that the Guildbourne Centre, and the Marks & Spencer site on the seafront, and even the old Aquarena were all seen as high-quality when they were built.

The first major Roffey development destroyed a lovely 1930s block, Roberts Marine Mansions. This building belonged to one of London’s trade guilds, and provided homes for retired tailors and haberdashers. It was built with care and class, full of beautiful period details, windows and railings and reliefs on the walls, and was knocked down in the late 1990s to build a pastiche Art Deco block where apartments sell for twice the local average home and 17 times the average local wage.

That’s a pattern they’ve continued on the site of the Warnes Hotel, Eardley Hotel and Beach Hotel, all landmark buildings demolished to build cheap pastiches full of luxury apartments.

And those three developments do further damage, removing any hopes of tourism growth in Worthing at a time when UK tourism is in growth. A recent report suggested that demand for affordable hotel and guesthouse accommodation is high, and the existing businesses turn away trade, and that there’s a local need for an ‘incremental growth in accommodation supply and a focus on high quality, modern accommodation offers that can generate new business.’ It says that Premier Inn are looking for an 80 rooms site locally, and there’s further potential to develop the market for accommodation from kite surfers and watersports markets.

5799882238_063766aa45_o

Even worse is the way that the developments are segregated from the town. The Warnes site and the neighbouring Eardley development are both at key points on Worthing seafront, providing the link between the town centre and pier, and the revamped East Beach, fast becoming the new centre of beach life in the town. But both developments are walled off, providing aggressive frontages and contributing nothing to the street. The Warnes building (pictured above) has a wall at street level. Neither building has entrances or windows at street level. They’re very carefully excluded from public life, and not for local people.

That goes against the successful regeneration of this area of Worthing, too, which has all been about fine grain, people-scaled urbanism. The success of Craft:Pegg’s public realm at Splash Point (pictured below), the East Beach Studios, even the new swimming pool itself, are because of their friendly scale.

6972228767_df88d58d78_o

And incredibly – Roffey Homes latest plan is even worse. Worthing Borough Council spent over £17 million building a new swimming pool, to replace the larger 1960s Aquarena. To give you something to compare that to, it’s the same cost as Margate’s Turner Contemporary, which has attracted over 1.5 million visitors to the town and has generated acres of press coverage. To fund this expensive new pool, with a pirate ship inside named after local councillor Paul Yallop, the old Aquarena site would be sold for development. It’s a prime beachfront site, at the edge of Worthing’s string of Victorian parks and butting up against the new swimming pool’s expensive (and genuinely iconic) architecture.

Aquarena

Roffey’s proposal for this important spot? a twenty storey towerblock (taller than any other building in Worthing) providing more exclusive apartments. It’s clad in something white, has a poor rhythm of jumbled windows, and has a string of cheap balconies up the sea side, A cluttered jumble of low rise blocks and some privatised public space at the bottom complete the proposals. Is it good? No. It’s cheap architecture, it doesn’t relate in any way to the location, it contributes little to the expected future of this active beach and it crams homes into a small site, straining local infrastructure. Schools locally are full, the small grid of local roads often at gridlock and the next door pool often has long queues.

Residents already expressed their concerns, at a series of consultations in June; but the developers have ignored them and come back with a towerblock the same size.

And it’ll probably get permission, because Worthing Borough Council need to pay down their large debts on the neighbouring pool. Councillor Bryan Turner, in charge of regeneration, said before any plans were even drawn up that “I look forward to working with Roffey Homes, to bring another high quality development to Worthing.” When you have the council’s Cabinet Member as your cheerleader, you must feel pretty confident.

An alternative to ‘gentrification’

 

The second theory proposed by London and Palen is based on a sociocultural explanation of gentrification. This theory argues that values, sentiments, attitudes, ideas, beliefs, and choices should be used to explain and predict human behavior, not demographics. (London and Palen, 1984). This analysis focuses on the changing attitudes, lifestyles, and values of the middle- and upper-middle-class of the 1970s. They were becoming more pro-urban than before, opting not to live in rural or even suburban areas anymore. These new pro-urban values were becoming more salient, and more and more people began moving into the cities. London and Palen refer to the first people to invade the cities as “urban pioneers.” These urban pioneers demonstrated that the inner-city was an “appropriate” and “viable” place to live, resulting in what is called “inner city chic” (London and Palen, 1984)Strutton Ground

We all want the places where we live to be better than they are; around the country, I meet and work with people who are trying to increase opportunities, raise aspirations and create more chances to do great things.

And it’s hard to argue against that. Who doesn’t want better parks, cleaner streets, nicer shops, friendlier cafes, more life in public spaces, a new swimming pool, locally-sourced food, good schools, the opportunity to enjoy the arts, for there to be a little more money in the council’s hands so they can provide more services locally?

The problem, of course, is gentrification – when those things come, the place becomes more desirable, new people want to move in, so the cost of living increases. Some thinkers would have you believe that this is something new, a problem created by a new class of white urban hipsters with beards and bobble hats. While they’re an easy target, it’s not their fault.Brighton

How did Brighton move from being a small fishing village with a huddle of squalid cottages around an open steyne to being the bustling bohemian city it is today? A wave of literal gentry-fication in the 1780s as Londoners bought cheap land, a railway boom in the 1840s which brought the town closer to London still, a decline as a seaside resort in the 1970s and a resurgence as the creative classes leaving London picked up cheap space from the 1970s to the 1990s. And today, property prices are high, living costs more than ever, the poor are struggling and the city has never looked better. There was no single act, no one decision to ‘gentrify’ the neighbourhood.

And we see the same in Brixton, too. Urban designers Spacemakers have been blamed for the gentrification of the neighbourhood. But look more closely, and we see, less the hand of gentrification, than the swirl of a busy, changing city. Yes, they’ve transformed the market in Granville Arcade by bringing in new traders, but that was never a static space. It was 50% empty when they took over, and the traders there were selling to a mix of different local populations. People remembered it as the centre of a vibrant West Indian community, but it hadn’t been that for a long time. Granville Arcade was built as a market for Eastern Eurpoean Jews. As that community left the area post-World War Two, it changed.

Oswald Denniston, passenger on the Empire Windrush, became the first African-Caribbean trader in the Granville Arcade (and, I’m certain that if you want to delve in dusty local paper archives, you’ll find angry stories about how the market is changing beyond recognition as these young, black men replace old Eastern European traders). From the 1960s to the 1980s, it became a market with one strong culture, but during the 1980s and 90s, it faded; a new community, formed around immigrants from the Indian sub-continent moved in. And in the 21st century, it shifted again, half empty until Spacemakers intervened, and the people priced out of Camden, Covent Garden and the East End moved their businesses in.Secondo

Gentrification isn’t the act of some person with authority; it’s not imposed on places by central decree; it’s not dictated. There aren’t property developers looking like people managing the Battle of Britain, a giant plan table with a map of the country, ‘move a squadron of performance artists there and a battalion of web designers here’. That’s not what’s happening.

