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Kristina Veasey visits Creative Landscapes at the English Heritage Open Day events in Hastings, East Sussex / 1 October 2010

9-12 September 2010 saw the opening of many of our nation’s treasured museums, houses and places of historical interest in a celebration of our national heritage.

On the Sunday afternoon we were headed for the fishing quarter. For anyone who isn’t familiar with the tall, tarred, wooden huts that tower above the shingle beach I must tell you that you are missing a visual treat. The Net Shops are huts built tall to save on space and with the function of providing space for the fishermen’s nets to be dried. The Hastings fishing fleet is unusual in that they launch their boats from the beach as they have traditionally done for centuries.

The Fishermen’s Museum is well worth a visit if you are interested in the history of the fleet and as it was open as part of the Heritage weekend I popped in on my visit. I’m a sucker for anything fish so I enjoyed reading and hearing the collection of oral testimonies of life in the fleet. I lost my partner for some time to a film of sea rescues, and lost my daughter in a large fishing boat.

The welcome in the museum was warm and the artifacts at times interesting, at times unusual and at times comical. A suit made of silver winkles and photos and newspaper clippings charting the antics of Biddy the Tub Man did well to illustrate the buzz and vibe that has centred around The Stade over the years. The more I saw, the more I was falling in love with the place and with such a rich history who could fail but to be inspired.

Sally Booth, Creative Landscape’s artist in residence, has drawn on this heritage to inspire her work over recent months. She worked from a studio opposite the Net Shops and on the beach itself, soaking up the atmosphere and translating it into images, some on balsa wood.

To find out more about how Sally approaches her work, you would do well to read her interview with Colin Hambrook on the Dada-South website When I met Sally on The Stade she was emerging from a timber-framed ‘beach hut’ with walls of semi-transparent screens. From within this drawing tent participants were being encouraged to draw or trace what they could see through the walls directly on to the screens.

My two year old added her scribble at floor level in the spirit of joining in, whilst others of different heights added their own views to the ever growing art work. It was an interesting exercise to take part in as it really encouraged you to look at the detail and form of the things around you, things that you may have otherwise not appreciated in such depth, or even noticed at all. Being almost hidden behind the screens I felt quite voyeuristic as I observed and recorded the activities of other visitors milling around outside. 

My partner, not so keen on staying in one place for any amount of time, was not so easily engaged and I had soon lost him to the Net Shop next door where archive films were showing. Having retrieved him we raced a few doors down and slipped into the Shipwreck Museum just before closing.

My partner managed to secure time for me and the little one to have a good nose around by collaring the curator as he shut up shop, and quizzing him on the 1749 Amsterdam shipwreck (still visible at low tide at Bulverhythe). The day was finished perfectly with a fresh fish roll cooked on the beach and eaten whilst perching on an enormous old anchor amongst the boats. We animatedly shared the things we had explored and discovered, and eked out the last of the sunshine and a beautiful day out.

For many people having a day out and it running to plan without any unexpected problems or challenges arising along the way is probably pretty standard fare. However, for disabled people this is often not the case. To go for a day out and not experience any barriers around access, to be welcomed to participate in an interactive art project, and to have been able to appreciate some of our local heritage without any hitches is actually not the norm. So whilst Heritage Open Days may seem like a sure fire enjoyable way to spend a day for most people, I was at first apprehensive.

So, what helped to make this such a positive experience? Making old buildings accessible to all is always going to prove a tricky one. Finding the balance between preserving something from the past (often not physically accessible) with the opportunity to share it with our present and future generations is not an easy task. I know that a lot of organizations in Hastings (and Gosport) came forward to learn how they could make their events more accessible and it is on this enthusiasm that I hope things will build and indeed spread further afield.

The Accentuate program will run for another two years and so the prompting, guidance and encouragement for further steps to be taken should help to establish this way of thinking as ‘the norm’ and see many more improvements in future years... So I would like to thank all those organizations that got involved this year and to reassure them that as far as this disabled visitor is concerned, it is worth the effort you are making and worth building on.

This is an abridged version of Kristina Veasey's blog on the Our View section of the Accentuate website. To read her full report go to www.accentuate-se.org.

To read more about Creative Landscapes go to the project page at www.accentuate-se.org.

Kristina Veasey is a former international athlete with over 10 years experience working both directly and at strategy level with disabled children, young people and adults.