Chris Blunkell

My photo

I'm married to Claire and together, with our son Lewis, we live in Seasalter - just outside Whitstable, Kent, in the south east of England.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

STORM DAMAGE, FAVERSHAM ROAD MARCH 2013

Photos of storm damage to Faversham Road beach, Seasalter, over the last couple of days. As you can see, gates and fences are starting to go, and the walls at the feet of people's gardens are now being undermined. This isn't new - I told the Environment Agency that there was a problem two years ago, which was confirmed by a monitoring report compiled by Canterbury City Council. The Agency agreed that something must be done, and made a commitment to remedying the situation. Then they changed their minds, and did nothing. How long will it be before people start losing their homes, and what will it take to get the Agency to act? People - elderly people, generally - live here. I find the logic that informs officials' decisions that it is right to do nothing in such situations to be as disturbing as it is baffling. How did we become so indifferent to the vulnerability of others?

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Gimme Shelter II

This piece is an attempt at capturing the rather washed out light that can be found on 
the coast at Seasalter , where I live, when the sky is boiling and the wind is up. These 
houses are perhaps 50m from the beach, and on days like this the sound of the waves 
ripping into the shingle and then sucking back can be hard to ignore. Government's 
plans to 'realign' this stretch of coast means that the houses are likely to be lost to 
the sea at some point.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

IN PRAISE OF A LIFE TURNED UPSIDE DOWN


Last weekend I travelled to the south coast to conduct an interview for the research I’m doing on coastal change and the inclusivity of the arrangements by which decisions are made about, for example, whether or not to defend areas from the sea and efforts at regeneration that might impact upon such decisions in the future. Roland O’Brien, my interviewee, was generous to me in every possible way: with coffee, lunch, time and a willingness to talk freely about his experience. I am particularly grateful to him for his time because, as a consequence of his commitment to ensuring that people where he lives have a say in what happens to them, and his ongoing wish that they should get a better shake, this is a commodity in short supply.

It was in the mid-2000s that draft plans with regard to coastal defence in his area were made public, placing hundreds of homes in the vicinity under threat. Angered, Roland roused support against these plans, formed a campaign group and began researching, writing and lobbying. The scale of his commitment has been astonishing – amongst other things, he has been central to the establishment of an area-wide regeneration group, developed a bid for national funding for a regeneration scheme, and served as a local councillor on the back of the need for his area to be defended from the sea. I spoke to him in his office tucked away in the eaves of his house; it is crammed with box files of literature of various kinds which, it strikes me, is a suitable metaphor for the effect of this work on his life and that of his family. This work, this commitment, fills their lives.

Roland O'Brien in his office. Out of shot sit shelf after shelf
of box files containing the minutaie of his campaigning work.
Note the portrait of Don Quixote.
At the moment Roland works on an assembly line for money, whilst his wife Angela teaches. It would be fair to say that they are not rich. He used to work as an agricultural labourer, and whilst the money was not great he enjoyed a degree of freedom to exercise some flexibility with his time. He lost that job, however, and now struggles to make daytime-scheduled Council meetings to the extent that he has to use the very limited amount of holiday over which he has discretion to this end. He told me that he has asked that meetings be held in the evening so that he and other working people can attend, but has made no impression.  Nonetheless, his evenings remain filled with the job of trying to get a better deal for people.

All of this has taken what sounds like an astonishing toll on his life and those around him, both financially and in health terms. Not so long ago he told me that his already limited income had dropped between a quarter and a third as a consequence of his commitment, and that he had suffered a physical collapse when the stress of activity had been especially acute. This year he is going to use his holiday time to spend a week in France with his family, and if anybody deserves to enjoy some time off it is surely these people.  Would it hurt politicians and officials to pay a bit more heed to the toll that civic participation, increasingly vital to the legitimacy of their policy decisions, can exert on people’s lives?  My heart sinks when I read yet another policy document that contains within it the vague but killer phrase “We will work in partnership with communities…”, because this will almost certainly require somebody’s life to be turned upside down, possibly with pernicious effects, and pass unacknowledged. Yesterday, when Roland and I walked past signage at a completed regeneration site that was significantly the result of his efforts he pointed out that at least one organisation that had managed to get its name attached to the end result had had no meaningful involvement in it. Meanwhile, his many hours of work, and perseverance in the face of what sounds like organisational politicking and a variety of obstacles placed in his path, had gone unremarked upon. That he observed this with a good, if weary humour, is of great credit to him.  

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Whiteout

I have decided that as I work on case studies for my research I will keep a  visual record by painting and sketching. I enjoy doing these things, and I also think it may make the end product more interesting. This painting, on which the paint was barely dry when I photographed it, is of Faversham Road where I live in south east England - indeed the point of view is from directly outside my home. If projections turn out to be correct, and we are unsuccessful in persuading government to defend us from rising sea levels, this place may not exist in 70 years time.