And neither is it the grand task of local councils. Anyone who’s ever tried to work alongside one, tried to secure planning permission from one, ever worked for one will know that they’re simply not that clever. Yes, they’d like big, shiny developments – but largely, because the perpetual promise of a new swimming pool, ice rink or multiplex cinema keeps local residents passive.

In the last hundred years, we’ve all got better off. We all have a standard of living that would probably be unimaginable to my grandparents, to my great-grandad who was born in Brixton, my grandad who was bombed in Dulwich, my grandma who lived in a terraced house in Worthing and walked 2.4 miles before dawn every day to the house where she was in service.P1020273

And we all expect that to continue. We want that to be even better off; we all want cleaner neighbourhoods and nicer neighbours, better parks and bigger playgrounds, schools that do well and shops that sell good stuff. We want the buzz of the city, the background noise of art, culture and creativity, the diversity of experience, the vibrancy of the street, the taste of good food.

The value of places shifts, changes, moves – Covent Garden was cheap when people said ‘Rhubarb to the Covent Garden Plan’, Camden was affordable when people bought land from crate maker T E Dingwalls – it was the dirt, disease and degradation of boutique-central Seven Dials that inspired Charles Dickens.

So places will change, the richest will become the poorest, new people will move in and old ones will leave. If you’ve got a suggestion for a better way than gentrification, a way to make places better to live in without encouraging more people to want to move there, I’d love to hear it. But I suspect there isn’t one, and that what we’re seeing is part of the natural life of places.

 

Playing out isn’t about rules

Street play 12I’ve been helping one of our neighbours take part in a scheme run by the local council called Playing Out.

The idea is a good one – to encourage more people to play outside with their children. It’s pro-community, pro-family, pro-child. It brings animation back to streets. What’s not to like?

Hi-visibility jackets and whistles, that’s what.

Where we live, children play in the street. They scooter, and they cycle. They sit on the path and play with Lego. They chalk on the walls and the pavements. They chase each other with Nerf guns. They pop into each other’s houses to collect toys or a glass of water. Parents sit or stand outside and gossip, or sometimes stay upstairs and watch from a window, or often get on with jobs like gardening or polishing the car. Car drivers slow down when they see children around. This street isn’t a miracle; it’s simply down to us, the parents in our street, doing it. Investing time and effort. Our children have been taught to ride bikes early, encouraged to knock for friends, and shown the boundaries, invisible lines at each end of the road. We’re like Jane Jacobs‘ best dream, a mixed-use street right in a town centre, with the eyes of watchful parents on the street, and an increase in social capital as a result of scooters, bikes and chalk.

Street Play 5With Playing Out, though, the rules are different. The road is officially closed to traffic. Neighbours form a steering group and meet to discuss the idea. Leaflets (there’s a template, set wording) are stuffed through letterboxes. There are official signs up, and stewards have to wear high visibility jackets and carry whistles. Car drivers aren’t allowed in, unless they’re residents and they’re walked in behind a steward. You must discourage children from neighbouring streets from joining in – it’s just for your children. It’s closing down the street, rather than opening it up.

It’s great that with a Playing Out scheme, children get a few hours to really run free. And of course, in some streets this is the only way to make it happen.

Used creatively, it’s a great opportunity. Our first event went much further than the official guidelines allow, with our neighbourhood coffee shop rolling up on their Vespa mule to give us a decent drink, one neighbour setting up a cake stall for charity, and my sound system in the front garden to give us a ska and calypso soundtrack. None of this took any extra organising. There were no committee meetings or minutes. A few of us had hi-vis jackets to hand, and put them on when they were needed. We ended up with a street festival, a sunny afternoon with all the neighbours and their friends outside. People passing through our street, a busy route for schools and shops, stopped and joined in. Our children met other children in the street, and made new friends. It worked.

But that’s because we bent the council’s rules, went a bit further, opened up the box of Playing Out possibilities. We’d previously held a very similar street party with no official road closure order, just asking people to not drive down our road for a couple of hours. It’s possible. It’s easy. So we took Playing Out and made it fit our street.

Street playIt’s not to say that Playing Out is a duff idea. Far from it – anything that challenges the car-is-king orthodoxy is good. But if you want people to look after their streets, create their own community, really come together – then you have to accept that they will do that in their own way. That might mean they don’t have meetings, or that they design their own leaflets, or that they find a different model of managing events that works for where they live. If you give people freedom, you have to trust them. If you want local, it will be distinct. If you want people to reclaim the streets, you can’t complain when they do.

Replacing one set model of street use with another, as equally rigid and defined, isn’t the answer. We should be creating streets where play spills out and is spontaneous, streets that are a little chaotic and full of life, streets where people regularly bump up against each other in unexpected ways, streets where people find their own ways to make it work.

Streets, to paraphrase Jane Jacobs, which can provide something for everybody because they are created by everybody.

Food banks and dodgy churches

It would appear that Worthing Food Bank as it currently exists is a Trussell Trust project which is open to anybody to join. The Trussell Trust have told me that this food bank has been existing for a number of years and have fed a lot of people. However when I applied to join the food bank I was sent an application form to join the Jubilee Church. No mention was made of the Trussell Trust. (Prospective volunteer)

Worthing Food Bank is a successful project, which has helped provide food for over 1000 people in the town. The Trussell Trust model has been used across the UK, and they run 325 foodbanks supporting an estimated 290,000 people. But in the very first line on the very first page of the Worthing Food  Banks website, it says it ‘is run by Jubilee Community Church’, and the Food Bank’s pages online are part of the Jubilee Church website.

Jubilee Church has been the driving force behind Abort67, the campaign group known for displaying graphic images of aborted foetuses outside Wiston’s Clinic on Dyke Road. The group have been accused of intimidating women entering the clinic and two members of the Church have been charged under Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 for causing harassment, alarm or distress (Brighton Pro Choice)

Understandably, some local residents are unhappy about supporting a church whose leader has said  “I agree with Abort67’s pro-life message and if people do not like that I can’t do anything about it as a Christian.”

When it comes to organisations, one part of the work reflects on every other. An oil spill in Africa is bad for business in Britain. Poor working conditions in China mean people in England don’t buy your trainers.  This is why organisations like Christian Aid use boycotting as a campaign tool – it’s powerful, immediate and effective.

So Worthing resident Barbara Cole is bringing people together, to see if it’s time to provide an alternative to the Jubilee Church Food Bank. She’s proposing a People’s Food Bank, with the people who use the service being involved in running it. It’s easy to say ‘we already have one here – we don’t need another’. But we about have forty churches, and over twenty supermarkets. Surely, there’s room for two food banks? If you think so too, drop Barbara an email.

2012 – trains, boats and planes

London 2012The year started in spectacular style, standing on the roof of BBC’s Bush House, broadcasting on the world service, and watch the most incredible firework display London has ever seen. And it didn’t really slow down after that.

