Recently, the personal and professional collided for me when Library colleagues and I were invited to visit High House Production Park to meet counterparts from Creative and Cultural Skills and the Royal Opera House. HHPP itself is based in Thurrock, coincidently the borough in South East Essex where I grew up.
High House Production Park (HHPP) opened in 2010, on a site in Purfleet dating back to the 16th century. This first phase of development saw the opening of the Royal Opera House's Bob and Tamar Manoukian Set Production workshop. This was followed three years later by the Creative & Cultural Skills' Backstage Centre - a world class production, rehearsal and training venue for performance, broadcast and live events- and new creative workspaces from Acme Studios.
ROHâs Bob and Tamar Manoukian Costume Centre rounded out the site in 2015, holding not just costumes and accessories from Royal Opera House productions, but also other artifacts such as musical instruments and furniture too. The Centre also delivers a BA (Hons.) degree course in Costume Construction, in partnership with South Essex College and University of the Arts London. In addition, the new National College for Creative and Cultural Industries opened its doors at HHPP in September 2016. providing specialist training in technical and production skills.
HHPP was born through collaboration between the Royal Opera House, Creative and Cultural Skills, Arts Council England. Its vision is for âan international centre of excellence for creative industries in Thurrock that will inspire a new generation.â
The British Libraryâs mission is to make our intellectual heritage accessible to everyone, for research, inspiration and enjoyment. We want everyone to feel a connection with their national library, wherever in the UK they are based and whatever their background.
Essex and it seems to me South East Essex in particular is often a place that it has been unfairly derided, whether the Essex girl jokes of the 1990s or more recent stereotypes from popular culture. And yet it is a place of profound beauty and creativity, close to London but wth its own particular identity. As Metal, organisers of last yearâs inaugural Estruary Festival said so compellingly:
âThe Thames Estuary is an âedgelandâ. It is a place of transition â one of arrivals and departures â a gateway that connects the UK to the rest of the world. It has been the front line for the defence of the realm as well as the first port of welcome for migrants and visitors from around the world. Industrial heartland and logistics sit alongside wild habitats, ancient monuments and concrete commuter towns.â Estuary Festival, 2016
This sense of being somehow âotherâ, a place bounded by London and the sea has been documented brilliantly by Rachel Lichenstein and Iain Sinclair as well as through countless pieces of literature. Purfleet is famous for being the location of Carfax House in Bram Stockerâs Dracula, perhaps the marshy and industrial landscape itself embodying for Stoker a sense of the wonder and âothernessâ of the literary sublime. Dickens of course evokes the mystery from the Kentish side when Pip first meets Magwitch in those gloomy marshes and Joseph Conrad lived in Stanford-Le-Hope, often forgotten as the place where the speaker listens to Marlowe begin his narrative in Heart of Darkness:
âThe sea-reach of the Thames stretched before us like the beginning of an interminable waterway. In the offing the sea and the sky were welded together without a jointâŚ A haze rested on the low shores that ran out to the sea in vanishing flatness.â
Even the A13 itself, Thurrockâs main artery, which stretches between London and the Essex coast has inspired artists, including Billy Bragg and Jah Wobble. I also would urge anyone interested in the soundscape of Essex to investigate The London Sound Surveyâs wonderful Estuary Map.
With all this in mind, I had a huge range of emotions on this return visit to Thurrock. One of the unexpected highlights from the day was being introduced to students not just as a visitor from the British Library, but as someone from Thurrock itself, reflecting I hope the importance of having a workforce that is representative and diverse.
And of all the inspirational things I saw that day (and there were many), what made me stop in my tracks and momentarily lose my colleagues was the ROH Thurrock logo itself, which summed up for me what HHPP is doing. It isnât just that the cultural organisations involved are bringing cultural skills and production to this bit of Essex or the important community engagement around this. Nor is it just that HHPP now acts as a hub for organisations national wide and puts Thurrock firmly on the map as a cultural venue. Itâs the fact that Thurrock itself now represents a core part of ROHâs strategy and through all the partners on the site is undeniably and deservedly an integral part of the UKâs cultural contribution and skills development. Now that is something to celebrate.
Head of Strategy Development
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