manonabeach.com is a website that showcases the enhancing effect of the beach, via UK beach-goers’ filmed answers to the question “What does the beach mean to you…?”, supported by scene setting films and photos for context. The question is posed by an anonymous presenter in a format designed to focus on beach-goers’ responses. None of the interviews are pre-arranged.
The series began in 2011 and features seasonal visits to beaches around the entire coast of Britain and Northern Ireland.
It celebrates the elemental power of the beach and its effect on those people who enjoy being where the air, land and sea meet. The findings show that the beach means different things to different people, whether enhancing creativity, decisiveness and energy, being restorative and settling, as part of a routine, as a reference point through generations, as freedom or just for fun. In the beach eulogies emotions, perceptions and recollections are drawn out by the enhancing effect of the beach. manonabeach® is a construct, a passive Everyman, whose role is to showcase these qualitative findings.
It has taken almost nine years to collect the 1,333 filmed answers to “What does the beach mean to you…?”, supported by an equivalent number of scene setting films and over 10,000 photos that have been collected on 662 UK beaches.
There have been 774 different responses, all of which are logged and disseminated through graphs on the website, illustrating the most popular answers. As well as charts that showcase the most common overall responses, the “findings” menu at manonabeach.com includes graphs that represent the following response categories:
– emotional and spiritual
– work, economics and organisations
– family and friends
The series has enjoyed academic links to the European Centre for Environment and Human Health (ECEHH), Exeter University and the Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI). It has featured in both local and national Press around the country. BBC Scotland has featured manonabeach® on Good Morning Scotland, as well as a TV piece on Reporting Scotland. I was a panelist on the Imperial College London Thinkspace Digitalks event entitled “Can digital save the seas?” under an icampaigning banner in 2013. I will be presenting a brief summary of the series as part of a joint web archiving presentation with The British Library to the rearranged Oral History Society annual conference in 2021.
manonabeach® issues, successes, challenges
I believed in the manonabeach® series from the beginning. I designed it to be a celebration of us as island people and I felt that it would be a positive contribution. It has led me along and I have been helped enormously by people that I have met along the way, three in particular. A key early encounter was with web designer Brian Banks, who set up both incarnations of the website and who has been and still is a great supporter of the series. He was recommended to me by an interviewee at Looe in Cornwall. Secondly, another important early intervention occurred during an interview at St Just in Cornwall, where interviewee Jane Adams encouraged me to sell advertising on the site. The immediate success of this enabled me to retain artistic independence and to fund the development of the work out of Cornwall towards a national presence. There are currently over 120 UK advertisers. Finally, I have high hopes for my recent engagement with Nicola Bingham, lead curator on web archives at The British Library. As well as putting together the abstract for our joint presentation to next year’s Oral History Society Annual Conference, she encouraged me to become a member of The Oral History Society. Through my membership, I hope to widen awareness of the series and to meet professionals in other areas of oral history, who can help me to take the work forward in new ways.
Another success, looking back, was to get each interviewee to sign a release form, giving me full rights to the content of the interviews, enabling me to use the films in different ways in the future, as the series develops.
Finally, I am proud of the online traction that manonabeach® has achieved, with around half a million impressions to the website and over 400,000 views to the supporting manonabeach journeys YouTube channel, plus an established @manonabeach Twitter account.
The main challenge, particularly in the early days, was wind noise. Filming on a mobile phone with a plug-in mono-directional microphone was a serious audio challenge. Until I discovered mufflers and furries, I used blocks of foam from brillo pads to attempt to dampen the external noise. To date, only 1,129 of the 1,333 interviews that I have collected are of an acceptable audio standard to post on the website. Although the others are included on the “findings” menu charts and graphs, I hope that technological advances will one day liberate the unseen ones from the vault.
Another challenge has been to convince large companies of the associative value of the content to their brand and core values. An association with the universality of the beach eulogies and the generosity of spirit of those people who have shared them is potentially potent, in terms of corporate identity and values. Potential corporate partners’ wide marketing reach would then widen awareness of the series, so both parties would benefit. This challenge is still being wrestled with.
Here are some sample photos from the series, just three out of the 10,000+ that feature at manonabeach.com
Here is the first manonabeach® radio piece, from BBC Radio Cornwall, followed by a later radio piece from BBC Scotland and a television feature on “Reporting Scotland”.
BBC Reporting Scotland: https://youtu.be/zwSO-vZBegU
The series was devised and developed by Ian Brighouse, who lives in Cornwall and who was inspired by the beaches there to begin this ongoing and apparently endless work. He has collected and disseminated all of the material in the series himself. You can get in touch with him in any of the ways below. Ian is available to present his work in literary, commercial and academic settings. Feel free to send him your answer to “What does the beach mean to you…?”, along with the beach page that you would like your answer to be published on.
Ian Brighouse: firstname.lastname@example.org
Telephone: 07814 753834