I’ve visited London (forty times), Brighton (sixteen times), Enfield (five times), Chichester (three times), and Bedford, Coventry, Guildford, Leeds, Lewes, Littlehampton, Manchester, Margate, Portsmouth, Rochdale (all twice). Add time in Amsterdam, Bexley, Eastbourne, Halifax, the Isle of Wight, Rotterdam, Salford, Shoreham, Southampton, Streatham and Stresa in Italy and it’s been a good year for travelling.

I’ve been out of Worthing on 105 days in 2012. That’s trains, boats and planes all covered. I’ve stayed in hotels that are amazing in Stresa and Margate, appalling in Leeds, and lots that are completely forgettable (Travelodge, Premier Inn and the like).

I’ve been to eco-build BedZed, spent a day on a coach trip around the M25, held a birthday party to celebrate 150 years of Worthing Pier, attended the opening of the London 2012 Olympics in a VIP seat as a guest of the Prime Minister, and been to my first football match since the early 1980s (Team GB women, in Coventry. They lost).

I’ve been on the news a few times, in the papers quite a lot, and made a brief appearance on the Antique’s Roadshow with a shepherd’s smock.

I’ve written the introduction to a book for The Caravan Gallery, published Pop Up People, and in sixteen days writing I wrote Pop Up Business For Dummies. I’ve talked about town centres and empty shops a lot, opened pop up shops in Brighton and Enfield with Retail Ready People, launched #wewillgather in the Houses of Parliament, and talked about agile working, frugal leadership, social media for social good and community organising.

Everywhere I’ve been, it’s as the guest of people doing amazing and inspiring things to make the places they live better. Thank you all for inviting me.

Worthing’s strategies…

This  is from a paper produced by Worthing Borough Council. I have no comment to make, really. but it should be preserved:

‘In the recently approved Capital Strategy a list, not necessarily comprehensive, of corporate plans and strategies was provided the following reflects this list and adds others:

• Corporate Plan
• Asset Management Plan
• Accommodation Strategy
• Waves Ahead (Joint Community Strategy)
• Community Safety Strategy
• Cultural Strategy
• Economic Development Strategy
• Housing Strategy
• Information and Communications Technology (I.C.T.) Strategy
• Leisure Strategy
• Local Plan
• Local Transport Plan
• Local Waste Management Strategy
• Procurement Strategy
• Emergency Plan
• Shoreline Management Plan
• Surface Water Management Plan
• Coast Defence Strategy
• Public Realm and Seafront Strategy
• Civic and Cultural Hub Strategy
• Sustainability Strategy’

This list doesn’t include the Worthing Masterplan. The paper it was from was one suggesting a new ‘Open Space’ strategy, which will cost £30,000 and will include a ‘Playing Field Strategy’ and a ‘Play Strategy’. There are also plans to draw up a new ‘Allotments Strategy’, ‘Parking Strategy’, ‘Coast Defence Strategy’, and an ‘Arts and Culture Strategy’.

Worthing’s Section 30 Order

I went away for a few days last week, working in Rotterdam. While I did, Sussex Police announced a Section 30 Order for Worthing’s town centre, beach and parks.

It’s one of those bits of legislation that was slipped in under the cover of folk devils causing a moral panic; in this case, it was part of legislation to stop illegal raves. The trouble is, it includes some blanket powers that I don’t think Police officers should ever have. It makes them deciders of the law, and that blurring of the law and the people who enforce it is never a good idea.

In an area where there’s a Section 30 Order, Police officers can order any crowd of two or more people to disperse. Yes, two or more. And you’re not allowed back within 24 hours. And it’s up to the officers who they apply the law to.

There’s also a further section, Subsection 6 if you’re into that kind of thing, which gives the Police to effectively impose a curfew. Anybody who officers believe are under the age of 16 can be returned to their home if they’re out after 9pm. In a seaside town, in the summer, I’d say encouraging children to play outside is a good thing.

So, I wasn’t too keen on this Order being put in place. Particularly as the accompanying press release says it will protect the Jubilee and the Olympics, which suggests a political motive. So I complained, on Twitter.

I have had phone calls today from both Worthing’s District Commander, DCI Ian Pollard, and the neighbourhood policing sergeant Stuart Hatton, to explain in more detail why they’ve applied for the order.

From January to June 2011, there were between 40-70 calls per month which related to problems with street drinking. While there are powers in force which can be used to confiscate alcohol, it’s harder where the alcohol isn’t present. In July, the figures rose to 103 calls, in August 124, in September 120 and in October 100. With around 80 regular street drinkers in Worthing, that’s quite a problem.

It’s even harder from July to September 2012, when Sussex Police officers are being extracted from local duties to support the Met in policing London and the Olympics.

Worthing Town Centre Initiative specifically asked for the order, saying that street drinkers were the biggest problem facing Worthing’s business community.

So the Section 30 is being used specifically to tackle the problem of street drinkers at a time when Sussex Police’s resources are being stretched by the demands of the Olympics. The press release, mentioning the Jubilympic celebrations in Worthing and omitting any mention of street drinking, has confused the issue.

The curfew could be invoked, but Stuart Hatton guarantees it won’t be; it’s minuted in a meeting in March that it won’t be, and that there’s no evidence based on either data or anecdote to suggest it’s needed.

I’m reassured, but still think it’s a bad law and isn’t needed. Who watches the Watchmen? We do, and this summer, in Worthing, we need to be extra vigilant.

///Update

Sussex Police have been in touch with this response:

“Following a steady rise in complaints from local people and businesses about anti-social behaviour as a result of street drinking over the past 18 months, Sussex Police and Worthing Borough Council announced a decision to use legislation known as a Section 30 Order.

This allows police officers to disperse a group of two or more people if they are causing disturbance in a public place within the boundaries specified by the order.  The powers have only been brought in so that we are able to target acts of aggressive disorder, alcohol fuelled disorder.  It is not a blanket ban on meeting up or a curfew.

We are aware of some very negative online responses to this decision and have already spoken to some concerned residents to clarify what it means.  The powers of dispersal ONLY extend to those over 18 years of age – dealing with younger people would require use of a Section 30(6)  which has NOT been authorised in this case (and there are no plans for us to do so).

Our approach to street drinkers is two-fold.  We will uphold the law to prevent them causing alarm or distress to residents, visitors and businesses but we also offer them support and help them gain access to alcohol and drug treatment services.  A punitive approach on its own only has very limited success.

We do not act to criminalise young people in Worthing or other areas of Sussex.  Worthing has already played host to the first of our county-wide STATUS events.  These bring breaking commercial music to an alcohol-free, under 18s audience and additionally offer careers support and a chance to talk to officers and youth workers about issues facing teens in the area.  Young people can speak to our Neighbourhood Schools Officers in confidence on Facebook to ask advice and seek reassurance around bullying, drugs and alcohol and staying safe online.

