3rd January 2023: New year

It’s been a dull rainy start to the New Year here, whilst Europe is experiencing extreme heat for the Winter season and parts of America are under a big freeze. It’s my first day back at my desk and it felt important to take a walk – in the rain and wind! – to see the sea

I live less than half a mile from the tidal River Yare, which enters from the North Sea just metres away, so enjoying ‘blue space’ is fairly accessible to me. I tend to see the sea most weeks usually, most often for work purposes (such as leading workshops or walks) and sometimes for my own pleasure. Today, my visit was timed with a short circular route via the Post Office to run some New Year errands, along the River Yare to the Gorleston breakwater, and back. I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions as such, but I do make a conscious effort to reflect back on the year as it ends, considering what worked and what didn’t, and what I’d like more or less of in the coming year. My 2022 reflections included thoughts about wanting more space and down-time, and wanting to continue to deepen into my ‘blue space’ engagement work, so taking a walk on this blustery January morning seemed to fulfil these desires!

This year is National Year of the Coast, which marks the creation of the new England Coast Path. The aim of this initiative is to promote the coast as a sustainable year-round destination, to raise awareness of issues impacting coastal communities and businesses, and to showcase new developments and products. At Under Open Sky, we will – of course – be leading a range of coastal engagement activities with local Norfolk/Suffolk communities to deepen our connection to our sea and learn more about marine and coastal ecosystems. It’s been amazing to instigate and lead on the first year of our activity, and I’m excited to see how we grow and evolve in 2023

Through Under Open Sky, my project proposal ‘The Sea and Me’ has been shortlisted as a Centre for Cultural Value project this year. As part of the Collaborate fund, we’ll be matched up with an academic research partner to lead research around what it means to exist ‘on the (coastal) edge’ through arts-based methods

I’m particularly interested in how the seascape shapes our collective identities and the impacts on our health, especially in the context of the Norfolk coast being one of the fastest eroding in Europe and UK seaside towns tending to experience high levels of depravation and social challenges through under-investment. Academic partners can submit their expression of interest to working with us – and the other 9 shortlisted UK projects – between 5th January and 20th February. For more information on the programme and the shortlisted projects seeking partnership, visit the Centre for Cultural Value website

Later this month – again, through Under Open Sky – I’m going to be linking up with the Restoration Trust to work on some creative activities to explore the anniversary of the Great North Sea Flood. In 1953, our coastline experienced a devastating storm serge. I’ll be working with the group to co-curate an exhibition at Gorleston Library to commemorate the event and connect this experience with our changing coastal climate. On days like today, it’s easy to see how the seas energy can burst forth and rip through land communities, but equally, it’s hard to imagine the sheer trauma of the experience. I have, like many others, relatives who survived that night

Working in collaboration with the sea is complex, energising and humbling. I’m constantly impressed by the great power, to soothe and to agitate. I feel energised by the fact it’s the Year of the Coast this year, but however this year unfolds, and whatever our futures hold, I’m going to keep being curious about the sea and nurturing blue space connectedness