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Inspirational project explores diverse voices and connections with Seven Sisters and the Sussex Heritage Coast

Alinah Azadeh, the new Seven Sisters Writer-in-Residence

Meet Alinah Azadeh, the new Writer-in-Residence for one of the most iconic and special coastlines in Britain.

Alinah has been commissioned by the South Downs National Park as the first Writer-in-Residence for Seven Sisters Country Park and the wider Sussex Heritage Coast.

The writer and artist, who lives in Lewes, East Sussex, will be the creative lead for an inspiring project supported by Arts Council England called “We See You Now”.

At the heart of the project is a love for this iconic landscape and the desire to share the voices, reflections and experiences of Black, Asian & ethnically diverse writers, people of colour, people on the move and those who have been absent from the recorded history of the area due to class, gender, sexuality, disability, socio-economic or mental health barriers.

The project, running until the end of 2022, is supported by funding from Arts Council England as well as the National Park Authority, with partner support from Writing our Legacy, New Writing South, ONCA and Enthum Foundation.

A key strand of the project is a series of National Park-led audio podcasts called “The Colour of Chalk” – with ethnically-diverse writers sharing their reflections on the landscape and a new podcast released every month. Alinah’s first podcast can be listened to here or below.

Other exciting elements of the project include:

  • A new set of audiowalk stories & poetry launched at a live event next year across the landscape & online written by Alinah and writers/poets of colour from the writer’s community she has worked with through the pandemic.
  • A series of outdoor writers’ retreats and workshops, building the creative community and inspiring participants from both ethnically-diverse & wider audiences to contribute to the project programme. This will include a specific strand for young people. The first writers’ retreat took place in September.
  • A simple downloadable walking and writing ‘guide’ for anyone who wants to engage with and contribute to the project next year.
  • An anthology for the area, out in late 2022.
  • Social media takeovers by Alinah and some of the writers.

Alinah said: “My earliest memories of the South Downs are visiting Beachy Head, with my tiny hand firmly clasped in my vigilant mother’s, bending backward into the strong winds, spotting the red and white outcrop of the lighthouse in the creamy blue sea.

“My partner, two children and I have always enjoyed regular wanderings into the ancient woods and chalkland hills around us, and my nearest favourite spot is a hidden valley in the Malling Down Nature Reserve, where I have seen deer, Adonis blue butterflies and birds of prey circling overhead.

“Especially since the Covid pandemic began, like many who live near the Downs, I go there to connect with nature, stay mentally balanced, download new ideas and dream ahead – note, sketchbook or voice recorder in hand! From there I develop ideas for projects or the outline of a poem or story.

“I feel very strongly that the South Downs National Park is incredible medicine for the soul and a free space which could be far more widely accessed and socially inclusive and am very excited to be part of making this happen.

“My mother, whose deep love for her Iranian culture and for political freedom, gender equality and inclusivity – in the face of bigotry and oppression – still influences my work and life, loved the epic vistas of the Sussex coast, where she first lived in Eastbourne, on arriving to train as a nurse in 1965.”

The project builds on the success of a beautiful and thought-provoking audio story produced by Alinah in 2020 called “We See You Now”. The story invites listeners to reflect on their own sense of belonging and relationship to our shared coastal land and future. As she says, “Seeing and writing ourselves as an intrinsic part of nature, in a constant state of change“.

Alinah added: “As part of my residency, I will be exploring and using the heritage and rich metaphors of the coast to create a set of poetic audiowalk stories that follows on from my first story set there, which is an encounter between a girl of migrant heritage and a chalk cliff set in 2053.

“I hope the project will act as a bridge to a post-Covid world with a stronger sense of connection to the power, beauty, fragility and importance of this rapidly changing landscape from which we imagine new futures and collective, creative possibilities in the face of current intense life and environmental changes.”

The project is looking to share the experiences of Black, Asian and ethnically-diverse writers

Anooshka Rawden, Cultural Heritage Lead for the National Park Authority, said: “The South Downs National Park is incredibly proud of this project – its first Writer in Residency for Seven Sisters Country Park. The project adds to a body of work we have been doing to create ‘Landscapes for All’, finding ways to better understand the barriers people face to accessing the South Downs, and giving people space and opportunity to explore this landscape through creative outlets. I am really looking forward to seeing how Alinah and the wider network of writers and poets she will be working with explore this place both through its past, and into its future.”

Writing Our Legacy, an organisation working to raise awareness of the contributions of Black, Asian and ethnically diverse writers and poets in the South East, will be helping to deliver elements of the writer-focused activity, as will New Writing South and the renowned writer Leone Ross, who has so inspired Alinah’s own writing journey.

Amy Zamarripa Solis, Chief Executive of Writing Our Legacy, said: “Writing Our Legacy is a proud supporter of this inclusive and generous inspired project by Alinah Azadeh, focused on one of Sussex’s finest natural attributes, the South Downs, as a source of creativity, healing and inspiration. We hope that many people of all backgrounds are able to enjoy the guides and activities and that the project can help break down barriers for Black, Asian and ethnically diverse people in enjoying the countryside.”

About Alinah Azadeh

Alinah Azadeh is a writer, interdisciplinary artist and cultural activist of British Iranian heritage with 20 years of experience in the arts – focused on migration, identity, heritage, loss and change.

As well as installation, performance & visual commissions for museums, galleries & in communities across the UK and internationally, she has had short stories, poetry and articles published.

She is writing her first novel, which was longlisted for the S.I Leeds Prize 2020 and is currently an awardee of a Chapter & Verse Sable Lit /The Literary Consultancy scholarship, which is supporting her to complete her book.

Alinah is currently Writer-in-Residence at the South Downs National Park Authority, focused on the Seven Sisters & Sussex Heritage Coast, as part of We See You Now, a wider project supported through a major project grant by Arts Council England.

Inspirational project explores diverse voices and connections with Seven Sisters and the Sussex Heritage Coast image