Our officers in Worthing and our District Commander for the borough, Chief Inspector Ian Pollard, are very happy to speak by phone over the weekend to offer any necessary clarification or reassurance around the application of Section 30 in the town.  Please contact us @sussex_police on Twitter or by emailing ian.pollard@sussex.pnn.police.uk and we will be happy to call you.”

The Worthing Workshop

Another piece for a local paper about Worthing’s rock ‘n’ roll history. Was Worthing the birthplace of punk?

“The Worthing Workshop was active for less than five years, but its alumni have had a huge – and until now, unrecorded – influence on the UK’s music scene.

In the late 1960s, every town worth its salt had an ‘arts lab’ bringing together art, music, and literature.

Worthing’s was started in 1968. The Living Loving Workshop was founded by Jimmy Doody, who with his company Krishna Lights went on to make the psychedelic lightshow into a commercial product. Doody’s work led to a company called Optikinetics – and a massive industry in disco lighting.

Doody’s early efforts evolved into the Worthing Workshop, and Ian Grant and John May took over the running. Grant went on to manage The Stranglers and Big Country, and John May later worked for Greenpeace. A close friend of Grant’s at the time, Alan Edwards, now runs The Outside Organisation – working with acts like Amy Winehouse, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, The Sex Pistols and Leona Lewis.

The Worthing Workshop held regular Saturday night gigs at The Norfolk, later home to more music as Flappers Bar, and now demolished.   Blues band Steamhammer, whose songwriter Martin Quittenton went on to pen hits for Rod Stewart, were regulars.

Their original singer Chris Slade is still a Worthing resident, running a company finding Brits property in France.

Another regular act were psychedelic blues band Mysterious Babies, featuring Brian James who later formed the Damned.

The Worthing Workshop also staged two open air free concerts at Beach House, with Steamhammer and T2, best known for their 1970 album It’ll All Work Out In Boomland. Jim Doody also brought the more famous Deep Purple to the Pavilion Theatre.

The Worthing Workshop had its own magazine, founded by Nigel Thompson – known to many as a schoolteacher of many years standing.

Originally called Swan and then renamed Scab, the magazine included poetry, articles, and interviews and was reportedly investigated for pornographic content.

The magazine was behind a series of impromptu poetry performances on the seafront and outside Worthing’s old town hall. Other events took place at the Art College Annexe in Union Place.

Members of the Workshop would regularly sell underground magazines like IT and Oz, as well as colourful screenprinted posters, at Holders Corner on Saturdays.

Twice, the group joined August’s Carnival Procession. Most notoriously they put the band The Pink Fairies on a float. The band, closely allied with Hawkwind, are now seen as the UK’s first punk band.

Take that fact, the connections with The Damned and The Stranglers, and Worthing may deserve a place in the history books as one of the places that punk started.”

Phun City

Originally written for The Sentinel, the Worthing supplement for the Argus, this is a good introduction to the legendary Phun City free festival. One day, I’ll write the book:

“Sussex landed gentry the Somerset family have a place in the history books, as unlikely allies of the ‘free festival’ movement.

Phun City was the first free festival in the UK, and took place in July 1970. A 20 acre site at Ecclesdon Common, now lost under the A27 just north of Worthing, was turned over to camping, giant inflatable domes, and an open-air market.

The main stage was a rough scaffold affair, and at one point during the preparations the whole stage was carried to a new position on the site by an army of local hippies because it had been erected too close to power lines.

The stage saw sets from The MC5, Pretty Things, Kevin Ayers, Mungo Jerry, and the Pink Fairies – all playing for free. The MC5, based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, had their own political movement, the White Panther Party.

Ironically, Free were on the original bill but dropped out when organisers said they would be unable to pay them.

The obligatory psychedelic lightshow was provided by Peter Wynne Willson, today providing massive lighting rigs for stadium tours by U2 and Pink Floyd.

There was also a poetry gathering, ‘guerilla theatre’, cinema, DJs, and a science fiction convention with special guest William Burroughs, the American novelist and spoken word performer best known for the book ‘Naked Lunch’.

Former Worthing High School pupils Mick Farren and Gez Cox organised the event, renting the land at Patching from Mr J Fitzroy Somerset. Back then, rock festivals were a new idea and the local press reported terrified local residents, condemnation from the council’s health inspectors, and mixed reactions from the local clergy.

While Angmering’s Rev Reath was talking about getting food to the site, and reaching out to the hippy community, another local clergyman had a different view.

“They don’t do any work and then expect other people to help them,” said Rev H N Snelling , rector of Clapham and Patching, “ I don’t think we should encourage them to carry on with this mode of life. I can’t feel any pity for them”

But Mr Somerset was unrepentant about leasing the land to Mick Farren, saying “what he does with it is his own business.”

Phun City was the first free festival in the UK, but that wasn’t the original plan. Original posters, featuring a cartoon character drawn by International Times contributor Edward Barker, list a price of £2 for all three days, or day tickets for just £1.

However, the local authority took out an injunction in an attempt to stop the festival. By the time the injunction was lifted, organisers had three days left to set up the site and didn’t have any fences. Radio Caroline founder Ronan O’Reilly stepped in, providing financial backing to make sure the festival went ahead.

Those who attended remember a slightly shambolic festival and a naïve optimism, but overall a powerful sense of community.  And many wonder – if Worthing had embraced Phun City, would we now be hosting an event the size of Glastonbury every year? “

Building on #riotcleanup

As Worthing’s magnolia trees are in full flower, and a small patch of snowdrops has emerged in the front garden of Thompson Towers, I can’t help but reflect on something Tim, from The Beekeepers, said a couple of years ago; we love the blossom so much because it’s temporary, because it has a short life.

He was likening blossom to pop up shops, but it a good thought about any temporary intervention, occasional use of space or momentary action.

I’ve always favoured temporary, nomadic and transient projects; not through any fear of commitment, but because I like the way they inspire other people to follow them up with their own acts. Pop ups unlock the potential of people and places.

Last August, a month when the late summer heat hazed the South Downs and I spent the summer holidays swimming with my children in the sea, I started something which lasted a day but has rippled through the subsequent months.

#riotcleanup was a simple, open, honest response to the riots that had spread across London and then were imitated across England. I asked my friends on Twitter to help their local shopkeeper, if they had been affected by the riots. Get a broom, I Tweeted, some black sacks – nothing complicated, nothing political just an hour of helping somebody else. Sophie Collard, a travel writer with an abnormal interest in train travel, added a hashtag, #riotcleanup. And musician Sam Duckworth started a Twitter account to help to amplify the message.

An incredible number of people heard it, of course, and the images have become iconic; this week #riotcleanup is on the front cover of the Riots Communities & Victims Panel report into August’s unrest and last week it was light entertainment in an Omid Djalili dance for Sport Relief.

Looking after the place where I live is something I’ve always done; on the council estate where I grew up, proud ladies swept their garden paths, tidied away rubbish from communal areas and berated us children for our untidiness. Later I organised neighbours to clear up neglected green spaces on the Maybridge Estate. And during heavy snow in 2009, I mobilised residents to clear packed snow and ice from a footbridge. I’m not interested in becoming a ‘volunteer’ for somebody’s organisation, but am more than willing to stand up when my community needs help.

