Reflecting on Big Questions through Local Places

On Monday I spoke to two groups about my book and the Tendring area of Essex at the Frinton Literary Festival. The Festival has been held since 2002, when it was founded by local literature enthusiast Philomena Dwyer, and is a wonderfully diverse yet compact celebration of the written word. Previous speakers have included Santa Montefiori, Baroness Gillian Shephard, Prue Leith, Peter Sissons and Dan Cruikshank. My talks were part of an innovation at the festival that started this year, an attempt to take the festival ‘out into the community’, holding events for community groups and at local libraries. As my subject matter focused on local geography, it seemed appropriate for me to be speaking as part of this section of the festival. It was a real privilege and I want to thank the organisers for what was a wonderful event.

The focus of my talk was on the geographical subject of my book, Pushed to the Edge, which is the Naze in Essex. However, I wanted to go beyond the specific place itself and reflect on ‘big questions’ of landscape change over time. I also reflected on my recent work relating to spirit of place, asking if it is transferable to non-National Trust properties or landscapes and I also ran an exercise asking the audience to consider the future of the local landscape. We looked at the story of the North Sea, especially people’s relationship with it as an entity over time. Although it brings prosperity to coastal districts, attracting tourists, people seem to have had a mixed view of it over time, especially in the context of the Naze where the land is rapidly eroding, partly as a result of wave energy.

Reflecting on big questions through local contexts is a surprisingly useful way of engaging people in consideration of such issues. This is because it becomes practical in the imagination and relevant for everyday living. When imagination can come together with a reflection on day to day reality it becomes all the more easier to imagine a better future and for life to become really quite exciting.

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