Sea Fret and The Human Cost of Coastal Erosion

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Living in Eastbourne, we’re very aware of the presence of the sea and can imagine how painful it must be to watch that relentless sea eroding away the land from beneath your house.  As such, we decided to put on the play, Sea Fret, which addresses the issue of coastal erosion on the Suffolk coast and the effect it has on the people who lose their homes to the sea.  Recent collapses of cliffs in Norfolk and, much closer to home, at Birling Gap have demonstrated why this phenomenon can be so heart-breaking and why we thought it was such a good choice for a poignant play to be performed here in Eastbourne.

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Coastal Erosion in Norfolk

Sudden cliff collapses this year in Hemsby, Norfolk have highlighted why this is a far more dangerous and immediate problem than people sometimes think.  It’s easy to imagine coastal erosion as something that happens slowly so people should be able to foresee problems and deal with them but weather conditions combining high tides and strong winds can erode away sand dunes and cliffs very quickly.

During a weekend of bad weather in March, six metres of dune was washed away in just 24 hours which lead to houses on top of the cliff becoming unsafe almost overnight.  Residents suddenly found themselves homeless with no warning and some were unable to enter their homes to retrieve their possessions so simply lost everything they had due to a weekend of bad weather.  One resident explained that he’d bought the property in November last year after being assured by surveyors that it wasn’t at immediate risk from coastal erosion.  Another gentleman said, when he bought the house, there was still 70 metres of garden between the edge of the cliff and the house.

As it’s too dangerous to move demolition machinery near these properties, they are simply left to fall into the sea bit by bit along with everything inside them including some treasured possessions.  We imagine that watching this slow but relentless process must be awful for the people who lived there.

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Coastal Erosion at Birling Gap

Closer to home, Birling Gap lost four metres of cliff in one day during the winter storms of 2013 to 2014.  The staircase often used by walkers and tourists has to regularly be moved for safety as this part of the cliff is constantly eroding in sometimes dramatic falls.  Thankfully, there are not many homes affected by this but it has made this very popular scenic area incredibly dangerous for visitors who have a bad habit of trying to take selfies too close to the end which can collapse at any time.  Just last year, the day after a serious rock fall, a young foreign student fell to her death trying to take a picture on the cliff edge.  The danger posed by coastal erosion in this area means it’s something close to our hearts in Eastbourne.

Sea Fret

The poignancy of the subject matter and its relevance to our local area were some of the reasons we chose to put on this play.  The main reason though was just that we thought it was a great play.  It follows two characters who live in a pillbox (concrete dug-in guard posts created during WWII commonly found on beaches) beneath the cliff where the remains of their house are slowly crumbling into the sea.  This play is about more than physical corrosion of the land by the sea though.  It’s about the corrosion of friendships and families too.

Sea Fret is on at the Lamb Theatre in Eastbourne’s Old Town from 25th to 28th July.  Click here for more information and to book tickets.