So, seven months after the riots, one of the ripples has hit the shore with an amazing opportunity. NESTA, with the Office of Civil Society, are investing in projects with the potential to increase in the giving and exchange of time, assets, skills, resources and money.

They’re supporting an idea Sophie and I had in discussions at the RSA in the weeks after #riotcleanup. So in the coming months, we’re developing #futurecleanup – a website which will use Twitter and Facebook to help people organise small, local, community actions all year round.

The same things that happened on the Maybridge Estate, many years ago, but with the power of the networks behind it. I went back to the estate, last week, to be photographed for the Worthing 50 project; the redbrick 1948 houses still look magnificent in the sunshine. But even more glorious is the blossom on the trees edging the streets.

Worthing’s new swimming pool

Side by side, the competition-winning design by Wilkinson Eyre, following a RIBA competition to design a new pool for Worthing; and the final design, after changes at the planning application stage.

While it’s great that Worthing is getting a new pool, a major civic investment, it concerns me that the design has been compromised.

In particular, the seafront elevation shown here doesn’t seem to blend well into the beach – and not shown here, will actually present a large wall to the beach. The connection to the neighbouring Esplanade, a 1930s raised walkway, has also been broken – and the walkway itself partially demolished ‘for security reasons’. The cantilevered cafe (on the right) has been reduced in height and thrust, losing the drama of the curved form, the cantilever and the cladding in the process – and in fact the cafe will now be to the north of the building, overlooking the road and not the seafront.

But perhaps most importantly the charm of the original wiggling roof, which looks like the patterns made by waves in sand, has been lost in favour of a more industrial form.

After getting the public behind the initial designs, I think those involved in planning, architecture and regeneration need to keep talking, educating and informing their audience about the process of urban design; and as importantly, managing expectations. This isn’t just about this small building in Worthing – it something to consider for all planning and regeneration projects, particularly if we want local people to become more engaged with the process and practice of urbanism.

in this case, we’re getting a good pool, but not the great one we were expecting.

(images Wilkinson Eyre Architects/ Worthing Borough Council shared with kind permission of Paul Yallop, Worthing Borough Council)

Ercol crashpad

This last few weeks, with #riotcleanup in London and the Brighton Digital Festival stuff happening at Fabrica. I’ve been really lucky and able to spend time with lovely people. Spending time with people like Sophie, Sam, Kate, Alex, Fred, Jon, Masa, Dale and Adam in Brighton and London has made me think. I need that stimulation and conversation and down here in Worthing, there’s not enough of it.

This weekend, as part of Made In Worthing the wiggy prophet Lloyd Davis (pictured) is coming to town. He’s going to crash at Thompson Towers as part of his nomadic tour of the UK. We once had Bill Drummond to stay, in a hastily tidied children’s bedroom. He made me think and inspired new work and new ways. I’m pretty sure that Lloyd will do the same.

So here’s the deal. Once a month, somebody can come and stay on the sofa. It’s not luxury, but it is an original Ercol Studio Daybed and there will be decent pillows and a handstitched quilt to sleep under. And tables from Out of the Dark You’ll get breakfast with crazed children, and a couple of days wandering round Worthing, hanging out at Mooey’s and Coast and our 30s beach chalet. We’ll catch up with people like Madam Salami, Worthing characters who I love to bits. It’ll be fun and thoughtful.

Let me know if you fancy a weekend by the sea. It would be good to see you.

2010 in lists

Selected highlights from a frankly fabulous year
Moments in time:
  1. Students protests, London
  2. Pier Day, Worthing
  3. Sean O Hagan’s Music for Sixty Ukuleles and Sixty Children premiere, Wukuele Festival
  4. Tracey Emin ‘I Never Stopped Loving You’ switch-on, Droit House, Margate

Shops and cafes:

  1. Secondo, Brixton
  2. Green Cuisine, Worthing
  3. The Book Ferret, Arundel
  4. Tin Angel, Coventry
  5. Crafty, Belfast
  6. Bookcase of Carlisle
  7. Made In Belfast
  8. Foxes, Carlisle

Books:

  1. Surface Detail – Iain M Banks (Orbit)
  2. A Guide To The New Ruins Of Great Britain – Owen Hatherley (Verso)
  3. Alec – Eddie Campbell (Top Shelf)
  4. Alphabets, a miscellany of letters (Black Dog Publishing)

Places to sit and think:

  1. Worthing Pier
  2. Coventry Cathedral
  3. Carlisle Cathedral
  4. Neal’s Yard, Seven Dials
  5. Old Fort, Shoreham Beach

Empty shop projects:

  1. Theatre Absolute, Coventry
  2. ReFound, Belfast
  3. Slack Space Colchester
  4. LET, Pennine Lancashire
  5. ARKLab, Cardiff

Music:

  1. Yeasayer – Odd Blood
  2. Best Coast – Crazy For You
  3. Dirty Revolution – Before The Fire
  4. Sleigh Bells – Treats
  5. Paul Weller – Wake Up The Nation
Places to stay:

An old poem for a long-past Poetry Day

This was commissioned by the Worthing Herald for National Poetry Day; I’d marked the previous National Poetry Day by being poet in residence, writing poems about the week’s news. This poem was supposed to celebrate the way that the paper was part of the fabric of life in the town, from the hills to the beach; thoroughly there at every moment in everyday life. The editor thought it was just encouraging people to burn the paper so he didn’t print it.

We rose early and
made paper aeroplanes
from pages of last week’s paper;
we threw them from the highest point
of tattered Teville Gate,
and watched them drift over
the empty, old Norfolk Hotel;
further south towards the Town Hall tower;
and west towards the Creative Quarter.

We made banners from the sports pages
and waved them high as we marched for Fair Trade
and against Tetra masts.

We wrapped morning-caught fish
in the small ads,
ate our local catch with chips for lunch.

Later we made an armada of paper boats
and launched them from the landing stage
of the Art Deco pier;
watched them drift in the lazy late afternoon sun,
west to Littlehampton and out
to the distant, just-visible Isle of Wight.

And as the sun set we stood on Highdown hill
and lit the fire under a hot air balloon
(a two foot wide ball of twisted withy sticks
and pages from the business section and glue)
and watched it float high over Worthing
before it was lost in the fading light
and caught by its own flames.

Tank Girl in Worthing

Originally written for the Worthing Community website – this comprehensive Tank Girl biog was the site’s most popular page, so when that site was lost I moved it to my old blog, I Hate Dan Thompson, where it’s had 37,695 views. Woo.

