Hastings of the World Unite!
Reece Shepherd , 10 April 2021
The world as we know it has become mediated by the visual. In an age of incredibly advanced video and communicative media we can, at any moment we choose, be treated to a window into the lives of others. We share more now than we have ever shared. However, the potential this has to bring people from all over the world together has only lately become so startlingly clear to me. Approximately a month and a bit ago, I began a project that has continued to surprise and enthral me. I have seen myself become an organiser, collector of enthusiasts, and have single-handedly mastered the art of setting up a Zoom call in another time zone.
But for what purpose? At the behest of Margaret, the Creative Director of MSL Projects, I have been called to contact people all over the world, marshalling friendly, enthusiastic and helpful people for the purpose of communication, expression and a collective understanding of our world along with the texture of our lives. This world has over twenty four places called Hastings (give or take a few variations, such as Port Hastings, Canada or Hastingues, France). It is becoming clearer to me every day how much we hold in common, beyond the names of our homes. My task is to entreat representatives from Hastingses the world over. I am facilitating the sharing of a fragment of media that displays the character and image of the way of life each Hastings contains. Why? To show the people of Hastings UK that they share more than just the names of their towns.
At the request of Sophie, Projects Coordinator at MSL Projects, I have been asked to prepare a post describing the process of bringing this project into being. And while I am not yet close to finished with it, I feel I have gone far enough on my journey to have some interesting and useful experiences to share with you all. In a time of such immense difficulty and atomisation, it has been a wonderful and enlightening experience to be able to make connections in places I never imagined my name would be spoken, and to reach communities so far away that share so much with my own. It has been incredibly touching to see how people all over the world, who owe me nothing, would give up their time and energy to produce something wonderful for us to show people.
My first course of action was to set up tables of relevant information for each Hastings the world over, categorising them by the amount of available contact information I could find in the various council web pages and directories of the internet. Each continent has been given its own table of contents detailing what I could find. America has a town and cities directory which has made my life far easier, as a lot of very useful data has been collated under the town’s names already. I began with the assumption that the more information available about a place, the easier it will be to establish contacts there. This is because I assume that if a place has put a lot of effort into producing methods of contact, it shows an openness to connection by the administration that would definitely benefit the project, and could reflect that willingness to connect in the population.
As I delved into the vast info-cavern, I unearthed countless email addresses, details of school districts I never thought I would know and clicked enough broken links to last me a lifetime. With the information building, the best candidates were beginning to emerge. Canada proved particularly difficult as zoning changes have caused a few districts called Hastings to lapse into non-existence as the lines of their local districts were redrawn, resulting in confusion about which Hastings still operated and which ones had melted into the past.
My next task after finding and formatting the information into tables was writing what I had decided to call an “engagement email”. This would form the template for the initial impression my project would have, and set the tone for my relationship with each place. I wrote up an initial draft and sent it over to Margaret but she understandably felt it seemed a little similar to a cold call and provided some pointers on how to make the email seem more personal and inviting. Having crafted a new Email, endeavouring to explain more clearly the nature of the project and rounding out the more serious sounding language, I took a deep breath and sent my little communiqué out into the digital world. I must admit, it felt a little how I imagined it would feel to send your child to school for the first time, and I waited anxiously in the hopes of a positive reception.
Success! I was elated to receive two promising responses from two very different places. One from the Museum of Port Hastings, Nova Scotia was particularly fascinating. They told me about a similar project some 38 years ago, supplying me with pictures of the previous engagement. It was very humbling to imagine someone doing a project so similar to mine two decades before I was born, however I am very glad I have the internet to assist me this time.
I also got a response from the UK side of the Hastings Sierra Leone/Hastings UK partnership. I spoke to a man called Robin, who was very helpful. They appeared to be happy to act as a go-between for myself and a school in Hastings Sierra Leone, about which I was very pleased. I know very little about Sierra Leone, which is all the more reason to learn about life there. They were also keen to learn about other Hastingses across the world, and wished to form lasting links with them. As this is another goal of our project, I was very glad to oversee this development I also got an automated response from Hastings, New Zealand, waiting on a human reply during their working hours. I have come to see a lot of these so far in the project and unfortunately, in my experience, they very rarely result in any human contact.
With the first confirmed participant of the project on board I grew more confident. I spoke to Robin from the Sierra Leone Partnership on the phone and confirmed the agreement to get a primary school in Sierra Leone to produce something for us. Robin is also, in addition to being the ex-twinning officer between the two Hastingses, is an ex-French teacher who just so happens to also have links in Hastingues, France. He says he can dig up their contact info for me and offered to help me with translation if I so need. I could not believe my luck.
After another round of emails and some more anxious refreshing of my inbox, Kira from Trent Hills municipal council (Hastings representative) contacted me. She too has agreed to work with me to produce the project in Hastings, Canada! A resident of the small municipality in Trent Hills, she has agreed to talk again in the near future, after she pitches the idea to a local community group whom she says are the perfect group for the job. Thus far I am pleased with my progress and while I secretly hope every email I send will receive a prompt and enthusiastic reply, I am very pleased that any amount of people I have never met are willing to put their own time into this project. At this point I must forage onwards, firing my requests for assistance to the best organisations I can find, and waiting hopefully for their answers.
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