Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

Bethan Prosser encourages you to listen to your neighbourhood!

Listening for gentrification in St Leonards

Our neighbourhoods are always changing. But what can we discover about these changes through listening to the sounds around us? We’re a very visually dominated society, so what happens if we focus on what we can hear? Erica Smith listens to Dr Bethan Prosser explain why it is important to listen to our neighbourhood.

Dr Bethan Prosser

Bethan Prosser, from Brighton University, is working on a research project about listening to seaside neighbourhoods on the south coast. In 2020, she recruited residents in St Leonards to do listening walks and listening activities at home. She wanted to find out about their experiences of gentrification along the coast. She also did this research in Brighton’s Kemptown and in East Worthing.

Central St Leonards resident Emily Johns took part in the listening walks back in 2020. She found it fascinating and encourages people to sign up for Bethan’s pilot walk on 10 June this year. Emily says, “during lockdown I went on two twenty-minute walks around my neighbourhood. During the first walk we were asked to take notice of what we saw as we walked around. On the second walk, we were asked to make regular stops and close our eyes so we could focus on the sounds we heard. Whilst the visual signs of gentrification of the neighbourhood were very noticeable on the first walk, when my eyes were closed for the second walk, the sounds I heard were more typical of the longer established communities in the area. It will be interesting to hear how the sounds of our streets have changed in the intervening four years.”

When asked to explain what gentrification entails, Bethan says: “Gentrification refers to the changes that happen when a neighbourhood is renovated and more affluent people move in, which can result in less affluent people moving out. Or as a local resident put it more succinctly: ‘the poshing up of a place to the detriment of working folk’. Residents were concerned about the fast pace of change in St Leonards in 2020, especially as the Covid-19 pandemic had disrupted everything.”

Sound artist and cellist Bela Emerson will be working with Bethan Prosser on the listening walks project.

Bethan is now working with a community musician, cello player Bela Emerson from Brighton & Hove Music for Connection. Together they are creating interactive listening walks which are designed to be a fun, playful group experience where the participants use their ears to explore a place.

Bethan and Bela want to share some of the findings and get people talking about the issues
e.g. what sounds are changing or unchanging at the seaside? What sounds do we want to hear in the future? Who gets to decide?

They would like to test the walks out with residents in Central St Leonards. There will be two different types of listening walks: a group interactive walk, guided by Bethan and Bela, and an individual digital walk, guided by your mobile phone.

The first pilot of the group walk will be Monday 10 June at 1pm. This will be followed by a focus group discussion indoors with free refreshments provided. Later in the year, there will be other sessions to give feedback about the contents of the walks and test out the digital walk. The walks will then be launched publicly.

If you are interested in taking part or want to find out more about the project, please contact Bethan by email at – or call her on 07549 394084.

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Posted 16:50 Wednesday, Apr 10, 2024 In: Society

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