“It’s just a matter of trawling our brains for good ideas” Jamie Hewlett

In 1988, artists Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin created Tank Girl for Issue One of Deadline Magazine. The pair, living in a Worthing bedsit, could have had little idea of where she would take them. While studying at Northbrook College of Art and Design, Hewlett, Martin and fellow student Philip Bond, had created a fanzine called Atomtan. Deadline, created by Steve Dillon and Brett Ewins, was a more accomplished forum for these new talents. Even amongst strips like Wired World, the great Love And Rockets and Hewlett and Martin’s own Fireball XL5, Tank Girl, with its post-feminist and post-apocalyptic vision of a not-too-distant future, stood out.

Seminal style magazine The Face referred to her as “Fab!” while the NME predicated “a rise to world domination”. The anarchic comic strips were full of cut-and-paste imagery, and used a visual equivalent of the sampling that was becoming so popular in a music scene where guitar bands like Pop Will Eat Itself, Jesus Jones and Carter USM were discovering new technology.

It was easy, in the politicised late-’80s and early ’90s, to identify with Tank Girl’s aggressive attitude, upfront humour and sexuality. Hewlett and Martin said “She was Thelma and Louise before the fact; she was Mad Max designed by Vivienne Westwood; Action Man designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier.” She was an obvious icon, and Tank Girl t-shirts began to spring up- including one for the Clause 28 March, against Thatcher’s homophobic legislation. In 1991, Deadline was approached by Wrangler, who, keen to build an advertising campaign for their jeans that was individual and anarchic, used Tank Girl in a series of press ads in 1991. Hewlett and Martin subverted the character at every turn. She flirted with a hippy revival and new age fashion before it was fashionable, dabbled in post-modernism, and hung out with riot girrrls and the beat generation. Tank Girl could be all things to all people and Hewlett and Martin revelled in their artistic freedom.

More surprisingly, readers loved this freedom too. Far from wanting Tank Girl to be tied down to shooting, shouting and spitting, they wanted to see what Hewlett and Martin could dream up next.

Tank Girl wasn’t just a British phenomena, though. Penguin, the largest publisher in Britain, had bought the rights to collect the Tank Girl strips as a book (they all appeared first in Deadline), and offers for foreign rights were plentiful. Before long, Tank Girl had been published in Spain, Italy, Germany, Scandinavia, Argentina, Brazil and Japan; several publishers were fighting for the US license. Eventually, Dark Horse Comics acquired the US rights to publish Tank Girl and a US version of Deadline. Two successful series of Tank Girl’s adventures and two collections created a stir in the US, and before long there was interest in a film version.

Established rock stars including Adam Ant, Billy Bragg, The Ramones and New Order loved her and were keen to be involved in the magazine. In the early ’90s, bands like Blur, The Senseless Things, Carter USM, Curve and Teenage Fanclub all appeared in Deadline. In true post-modern style, comic strip and reality blurred. Many of the bands appeared in the strips and Hewlett’s artwork appeared on their record sleeves. Sarah Stockbridge, a catwalk model and favourite of punk designer Vivienne Westwood’s, brought Tank Girl to life in a series of photos that went on to be used in Elle, Time Out, Select and The Face. Vogue, too, featured Tank Girl. They cited her as a crucial influence on “Bad Girl Fashion” which featured shaven heads, body piercing and tattoos.

Rachel Talalay, producer of Hairspray and Cry Baby for cult director John Waters, and herself director of Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, called up Deadline’s Tom Astor. Talalay had been sent the Tank Girl book for Christmas and was immediately smitten. With an unswerving belief in the project, she steered the Tank Girl movie into pre-production with MGM in January 1994.

Hewlett, although still living in Worthing with girlfriend and one-time Elastica member Jane Olliver, was spending time with fellow Deadline artist Glynn Dillon, hanging out with bands in Camden’s Good Mixer pub and helping formulate a scene that would become Britpop. Hewlett and Dillon brought their new friends to Worthing, and to seafront venue The Wine Lodge. The pub was described by press as ” Camden on Sea.” Elastica, Menswear and Blur could be seen listening to DJs like Worthy Dan, who went on to work at legendary London club Blow Up, whose website http://www.blowup.co.uk charts their long-running success. After the Wine Lodge, the party carried on at The Factory, a nightclub whose design- by Hewlett, and friends including fellow artist Philip Bond- echoed the Tank Girl strip. Bold red and green stripes, a wall of blown-up panels from Tank Girl set against ’70s wallpaper, a Ford Escort hung from the ceiling and toilets pasted with pages from old annuals were a suitable backdrop for a mix of alternative sounds. [Hewlett’s nightclub designs were eventually lost when I redesigned the club. DT]

Meanwhile, the Tank Girl film was ready for the cinemas. Disappointingly, the final film was a result of much fighting, some agreement, and too much compromise. Although it preserves the anarchic and nonsensical charm of the Tank Girl strips, reeling from Busby Berkley to Mad Max and back through Tex Avery, it mystified critics and public alike. It sacrificed the danger and raw vitality of the original, and was a box office flop. Deadline, after reputedly taking huge gambles on their future with Tank Girl merchandising, folded.

A new Tank Girl comic was short-lived. Meanwhile, Hewlett and Olliver opened a vintage clothes shop in Worthing. Called 49, it, too, folded after a short life. It looked like Hewlett and Martin’s fifteen minutes of fame was over. Hewlett moved to London. After splitting with girlfriend Olliver, he moved into a flat with Blur’s Damon Albarn. He had also just split from his long-term girlfriend, Elastica’s Justine Frischmann.

Hewlett worked on a number of advertising campaigns. His designs also appeared on the set of children’s TV programme SM:TV, presented by ex-pop stars and Byker Grove actors Ant and Dec.

Rumours about how Albarn and Hewlett spent their time were rife, but no-one predicted the end result of their relationship – Gorillaz. The band are four comic characters who could easily have appeared in a Tank Girl strip. Using digital technology, Hewlett has animated his characters, giving a new twist to his distinctive visual style. Interestingly the band’s live line-up includes The Senseless Thing’s drummer Cass. The website, http://www.gorillaz.com is a testament to Hewlett’s creativity. And with Gorillaz winning MTV Music Awards including Best Dance Track and Best Song, Hewlett has taken the earlier crossover of comics and real life to new extremes.

Lib Dems and Conservatives working together? Not here.

Within minutes of being declared MP for Worthing West, old-school Tory Peter Bottomley was engaging in nasty, old fashioned political squabbling and point scoring. Whatever happens nationally, it seems it’s no change at Haverfield House, Worthing’s Tory HQ which (on my last visit) had pictures of Thatcher and Churchill on the walls and a retired army major behind the desk.

In his acceptance speech, Peter talks about the need to engage with the voters who aren’t turning out. ‘Next week we need to start campaigning to get the one third of voters who didn’t vote engaged in the process. Nationally, we know that elections are won or lost by those who vote. The fact that the Liberals have lost seven seats is actually a sign that it’s people who have a say.’

Perhaps one way to help people have their say would be listen to everyone who voted, value even those who didn’t get your vote this time (the Dalai Lama taught me, years ago, to value my enemies for the lessons they taught me, not to hate them), and let people feel they have some engagement with both parties and processes?

