Turning Happisburgh’s erosion debris into art

Shattered sea defences at an erosion hot spot are being looked at in a new light by local people – to see if they can be turned into works of art capturing a village's battle with the sea.

Happisburgh has hit the headlines over the years for its continual struggle with crumbling cliffs as a change in government policy abandons its ageing sea defences.

But dozens of local people are looking at the wave-worn wood, rusty metal and rock boulders on the shoreline in a more positive vein under a community art project.

This week they have been walking the beach to look at and draw the scene, as well as collecting bits of debris, as part of a journey that could result in recycling the decaying defences as artwork and signposts.

Lead artist Mark Haywood, who lives in the village, has been running workshops under the Culture of the Countryside outreach scheme from the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in Norwich.

'It is not all doom and gloom here. Most people are sick to the back teeth about the negative stories, and 90pc of the village is not under immediate threat. This about doing positive things in what is a beautiful place to live,' he said.

The old defences might be seen as debris that the council wanted to remove because parts of it were getting dangerous.

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'But they are sculptural as well,' said Mr Haywood, 44, who himself specialises in translucent sculptural work, often inspired by the coast, which he also enjoys in his spare time as a surfer.

People had been collecting items off the beach, including boat floats and an old washed up bicycle draped with seaweed, he said.

They had studied and discussed the defences, and had even recorded the sounds they made as the water washed around them, and the 'stones chinged' on metal, because the noise was a part of the experience, said Mr Haywood.

The end result of the scheme would be down to the people, and finding funding. But it could include keeping some of the defences in place – in liaison with the council – to use as walking waymarkers, or doing sculptures in the village to encapsulate the coastal story, including erosion.

The Global Coast Project group has also had workshops involving everyone from schoolchildren to pensioners, which had looked at items from other communities across the world, such as Papua New Guinea, which had also adapted to change, he added.

Visit www.cultureofthecountryside.ac.uk

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