Community comes together to celebrate artistic and historical significance of Durham’s coast

A stretch of the Durham coast that was once home to the biggest coal mine in Europe is to be celebrated in a new film.

This weekend will see the culmination of the project, which involved former Durham miners, academics and local artists, as the 40-minute film is screened for the first time.

Blast Beach: Digging Deeper has been created from a series of interviews with the communities living around Seaham’s Blast Beach, as well as those whose lives and work are influenced by the landmark.

Commissioned by SeaScapes Co/Lab, the documentary is a creative collaboration with the Reading the Rocks project, both elements of SeaScapes: Tyne to Tees Shores to Seas, a multi-million-pound marine heritage project funded by National Lottery players via the National Lottery Heritage Fund, which aims to reveal and better manage the hidden heritage of our unique seascape, and create opportunities for learning, access and enjoyment – to ignite stewardship of this special place for generations to come.

The finished film, which will be shown free of charge to members of the public ahead of a premiere celebration on Saturday (26 March), highlights the importance of Blast Beach from multiple perspectives, including members of the mining communities of Durham, which in the 1900s was England’s leading producer of coal.

Suzy O’Hara of SeaScapes Co/Lab explained: “This community film offers new ways to learn about the complex history and beauty of Blast Beach through the diverse voices of local people who know and are inspired by this special place.”

The film was co-produced by Dr Adelle Hulsmeier, senior lecturer in performing arts and the University of Sunderland’s programme leader for screen performance, and Professor Dave Roberts, a geologist from Durham University, with students from several courses involved in the making of the film and composing its original score.

Artists from East Durham Artists’ Network (EDAN) played an integral role in the project, sharing their local knowledge to inform the film and responding with poignant artworks in a wide variety of media, many of which are being exhibited at the Art Block gallery in Seaham where Blast Beach: Digging Deeper will be shown.

One of the network members involved in the project, Jac Seery Howard, feels the group’s local knowledge was vital to the finished film, and that their artistic process was in turn informed by the questions posed by the filmmakers.

Jac said: “Their questions helped me re-examine my work. It’s not often you get the chance to find out if what your audience is seeing is what you hoped your work expresses before you make it public.

“So often in the past we’ve been seen as a conduit to the local community rather than members of the community, but this time it was different, and we appreciate the acknowledgement that East Durham has its own culture and artists.”

Blast Beach: Digging Deeper was developed with the guidance of Professor Roberts, who leads Reading the Rocks. He said: “This film aims to inform the public about the importance of geology in shaping the landscape and influencing our environment. Geology is the foundation of everything around us, shaping the past, present and future. This collaboration, the film and the exhibition, is all about exploring our human relationship with the unique Blast Beach.”

Alongside the film, which will be shown hourly between 10am and 3pm on Saturday 26 March, will be an EDAN exhibition, Mag Lime Magic, exploring the geology of the beach’s surrounding magnesian limestone structure.

The fact that the local coastline was once buried under 40 million tonnes of colliery waste has been fundamental to the artists’ appreciation of the area, and Jean Spence of EDAN added: “I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to discover more about the geological formations and the chemistry of the industrial pollution on Blast Beach.

“In my visual art and in my writing, the local landscape, its history and its current condition, plays an important part.”

The exhibition, which complements the film, features work in a variety of mediums, including paint, charcoal, lino print, collagraph print, calligraphy, ceramic, glass, assemblage and poetry.

The film, which will also be shown online after this weekend’s premiere, will form part of this year’s Seaham Festival.

Find out more about the Seascapes project at exploreseascapes.co.uk.

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