For years, Adur and Worthing’s councils have flip-flopped between the Lib Dems and the Conservatives. Peter seems determined that, at a local level, that divide-and-conquer approach is the way forward. Regardless of what’s best for Worthing’s voters – any or all of them, Liberals, Conservatives and non-voters alike.

Peter says, ‘I tell you this I shall never willingly support a system which gives a permanent place in parliament to the BNP or a permanent place in government to the Liberals.’ (That’s a direct quote, taken from a video by the Worthing Herald)

That’s dangerous stuff, putting the Liberals in the same sentence as the BNP, but do remember Bottomley is a long-term political animal and he knows the effect of that pairing. Make the Liberals sound like an extreme party.

But what does he mean – ‘a permanent place in government’? I’m not sure even Peter knows; he has since said to the local paper that for ‘never willingly‘ people should have heard ‘would find it difficult‘ and for ‘a permanent place‘ he meant a ‘near-permanent place‘ (as if there is such a thing; permanent or temporary, surely, no qualification?). Already, those brave words, full of election-night bravado, are being taken back, slightly.

No democratic system guarantees any party a permanent place in government; but the various proportional representation systems do suggest a future where neither Labour nor Conservatives would be guaranteed places as the government and the opposition. A future where all voters feel valued, and that they have a voice. And surely that way, empowerment and a positive approach to partnership, are the ways to bring out the absent voters?

Getting down in the hole

I spend a lot of time thinking about regeneration. It’s a creative process, turning failing towns into interesting places, and I like creative processes. So like every other one, whether it’s drawing or performing poetry or presenting to a film camera, I want to understand how the thing works. What are the right tools, where do you make the first mark, how do you finish the thing?

My hometown has been my nursery slope. Worthing’s been suffering for years, a gradual loss of any sense of place or purpose, and as I’m always plugged in to grassroots community activity, I’ve been watching from the front line. I’ve got my hands dirty, time and again. Literally, cleaning drains backstage at the local theatre, stripping the shabby wreck of a cinema, carving a new cinema out of an old scenery workshop, clearing shops of debris and rubble to make community spaces.

About fifteen years, the council stopped seeing Worthing as a tourist destination and said the town was a business centre. There was no action to back this up, no new business parks or office buildings. Just words on the boards at the town’s gateway.

So since then, it’s been neither one nor the other. The folly of that lack of focus is demonstrated by the fact that while the recession has wiped out a few large employers locally, like Norwich Union and Lloyds TSB, there’s been no investment in tourism and the town can’t capitalise on the rising number of stay-in-Britain tourists.

But Worthing hasn’t reached rock bottom yet. We have a masterplan, and an active regeneration team who are taking exactly the right approach, doing what they can and supporting people as they start small, sustainable initiatives; pushing for better quality and long-term thinking.

That team has helped the planning department to drive up the quality of new developments developments, with decently designed social housing replacing old pubs. There’s a new village of retirement flats in the town centre where there was once a dated art college. On the seafront, the site of the burnt-out Warnes hotel has become a swish and stylish Art Deco block of flats. The ever failing Guildbourne Centre had a minor revamp a few years ago, and cosmetically looks much better – although it still has a completely empty first floor. The historic Dome Cinema is safely restored, even if the Trust managing it aren’t thinking comprehensively about the spaces they have and consequently the building’s massively underused. Along the seafront there’s a cool beachside cafe next to half a dozen art studios carved out of old beach chalets. Next door, there’s a new and truly landmark swimming pool planned, to replace the crumbling concrete Aquarena.

The bigger projects, like the massive, empty Teville Gate quarter, and building new colleges to replace antique huts and 60s architecture, haven’t even made it to the starting line.

But all of this all fits the narrative I’ve understood for regeneration. When I was involved in a huge masterplanning effort in the town, one of the planners said Worthing just needed ‘urban acupuncture’ – small pressure at key points to revive the town. I thought that made sense, and that the projects I’d been involved in – that historic cinema, the beachside cafe and studios, a crumbling old theatre – would be the pin pricks the town needed.

After working on projects in empty shops and seeing towns across the country this year, I’m rethinking that idea though. I’d always thought that the caterpillar, wrapped up in its cocoon, transforms into a beautiful butterfly. It doesn’t. It dies in there, rots away, and something new and beautiful is made from the rotted flesh. There are distinct stages, not a constant process.

I don’t think we can start regeneration while the town’s heading down, and turn it around that way. I don’t think the caterpillar transforms into the butterfly. I thought it did, we could, but I think maybe we need to reach the absolute bottom, and stop, and contemplate where we are.

There’s a story Leo tells in The West Wing. A man falls in a hole. A doctor and a priest can’t help him – they won’t get in the hole. But the man’s friend come along and jumps in the hole too.

“Our guy says, ‘Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.’ The friend says, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.’”

I’m thinking back to the Brighton I knew as a child; a run-down, shabby seaside town with no place or purpose. It had to sink really low; that pushed property prices down, allowed people to think creatively about the spaces available and how to use them, and allowed a meteoric rise from failing city to special place.

And looking at Margate, where an absolute decimation of the town centre has led to new, fresh thinking and focused action. Margate, with its magnificent old town, will thrive in the next few years.

A bushfire clears the ground for new growth. Plants have adapted, with extra shoots that push up quickly after a fire and seeds that need the heat to germinate. The Eucalyptus even encourages fire, with oil-filled leaves, so that it can start new growth and spread.

I suspect that the people that usually start a town’s renaissance, the artists and writers, the entrepreneurs and visionaries, are the same. They need the clear ground and the heat. They need to get down in the hole.

In the past few years, Worthing has started to fill with refugees from the property wars in Brighton and London. I suspect that this is a false dawn; it looks like a new, comfortable, middle class rebirth but really these people, on the whole, want to dress Worthing up as Brighton’s younger brother or make a London-lite, with Starbucks and Gap. I don’t think that will ever work. I don’t think people living in the town are feeling a shift, a change of culture. Trying to imitate Brighton just makes it clearer we’re thirty years behind them, in terms of regeneration.

I want to see Worthing become a better Worthing, not an imitation of somewhere else. Give me a burnt space, clear ground, a fresh place to start from. Jump down in this hole with me, will you?

Worthing vs Lewes – what makes small towns tick?

What makes towns tick? I’ve been visiting a lot of town centres on the quest to fill empty shops. Why is Lewes such a lovely place to spend time, while Worthing feels a bit of a wasteland?

It’s more than just built environment, although has something to do with it. Yes, Lewes has lots of history, beautiful old buildings, and is wrapped around some very curvaceous hills which makes the whole place feel exciting. But Worthing has plenty of nice buildings too, especially around the fringes of the town centre – Warwick Street and Brighton Road, Montague Place and Liverpool Terrace, even the bottom end of South Street and the Royal Arcade. There’s lots of lovely Deco and Art Moderne, some quirky Victorian, a bit of eccentric Edwardian, and even some quite chunky, urban Brutalism that I like.

