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Walking Festival celebrates the Land of the Fanns at Langdon Hills

9th June 2021
Posted by Johnny Jenkins

The Land of the Fanns Landscape Partnership Scheme celebrated the end of its walking and arts festival, Tales of the Fanns, at Langdon Hills in Basildon on Sunday 6th June.  Working with Thurrock based arts organisation Kinetika, the festival celebrated the characters, wildlife, special places and uniqueness of the area from East London and across South West Essex that makes up the Land of the Fanns. 

The Tales of the Fanns walking and arts festival began on Saturday 22 May and over the last two weeks, walks have explored parks, woods, historic landscapes, walled gardens, the sea wall and other beautiful places to be found in the area. Knowledgeable walk leaders shared interesting facts and stories from the landscape on each walk, The routes were chosen to take in the places from which 100 stories had been gathered with Kinetika in a community project begun in 2019. Local people told their tales of the places they live, the characters they knew, the features and nature they value. These stories were translated into illustrations for silk flags with Kinetika and made during lockdown in 2020.  

Theatre company Coco Loco helped animate the walks by bringing to life characters such as the17thc Charles Ellis Heaton, owner of the manor at Bedfords Park, Jim Baxter, a gravel digger from Eastbrookend and wildlife such as a beautiful kingfisher, often seen on the rivers in the Land of the Fanns. Students from University Centre South Essex helped make the costumes for the characters. All the characters came together for the finale performance which was funded by Arts Council England and supported by Thurrock Council.  

Some of the stories have been collected into a new book Fens, Forests and Fields. Made up of three parts: the recent past; the present; and hopes for the area’s future, the book includes a selection of these personal stories from the people who live and work in the 70 square mile area of the Land of the Fanns. Photographer Tamara Stoll, social historian Ken Worpole and Kinetika’s Artistic Director Ali Pretty have all contributed to the book. The book can be obtained from the Land of the Fanns by emailing [email protected]

Ali Pretty commented

“It has been a brilliant three years getting to know the landscape and the people who have brought it to life and who look after it, protecting green spaces for generations to come. I hope all of this creative activity will ensure a long lasting legacy for the Land of The Fanns.”

Scheme Manager, Benjamin Sanderson said

“It has been hugely enjoyable getting out to attend the variety of events over the past couple of weeks and fabulous to see the characters that bring the stories to life. To see families enjoying being part of activities again and the strong connection people have to the landscape has been truly memorable.”

Mary Wright, interim Joint Chair, Thames Chase Trust said 

“What a spectacular Walking Festival to celebrate this intriguing project that has revitalised interest in the history and heritage of the landscape. The accompanying book will be a lasting legacy of a project that brought stories that show the interest and pride of local people in a landscape that has been badly scarred by misfortune and industrialisation. The Land of the Fanns Landscape Partnership Scheme sits on the footprint of the Thames Chase Community Forest and brings another dimension that can be continued into the future as the Forest’s development for the community it serves.”   

The Land of the Fanns is an intricate landscape, full of surprises and ‘hidden gems’ which straddles the London – Essex boundary and encompasses significant parts of Havering, Thurrock, Barking & Dagenham and Brentwood. The Landscape Partnership Scheme was awarded £1.36 million by the National Lottery Heritage Fund in 2016. Over five years, the Scheme has brought together nine partner organisations with a commitment to work towards a shared goal of enabling local people to discover, restore and enjoy what’s special about the local landscape. Thames Chase Trust is the project’s lead partner. Thames Chase manages the Community Forest in which the Land of the Fanns office is based.  

The other partners are: Forestry England, Thames Estuary Partnership, Thames21, Thurrock Council, Brentwood Borough Council, Essex County Council, London Borough of Havering and the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham.

Photo: Aisling Woodhead