This guest post was written by Sally-Shakti Willow, an Eastbourne resident, who kindly shares with us some of her ideas about how a creative vision for the future of the Eastbourne downland can emerge if it remains in public ownership rather than being sold off by Eastbourne Borough Council:
Education, Arts & Culture : A Creative Vision for the South Downs
Eastbourne residents are very blessed to be among the rapidly diminishing number of people in the world who still have free and open access to substantial natural green spaces within easy reach. The value of the Eastbourne Downland to residents lies far beyond its monetary value as a financial asset and is yet to be fully realised. Here are some positive suggestions for enhancing the benefits of the Eastbourne Downs for locals and visitors to the town.
With a large network of home-educators in and around Eastbourne, as well as a considerable number of well-attended schools and a college serving learners of all ages, the educational potential of the South Downs is vast. Forest schools, outdoor education, guided walks, links with Sussex Wildlife Trust, Sacred Earth, Circle of Life Rediscovery and other Downland organisations could give a new generation the knowledge, care and contact they’d need to develop lasting relationships with the landscape, farms and habitats that make up the Downs. Recognising the varieties and characteristics of local trees, understanding the needs and behaviours of local wildlife, making connections between farming and food production or aquifers and water supply help to make local people of all ages more responsibly aware of their local environment and their place within it. If, globally, we want people to do more to protect the planet, we must begin by educating ourselves in our local environment and nurturing a strong sense of belonging within our own natural outdoor spaces.
A sense of belonging can also be fostered through community initiatives that bring people together on the Downs for a particular purpose, whether walking, working or wildlife-watching. Time spent on the Downs, and in outdoor learning environments generally, can have a significant positive impact on people’s mental, emotional and physical wellbeing, as confirmed by the English Outdoor Council, citing several studies such as the following:
Health, Well-Being and Open Space (UK)
Literature Review about the benefits of being outdoors, by Nina Morris, OPENspace Research Centre, 2003
Key points from this review of research include:
- Exposure and access to green spaces can have a wide range of social, economic, environmental and health benefits
- Urban green spaces are major contributors to the quality of the environment and human health and well-being in inner city and suburban areas.
- Outdoor recreation provides an opportunity to increase quality of life and heighten social interaction.
- Physical activity in the natural environment not only aids an increased life-span, greater well-being, fewer symptoms of depression, lower rates of smoking and substance misuse but also an increased ability to function better at work and home.
- Health Walk and Green Gym participants cited they stated being ‘in the countryside’ and ‘contact with nature’ as key motivating factors to be active.
- Short-term strategies must begin by establishing a clearer link between accessible urban green space and healthy living in the minds of politicians, policy-makers and the general public.
See also: the OPENspace research centre: http://www.openspace.eca.ed.ac.uk
The Eastbourne Arts community is thriving and growing. There has been year-on-year growth of the Eastbourne Festival of Arts and Culture providing access to a wide variety of local arts events for residents and visitors, the Towner gallery and other local galleries draw interest and visitors with frequent events and exhibitions and there are regular themed events on and around the seafront throughout the summer. To build on these artistic roots and take advantage of the unique location of the Downs around Eastbourne, the landscape could provide the location for a range of site-specific arts events including performance, installation, sculpture, land art projects, landscape interaction, storytelling, seasonal craft activities, painting courses, filming projects, psychogeography, creative writing, and many more. Seasonal events such as Brighton’s Apple Festival in early October would engage visitors with the seasonal rhythms and provide a series of focal points throughout the year for showcasing local arts and crafts projects.
The scope for a wide range of arts-based activities whose start or end points use the landscape to bring people into contact with the Downs is as vast as the human imagination. People of all ages would benefit from the opportunity to explore the Downland creatively and imaginatively through a variety of arts-based projects and opportunities.
There have recently been two very successful exhibitions held at the Pavilion on the seafront highlighting Eastbourne’s cultural, historical and architectural heritage – Eastbourne Ancestors in 2014 and Making Tracks: Eastbourne’s Bronze Age Mystery in 2016. Both of these exhibitions presented archeological finds from Eastbourne’s Downland and open spaces to provide tantalising glimpses into our ancient past.
Many unanswered questions remain – such as the use and purpose of the causewayed enclosure at Coombe Hill, the contents of the large number of tumuli on the hilltops, the location of a supposed temple at Butts Brow and the purpose of the causeway connecting the top of the Downs at Butts Brow with the lake at Shinewater, and possibly extending to create a ritual processional route between the Long Man at Wilmington and these more local sacred sites. We may not be used to thinking of sacred sites as existing on our own doorstep, but the archaeological evidence points to the Eastbourne Downland having had numerous potential such sites historically, and indeed large parts of the whole area are still celebrated as a sacred landscape by many people today. So much is still unknown about the archeological, spiritual and cultural heritage of the Downs, but as our very own sacred landscape it deserves our guardianship and protection.
We in Eastbourne are among very few people remaining in the world who still have open access to the land of our ancestors, and to numerous sites considered sacred or significant by archaeologists and practitioners of various faiths. The water that flows beneath the Downs exits the chalk face at Holywell and has been celebrated for its healing potential for hundreds of years. This is the kind of sacred site that is being protected passionately by indigenous peoples across the globe. Now is our time to stand up for the land we are blessed with and blessed by – the Eastbourne Downland has much to offer those who are willing to accept.
Ritual practices, guardianship, local lore and mythology, celebrations of the seasonal cycles, freedom to practice a variety of religious faiths or spiritual practices and to learn from one another through integration and acceptance, these are rich sources of living cultural heritage that benefit and enrich the whole community: the status of the Downs as a sacred landscape should be both celebrated and protected.
These are just some of the ways that the Eastbourne Downland is already hugely valued by many local residents and visitors to the town; the suggestions above set out some positive reasons to Keep Our Downs Public.