Learning Hope from Seaham beach

Seaham Beach is only a few miles up the road from me, here in Hartlepool. Up until about 50 years ago various coal mining industries peppered the East Durham coast, including some that were situated on the coast itself. They poured out their blackened waste products onto the beaches starting at Seaham and the ‘slag’ worked its way down the coast, there’s a black ridge of muddy sand on the beaches at Horden and Easington. But its Seaham beach that I love. The Beach was so black that it features in the ‘planet’ based shots at the beginning of the film Alien 3.

Its an often heard comment that Youthworkers seem happier, not dancing in the rain, but wallowing in the darkness. Wallowing in the muddy, coal ridden pool of water, and only being able to see the water around. The dark gloomy outlook shaped by the government ideology of neo-liberalism, the restrictions on funding, the council cut backs, young people and communities left behind in the funding rat race.  I wonder as well, whether the church is the same, sometimes wallowing in its own self-pity, or narratives of decline.

For 40 years, Seaham beach (the south bit) was a no-go area, even now it looks abit toxic with bright orange pebbles, grey sand and relics and monuments of its past. But the clean salty water has changed the landscape.

Is it possible that in the critiquing the darkness of the situation we’re all in- we’ve been too focussed on the present, understanding it, and adapting to it. Its almost like weve tried to stay afloat in the muddy water – not encourage the tide to come in and clean it all up.

What would an alternative reality be in Youthwork?  The present may not hold many clues- being too formulaic, clean cut-, the past was industrious and possibly messy- but is romanticised. What of the future- and what kind of society might youthwork – and the church- seek to want to create in a new reality, to be as both Tony Jeffs for the sake of Youthwork – a Forward thinking profession, and as Healy argues for the church to be practical and prophetic, not idealistic, but dawning in a new reality.

Hope is about finding ways the future can be embedded in the new present.

Visit Seaham beach, and other places in the North East, many stories can be told within the landscape. Its still a mess, an atmospheric mess, a combination of rock pools, landslips, rocks and the most beautfiully weird coloured stones. Yet visibility is over 50m in the sea and jellyfish have been spotted, the whole area is a site of special scientific research. Nature is finding a way back to redeem what was destroyed.




Author: James

Currently I work part time for both Frontier Youth Trust (www.fyt.org.uk) and Communities Together Durham (www.communitiestogetherdurham.org) and am also self employed and do various aspects of youthwork consultancy, including training, writing, lecturing, seminars and written pieces, including organisational consultancy, community profiling and detached/youthwork training. Please do get in touch if I can be of help to you in your church, project or organisation to develop your youth and community work. I have contributed to 'Here be Dragons (2013), and two recent articles in the youth and theology journal and 'ANVIL' the CMS online journal. My recent employment includes, working for FYT as a youthwork development adviser, being the centre director at Durham YFC, and before this I was known as 'Mr Sidewalk' as I was the project coordinator for the Sidewalk Project in Perth, where I facilitated the delivery of 5 years of detached youthwork on the streets, schools and communities to engage with young people , and support through alcohol misuse issues. In 2017 I completed an MA in Theology & Ministry at St John's College, Durham, and in 2008 graduated from ICC (now NTC Glasgow) with an honours degree in youth work with Applied theology.

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