Seaside postcard: Jaywick
And then there's Jaywick. A short walk along the coast from Clacton, it's not just a different world, it's officially the poorest place in England. The Index of Multiple Deprivation ranks 32,844 small areas according to a variety of poverty indicators, and the western half of Jaywick comes out top of the list. It seems hard to imagine such a spot could exist in Essex, but a set of unique circumstances has conspired to drag the area down: pre-fabricated buildings, neglect, flooding, and red tape, part offset by a strong community spirit to knit the place together. Needless to say, many of the residents love living here. [17 photos]
Walking west from Clacton Pier, the seafront is the very model of respectability. Beach huts and adventure golf, retirement courts and bowling greens, there's little to suggest that anywhere like Jaywick might be so close. The last suburb used to be Butlins, opened in 1937 and hitting its heyday in the Fifties, until the target audience started flying abroad for their holidays instead. A very ordinary-looking estate now sits where the Redcoats cheered and the miniature railway rattled, and someone's house must be where Cliff Richard made his professional debut. Alongside is one of a chain of Martello Towers built to fend off the French, and some attractively sandy beach, and a well tended retirement-friendly golf course. There really are very few clues as to what comes next.
Most residents drive in, or take the regular bus, threading between the golf course and the grass strip that counts as Clacton's airport. But I walked along the seafront path, past continued golden sands, and passing several Jaywickians heading the other way... one driving her mobility scooter really slowly to allow her small dog to keep up. Beyond the final tee the bungalows kicked in, tightly packed up against the promenade, some with solar panels on the roof and others with hoisted flags. LJ's Beach Bar looks like any other seaside kiosk, selling buckets and spades and Kelly's ice cream to a gaggle of teenagers. A series of sandy unmade alleys with themed names (Sea Lavender Way, Sea Thistle Way, Sea Shell Way...) heads inland lined by a motley assortment of wood and brick residences. Meanwhile the sea wall looks surprisingly low, barely a foot of concrete above the head of a shallow beach, and has proved highly inadequate more than once.
Jaywick's main shopping street lies a few dozen yards back. There is one minor supermarket, although Dot's Newsagent will soon be transforming into a Costcutter, replacing its Sun-sponsored frontage with something a little more mainstream. E-cigs and second hand furniture can be purloined, and burger and chips is on the menu at more than one caff and diner. There are rather more amusement arcades than the least wealthy part of the country genuinely requires, and at least two lottery outlets, but impressively no betting shops. There's also no pub, seemingly as of fairly recently, the ironic name of the shuttered hostelry the Never Say Die. But there is the members only Eldo Bar, beside the Eldorado social club, a brief glimpse through whose darkened portal convinced me that I was indeed in IMD 1.
Jaywick started out in 1928 as a cheap retreat for Londoners, mostly from the East End, who were offered small plots of land on the marshes to build a happy holiday home. The Brooklands area was laid out like a car radiator grille, with short unmade avenues named after motor manufacturers alongside which a wide variety of chalet-bungalows were erected. Planning regulations were summarily bypassed, and a range of promised facilities never materialised, but many chose to turn their summer retreat into somewhere more permanent. Mains sewage only arrived in 1977, a web of telegraph poles sometime later, but street lighting has yet to make an appearance. The local council have since tightened up planning regulations to such an extent that almost nothing gets improved, although the county council are currently doing up the sideroads, which is having a noticeablypositive effect.
They don't do pavements in Brooklands, instead the 'main' road squeezes between the sea wall and the first row of houses, traversed at regular intervals by a circular bus. Neither do they do homogeneity, with every house in some way different to its neighbour thanks to all those original self-build plans. Some are carefully maintained but many others are unkempt, as if made of plasterboard, and each seems so small by any historical definition of comfortable living space. A check on propertywebsites reveals a flood of properties available for five figure sums, about as affordable as southeast England gets, should you be tempted to run away to the coast. Those residents I saw seemed happy enough, leaning over a front wall or heading home with a blue carrier, but the place might feel quite different in January to July when the beach is no longer an alluring suntrap.
Each parallel avenue peters out at a raised ditch, beyond which one attempt has been made to develop an eco-friendly cluster of timber homes, quite different to the remainder of the estate. I should also point out that the northeastern chunk of Jaywick is rather less down at heel, being merely the 1757th most deprived area in England, if still a maze of minor properties. But Brooklands is a true one-off, a self-build dream long past its heyday, as the string of boarded-up commercial properties along its central avenue makes clear. The Jaywick 'Casino' and gaudy Mermaid Inn are still recognisable as places of collective entertainment, but the purpose of the other shacks and lock-ups is no longer apparent, and residents must make do with facilities elsewhere. I suspect they do, indeed Jaywick wasn't as godawful as its fearsome reputation might suggest. But the sharpcontrast in aspiration along a few miles of the Sunshine Coast lays bare the inequality in our nation like nowhere else I know.