But still, something’s missing. Partly, it’s the quality of shop fronts and shop fittings. In Lewes, the shops feel as though they’ve been there a hundred years without significant change – things feel old, and loved, and trusted – like heirlooms passed from father to son.

I visited a jewellers in Lewes, using a carefully, conscientuously converted butcher’s shop – he was proud of the marks the meat cleaver had left in the floor, and had made his work benches out of timber, blown down in the 87 gale, cut from trees that used to belong to Winston Churchill.

In Worthing too many shop fronts are cheap, and plastic, and the insides of many shops lack character. If it doesn’t feel like the shopkeepers love their own property, it’s hard for us as customers to feel much affection I think. There are exceptions – Pestle & Mortar in Portland Place could have been there fifty years, and Bookstack’s bonkers furniture collection makes it feel lived in.

But more importantly, it’s about stories. If you’ve lived in a town long enough, the place is alive with narrative. In Worthing, where my family have been for generations, I can tell you stories about my dad’s old record shop and where he used to sit selling IT; his father’s time working in an electricity showroom or guarding the gasworks against the IRA in the 1930s; the plots of land his father and grandfather owned, sold to The Corporation.

But sadly, Worthing’s shops don’t carry the same history. I’m sure only a handful remain from my childhood. Where are Bentalls, Gamleys and Allans the stationers? What happened to Optimus Books, Kinch & Lack for school uniform, even Woolworths and Sussex Stationers? Faced with a lack of continuity, it’s hard to love a place – it becomes a collection of retail units, not a tangled mess of shops and stories.

Lewes wears its history proudly, like an eccentric old uncle in waistcoat and pocket watch; and like the old uncle, it will tell you great stories if you ask.

Towns like Worthing need to rediscover that sense of place, the special corners, the stories and songs that weave a town together to make a community.

Worthing’s Stabbing – Who’s Responsible?

Should we blame one young man for a murder, or see it instead as an inevitable consequence of our collective inaction?

It’s obvious that the stabbing of Syden Pearson has devastated his family and friends. But it will have the same effect on the family and friends of young Kai Orgles, in prison accused of Syden’s murder. 

Two families, countless young people and a whole community will be experiencing a heady mix of anger, sadness, and frustration. 

Since Worthing started to spread north-west in the years after World War Two, the optimism of the new housing estates has been dulled by the lack of facilities for young people. Durrington-on-Sea is a town on the edge of the town, a long way from our cinemas, bowling alleys and icer1inks, especially for young people without money.

Eight years ago, I was lucky enough to work with young people in Durrington. I met teenagers like Kai who were sparky, tough and independent and whose main failing was a lack of aspiration. Elsewhere, their better attributes would see them become businessmen or community leaders. But in Durrington, they simply couldn’t see that they had opportunity and the possibility of achievement. 

We knew then, and so too did Sussex Police, West Sussex County Council’s Youth Service and Worthing Borough Council, that to help the Sydens and Kais, we needed to raise aspiration and provide opportunity. But there has simply been no change in the area. And another generation of young people must feel ignored and abandoned, even if they don’t have the emotional vocabulary to tell us this.

This poverty of aspiration was identified by government minister Tessa Jowell in 2004 as the ‘sixth giant’ after economist William Beveridge’s five post-war ‘giants of physical poverty’ – want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness – which Worthing’s new estates sought to address.

One thing we know is that Kai wasn’t born wanting to commit murder. 

Today, the whole of Worthing must take responsibility for the damage done to Syden, Kai and their family and friends, and we must come together to be the brave ones who slay the giants. We must act, we must do it together, and we must do it now or, like Syden and Kai, we will run out of tomorrows.

The Fisherman’s Prayer, The Ice Prince and Me

At 7am this morning, with the streets still dark and empty, I loaded the bike pannier with six chunks of ice. Inside each was a splinter of pine from the cargo of the Ice Prince, which sank a year ago. And – a year ago today – Worthing, West Sussex woke to find thousands of tons of that pine on its pebble beaches.

I rode along the prom, and stopped at the Foreshore Office, by the Lido; locking my bike to an old fishing boat winch. 

One by one, in the dark, I unpacked each chunk of ice, photographed them, and took them to the sea. In the dark, cold, wind and rain, I recited a traditional fisherman’s prayer before releasing each chunk of ice into the salty sea. Each release was one groyne to the east, leaving a trail from west to east.

By the time I released the sixth, by the pier, the sun was rising and the beach was light.

As I walked back along the beach, the chunks I had launched had been released by the sea again, thrown up the tide line and left stranded. Unusual, odd objects but somehow looking as if they belonged there, amongst the pebbles.

It felt raw, and rough, and primal, and ancient, and religious, this simple action. It marked a year. It marked an event. 

Tomorrow, I will walk the beach and see if I can find the pine splinters.

Dig Drawings

[photoxhibit=4]

The work from the Titnore dig site is coming together: some drawings scanned, some of the photos printed and the text coming together. It’s the last week the team are at the site, although it’s unclear whether the county archaeologist will give the builders the green light to move onto site yet, as even more local history is being found this late in the dig. A series of roundhouses are being dug at the moment, adding another layer to the Roman and Medieval remains already found.

I’m planning some time in the art rooms at Worthing High – a chance for some big paintings inspired by the site and what’s been found.

Next step is to find a good gallery and set a date for an exhibition.

Roman Worthing

I’ve been lucky enough to be allowed on site at Titnore Lane, just north of Northbrook College, where archaeologists from AOC are digging before work starts on the new St Barnabas Hospice.

[photoxhibit=2]

I have to confess to being a Time Team fan, so being on a huge site like the one at Titnore, with a team of 18 diggers, is like being let loose in a sweetshop (something else I really enjoy). I have set my own brief too, to record the flavour and feel of the site rather than just the finds. I’ve been using sketchbooks, my trusty Fuji camera, and notebooks to take down snatched of conversation.

The southern side of the site is coming up Roman, with bags full of pottery fragments; and while sketching on one of the spoil heaps yesterday, I picked up my first finds, two pieces of pot. Small in the scale of things, but exciting enough for me.

There should be enough for an exhibition, and if I can find the funding I hope to publish a small book about the site. Selected photos here – and on Flickr – but I’m saving the best ones for the final project.

Made In Worthing

So – Worthing will get a new arts festival in September 2009, a year from now.

Made In Worthing will showcase contemporary visual and live arts, music and literature, produced by local artists, companies and groups – and will continue the tradition of the now-defunct Artists and Makers Festival to bring interesting, challenging and unusual guests to the town. For the record, they’ve included Bill Drummond, Dave Gorman, Andrew Collins, Gimpo, The Caravan Gallery and acts from the Big Chill.

Made In Worthing will aim to explore the place and spirit of Worthing and take a sideways look at our local identity. The whole thing will be brought together by the Revolutionary Arts Group and will happen in September 09.

Interested?