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Exploring Southend

PUBLISHED: 12:31 12 June 2017 | UPDATED: 12:31 12 June 2017

EXG JUN 17 Southend

EXG JUN 17 Southend

Archant

Southend on Sea, most people would think, is all about the beach, but there is much more to Southend than meets the eye, including many cultural activities of which the town is rightfully proud. Petra Hornsby investigates

EXG JUN 17 Southend  EXG JUN 17 Southend

Southend on Sea, most people would think, is all about the beach, but there is much more to Southend than meets the eye, including many cultural activities of which the town is rightfully proud. Petra Hornsby investigates

If you are planning a day out at Southend, you might be thinking buckets and spades, deck chairs, water sports, arcades, fun fair rides and, of course, the famous pier – the longest leisure pier in the world. Naturally, Southend is proud of these aspects of its thriving tourism industry, but there is something of a cultural revolution taking place which has added a vibrant new aspect to this popular destination for a day out.

EXG JUN 17 Southend  EXG JUN 17 Southend

Choirs are very much in vogue at the moment, and for good reason. Bringing voices together creates a lovely sound and is also a great way to unite people. Southend Boys’ Choir came together in 1970 and is made up of around 80 boys from the age of eight upwards.

They regularly perform at top venues including the Royal Albert Hall and alongside noted orchestras such as the RPO and the LSO. Having secured financial support from the National Foundation for Youth Music, the choir has developed a programme of singing workshops called Sing 4 Life, enabling the group to reach out to more singers across the area – especially younger ones. Part of the umbrella of Southend Choirs, there is also a Girls’ Choir which was founded in 1988.

EXG JUN 17 Southend  EXG JUN 17 Southend

Many of those singing with both choirs start at an early age and often go on to have successful singing careers. Boys whose voices are changing are encouraged to join the newly-established Southend Young Men’s Chorus, where they can develop their tenor and bass ranges.

The Mudlarks Community Choir is a chance for adults, as well as youngsters, from the area to get involved in singing and performing at local events, including the famous Leigh Folk Festival.

EXG JUN 17 Southend  EXG JUN 17 Southend

In addition to a great zest for singing in this beach-side town, there are many other forms of performances, exhibitions and entertainments taking place throughout the year and Southend — like other key locations in the county — annually plays host to Essex Book Festival events. The festival, which this year took place during March, featured more than 90 events and guests included local writer Sarah Perry as the festival writer in residence, broadcaster Jenni Murray, artist Maggi Hambling and The Fall guitarist Brix Smith Start, as well as many other writers, poets and performers, all creating and taking part in initiatives designed to inspire and bring communities together.

With crime fiction currently proving to be very popular, Southend was lucky to have the Golden Age of Crime being hosted at the Park Inn Palace Hotel. Over one weekend, the county’s own Dorothy L Sayers was recognised and celebrated through themed activities and the event featured a writers’ workshop and a quiz for all aspiring detectives.

EXG JUN 17 Southend  EXG JUN 17 Southend

Films are also celebrated in a big way in Southend with both the main Film Festival and the intriguingly-titled Horror-on-Sea film festival taking place annually at the Park Inn Palace Hotel.

Festival director Paul Cotgrove dedicates himself to bringing together an eclectic mix of films from around the globe, uniting producers, directors, actors and film fans in celebrating celluloid greatness.

EXG JUN 17 Southend  EXG JUN 17 Southend

Although Paul usually kick starts the festival with something of a blockbuster, this year he chose to showcase something a little different, but much closer to home. In keeping with the town’s drive to reconnect with its past as a successful and vibrant holiday destination, the opening night featured a 16mm film shot by Jay Morehouse, who was the last owner of The Kursaal Amusement Park – a top destination in Southend’s past and which is still in business today.

The collection of films was only found during the renovation of a house once owned by Morehouse and was then carefully restored and digitised. Morehouse, who was also a keen filmmaker, shot several films of holidaymakers enjoying the fun of Southend from the 1940s through to the 1960s. These films are a poignant document of the resort and how people once enjoyed their ‘down time’ by the sea.

EXG JUN 17 Southend  EXG JUN 17 Southend

Paul is also the mastermind behind the Horror-on-Sea Film Festival, which takes place in January. Clearly passionate about film, he has created an opportunity for all filmmakers in this genre, from first-time amateurs to more established directors, to submit their movies, long or short, and come together and have some fun with it. Beach Blanket Frankenstein and Slasher House 2 are just two titles that give a fair representation of the intriguing, gory and sometimes edge-of-absurd storylines that will certainly appeal to fans of horror for this unique Southend event.

For those who like their entertainment live, there are two theatres in the town: The Palace Theatre and The Cliffs Pavilion. Both offer a wide selection of music, comedy and drama, from tribute bands through to opera, as well as West End hits and children’s shows, thought-provoking plays and top music stars from the past and the present.

Music fans who like to feel the pulse of the speakers and who enjoy venues that are more intimate than the big arenas are served well in Southend. Chinnerys plays host to major touring acts as well as supporting local talent and The Railway Hotel is a pub and restaurant that makes the best of its special ambience to provide a variety of bands and artists of many genres the chance to perform.

EXG JUN 17 Southend  EXG JUN 17 Southend

A look at the culture of this lively and perhaps surprising seaside town wouldn’t be complete without noting the galleries that exhibit artworks both past and present.

The Focal Point Gallery is a champion of contemporary arts and commissions up to seven solo exhibitions every year which are held in the ground floor of The Forum – the town’s new library and learning resource. Throughout the year, there is a programme of events that include film screenings, talks and performances. The gallery is also involved in off-site projects and works with local schools as well as supporting temporary public artworks in the town.

EXG JUN 17 Southend  EXG JUN 17 Southend

For those interested in printmaking, The Old Waterworks is the ideal location. The old Victorian building has new printmaking facilities for practical use and is also used as a venue for holding workshops on the various techniques used in this genre. The building has other studio spaces available, a darkroom and the Winch Gallery, where up and coming artists can exhibit their works.

The Beecroft Art Gallery, which is part of the Southend Museums group, also has a varied line-up of exhibitions and lectures alongside its permanent collections including various costumes from the 1920s through to the 1970s with some older and rare pieces also on display.

Neighbouring Leigh on Sea organises a much-acclaimed art trail every June and this year it celebrates its 20th year of events and open studios, providing a great chance for artists to showcase their work and for art lovers to discover the wealth of local talent that exists in the area.

From June 10 to 17 more than 70 selected artists and designers will present exhibitions in around 55 venues, with an expected audience of 15,000 visitors able to view the work free of charge.

The Leigh Art Trail offers a unique opportunity to walk around this small town on the edge of Southend and sample the amazing creativity and diversity of work including painting, sculpture, ceramics, textiles, photography, printmaking and jewellery produced by artists living and working in Leigh and the surrounding areas. Visitors are able to meet and talk to the artists and watch demonstrations at selected venues. It also provides a boost to the local economy, with the shops, restaurants, wine bars and pubs in the vicinity benefiting from the thousands of people coming into the town for this unique event.

From festivals to intimate rock gigs, printmaking and singing, Southend on Sea is clearly providing its community with plenty of opportunity to not only be entertained, but to roll up their sleeves and get involved too. So for all you singing, film-loving, artistic, zombie, music fans – what’s not to like?

Find out more

To explore the diverse cultural aspects of Southend on Sea, visit these websites:

theoldwaterworks.com

focalpoint.org.uk

southendtheatres.org.uk

chinnerys.co.uk

railwayhotelsouthend.co.uk

southendmuseums.co.uk

leigharttrail.com

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