Author Ronnie Reed
Eight am. Hastings seafront. Two Sussex Wildlife Trust vans sitting, side by side, in a deserted, grey, rain soaked car park. Five figures in waterproofs huddled in the lee side of one of the vans looking out across the white plumes of spray sweeping along the shingle. Salt in the air and overhead a herring gull twisting and turning against the wind lashing the empty promenade.
The plan had been simple. Sussex Wildlife Trust’s Access to Nature project in Hastings was staging its big family event of the year; ‘Explore Your Shore’. Martin Felstead, the project manager, had it sorted down to the last detail. We were going to erect marquees on the beach at Pelham Place. Hastings Borough Council was offering lots of activities for children, the Sussex Wildlife Trust was bringing its marine roadshow with a beach display and arts and crafts for the younger members of the public and, as no event is complete without them, there was a story teller and a face painter and even a dinosaur man with an amazing collection of local fossils. Lots to do and the perfect venue on the beach.
But this is England and June. The weather forecast threatened fifty mile an hour winds and as Friday morning dawned, it was only too evident they were right. Martin and the Borough Council, however, had worked a small miracle, swung into action with plan B and we set up in Stade Hall (part of the new Jerwood Gallery complex) near the iconic sail lofts at the eastern end of the old town. Lots of space, dry, no wind and warm! But would people venture out on such a dismal day? The event kicked off and as we stood around staring across the empty hall Martin commented that it would probably be quiet and then disappeared with one of the Rangers, braving the weather to find people with children looking for somewhere to go and something to do on a stormy morning in Hastings. They walked down to the original site and scooped up a few families who were wondering if it was worth walking to the new venue, dragged a few more off the streets, reduced the queue waiting to get into the aquarium and at eleven o’clock they started to come in through the doors. And then we were very VERY busy. There was paint and glue, crab masks, paper fish, rock pools in bottles, hand puppets, whelk eggs and limpets to look at, a petition fish and lots of excited noise.
By the time we had finished around seven hundred people had passed through the doors and we were tired and hungry and really pleased with ourselves because in spite of the weather we had put on a good show and made a lot of children happy and maybe even got a few of them thinking about exploring the shore for real during the calm which would surely come after the storm.