Wivenhoe’s Big Society

To Wivenhoe Moving Image for tonights screening of The Social Network.

Throughout I find myself conjuring up disturbing images of Eric Pickles or even David Cameron bursting through the pop up screen – and in the full glare of the fairy lights waxing lyrical about Moving Image and the Big Society.

On the face of it Wivenhoe is a fine example of the Big Society – a place with gumption and get up and go. If something is missing someone will volunteer to provide it. No independent cinema – not a problem Wivenhoe has two cinema providers (new kids on the block Moving Image and the more established cinema club at the Nottage. The town happily boasts a poetry society, a comedy club, a local paper (the wonderful scarpenters times – never knowingly found online), a rival magazine from the enterprising folk at St Marys. Then there is the thriving May Fair, the ferry, the theatrical antics (and mis antics) of the panto group and the Gilbert and Sulivan Society. Thats not to mention the Wivenhoe Society, the Wivenhoe forum and many many more.

[Wivenhoe May Fair – photo by local photographer Lindsay Wakelin]

Literally every weekend something is happening – somewhere -initiated and run by enthusiastic volunteers who spotted something missing and moved to fill the gap. No wonder Eric and Dave are bursting to pop through the Moving Image Screen (in my (admittedly) weird head at least).

But (and doesn’t there always have to be a but) Wivenhoe is fortunate in many ways. It has many factors going for it which simply arent the case for towns and villages just five or six miles away. For one it retains its Railway Station (oh and I should mention the Railway Station boasts a poetry blackboard, a gallery and an active station adopters group called Off the Rails). A quick, easy (National Express permitting) route to London means their is employment and money here. Talking of money having a University up the road doesn’t half help- especially when half the staff choose to make Wivenhoe their home. Then theres the fact that Wivenhoe has an atmosphere which attracts creative types (it even has (I discovered today) its own Alfred Wallis in Ernie Turner and Francis Bacon once had a studio here ). It may not be St Ives … but perhaps its only a matter of time. There are people in Wivenhoe with the time, money, inclination, skills and ability to make things happen.

In complete contrast Jaywick sits on the coast a little over ten miles away. Four months ago East Jaywick was announced as the most deprived area in England and as you wonder through its streets (originally designed as holiday homes) its not hard to see why. Theres no hint of panto, poetry or may fairs here. You sense a sense of pride (the kind of pride and sense of home that prevents planners from demolishing the lot) but theres a sadness which manifests itself as slightly threatening as we head for the Martello Tower and the opening of If the Invader Comes ( a stunning multi media exhibition which runs throughout summer)

Its an air I recognise from my time in Leicester.

For five years I lived on the Braunestone estate. Originally the home of the Winstanley family it was compulsory purchased by Leicester City Council in 1925. The land was used to build new houses to replace the squalid and cramped conditions of inner city Leicester. A laudable aim but in so doing in many ways all that was achieved was moving ‘problem’ families from the inner city into an exclusion zone at the edge of the city. By the early nineties Braunestone was recognised as one of the most deprived estates in the East Midlands. As a result it won £49.5 million of New Deal for Communities money. It became a highly controversial project – at first the community struggled to manage the fund and to earn the trust of partners. So a skilled team were brought in to move the project on – only to meet a wall of resistance. No wonder than that a report by Coventry University found conflict and poor communication hindered the scheme in its early years – it took (literally) years for the trust to develop to allow the kind of buy in which makes things happen. Mind it rapidly then caught up to be held up as one of the more succesfull New deal projects –

I lived next door to a large family of three generations,single mum, teenage children with one of the girls having a child of her own. We befriended two of the younger boys – gardening and baking with them both. In talking with them a clear reality emerged – that both boys were trapped in a Braunestone circle with no ambition or any sense of moving on or away. A trip to the City Centre was a rarity – ask them where they saw themselves after school and the answer was unemployed.

I suppose my point is simple – that of course the Big Society works where people have the skills, time and motivation to make things happen. Here in Wivenhoe your kind of pushing at an open door. But those very places which really need the ‘Big Society’ are more likely than not the places that dont have such people. And as Braunestone found its not as simple as throwing money (which we no longer have) and skilled people at an area to make the Big Society happen.

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2 thoughts on “Wivenhoe’s Big Society

  1. Pingback: The cupboard is bare – go fill it. A day at #FSE12 « Matthew Linley’s Blog

  2. Pingback: A year on my blog – the top ten posts of 2012 « Matthew Linley’s Blog

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