This is th e story o originall f what w y intend asworld’s ed to be longest theended u bench, b p falling ut well sho rt.
When i t’s final ly comp leted...it will b e less than h alf its intend ed lenyet co gth s t mor e tha n the origin al bud ge
And r atheris so u than b nlove eing a d that sourc there e of p are cu ride f rrentl or a sm y no p all sea lans t side t o mar own, k its o it penin g.
So, how did the bench come about and why has it metsuch hostility? The tale begins with the owner of anaward-winning building, one that also divides opinion.
Littlehampton is a small town on the Sussex coast.
In many ways it’s a typical Englishseaside resort, attracting day-trippers who come to enjoy a day by the coast.
But curiously, Littlehampton lacks something almost all seasideresorts have. Come to the town and apart from a few guesthouses, there is a distinct absence of hotels. With nowhere for holidaymakers to stay, the town never developed into a commercially oriented tourist resort. For many visitors, that’s part of its attraction.
Its other big attraction is it stands at the mouth of the River Arun.England’s second fastest flowing river also divides the town’s two beaches.
On one side, is West Beach, one of the most beautiful anywhere on thesouth coast, backed by some of the last remaining sand dunes in Sussex.
Only accessible by a long walk past dilapidated warehouses that once were home to a thriving boatbuilding industry, West Beach is uncommercialised and has been declared a site of special scientific interest.
It’s a different story on the other side of the Arun. Throughout thesummer, East Beach is crowded with families who throng to the beach and to visit Harbour Park, Littlehampton’s biggest tourist attraction. .
From the nondescript buildings that make up Harbour Park it’s just ashort walk along the promenade to an altogether different building... East Beach Café.
This highly unusual, award-winning building owes its existence to JaneWood, who had a holiday home in Littlehampton.Upon hearing that the owner of an existing beach kiosk had planningpermission to build an ugly ‘96-seater burger restaurant’, Jane stepped inand bought the business even though she had no experience of running acafé.Fortunately, she knew something about buildings as her husband was thefounder of the influential architecture magazine ‘Blueprint’.
She knew she wanted to build something with more architectural valuethan a simple beach café, but it wasn’t until a chance meeting with ayoung sculptur did she find her architect. He was Thomas Heatherwick and the radical, sinuous building he created, was more like a piece of sculpture than a café. Constructed from brown mild steel, it has been designed to ‘rust and gain character as it ages.’Not surprisingly, when it opened in June 2007, it divided opinion, with manylocals calling it an eyesore. Even today, some unkindly refer to it as ‘the turd’.
But Jane Wood knew what she was doing and it wasn’t long before EastBeach Café was attracting the well-heeled from London as well asplaudits for its innovative architecture.
It wasn’t just good for business, it also put Littlehampton on the map.Vogue even declared it an ‘architectural marvel.’ People came not only toeat there, but to admire and photograph the building.
And it was Jane Wood who was the inspirationbehind the world’s longest bench.
Recognising that apart from a few shelters and wooden benches, therewas nothing but a low wall to sit on between the East Beach Café andHarbour Park, Jane had the idea to build a bench. But this wasn’t going to be any bench, it was going to be a beautiful bench and it was going to be the longest bench in the world.Unlike cafés, benches don’t make money, so Jane approached one of herregulars, Anita Roddick, the founder of the world famous Body Shop.
Anita Roddick was born in Littlehampton and her company headquarters were justup the road. The bench appealed to her and she agreed to finance its construction. Sadly, before work could get underway, Anita Roddick died. The bench looked like it might never get off the ground.
Undaunted, Jane Wood managed to secure funding from the Commission forArchitecture and the Built Environment.CABE is the government’s advisor on architecture, urban design and public space.
Throu gh CA BE’s ‘S ea Ch ange’ initia tive, L ittleh ampto n was award ed £40 0,000 to bui ld the bench e. dick also pledged to donate £1 00,000, in memory of his late wif Gordon Rod
In July 2009, the BBC reported that the £500,000 total was ‘enough to fund a 483mbench’ with the rest of the money needed to break the record coming from the public.
Studio Weave were commissioned to come up with a design for the bench. Having got the idea off the ground, convinced Arun District Council of its merits and secured planning permission and funding, Jane Wood then took a back seat.
Publicly, Studio Weave’s design was said to have been ‘inspired by’ the pupils at the local Connaught School, but one suspects this was more about getting public support than it was about getting design ideas. And this is where the whole thing gets interesting.
Studio Weave produced a design that, like the East Beach Café,pushed the boundaries. Their design featured a wavy benchmade of aluminium, with ice-cream coloured enamel slats. The original description said it would be “a thrilling and dynamic thread of coloured enamelled bars.”
The fi rst gli‘The l mpse onges at wh t benc at the h in th bench e wor would ld’ look l ike appea red on a web site
As the structure had to be continuous, where there were‘obstacles’ such as lamp posts or existing shelters, the benchwould loop around or over them.Photo by Studio Weave
In fact, the design went even further and replaced two boring brick shelters id sculpture.with new shelters where the bench would ‘transform’ into a flu
Th is al so re vePhoto by Studio Weave ale Th d It’ ew pe s e eb op na sit le m es co el ul so ta te d bu it d: w “F ya on or sla ’t to fa £15 de n yo th or uc eb w en ea an ch r a ha . w ve ay yo .” ur na m ee ng ra ve do n th es la t.
t of negative reaction ewas a huge amoun Beach Café, therBut just li ke with the East . of Littlehamptonfrom the people d concerns abou t ty an hedesign , its impracticali ir dislike about tMany voiced theaccess. tters. So many in g le s fille d with disparagin hs, th e local paper waF or several mont ger publish them . o lon fact that it said it would n
Many people felt it was a waste of money and that there were better waysof spending £400,000. Few were aware that the funding was not comingfrom Littlehampton and that CABE’s grant was only for the bench.Moreover, the grant specified that work on the bench had to begin byMarch 2010 or the funding would be removed. The pressure was on to get the project started, to secure planning permission and find a company to build the bench.
On 14 July 2009, for one day only, a prototype of what thebench would look like was erected on the promenade. Pupils from Connaught School wearing ice-creamPhoto by Studio Weave coloured T-Shirts, were part of a photo opportunity.
And all the time one thing was co nstantly stated:this was going to be the longest bench in the world.
Now the notion of the longest bench isn’t like the tallest skyscraper, or the biggest statue. For a start, there’s not a great deal of interest in benches, however long they may be.
It turned out the bench to beat was one alongside the Kiel canal... Source: Wikipedia But this wasn’t the kind or record many were that excited about breaking.
“A longest, largest or best title alone usually isn’t enough to draw tourists.” Donna Chambers Tourism Lecturer, University of Surrey July 2009
Even so, there was something compelling about Littlehampton having anything that might be a world-beater.
But like so many ambitious ideas, it quickly became clear, that this was going toend up somewhat differently from what had originally been proposed. In fact, it’s ended up well short.
The first indication that something was amiss came with reports that the bench wouldbe built in several stages and that the first phase would be short of the world record.
This however was simply a question of cost and the implication was that thepublic could pay for additional slats that - at some point in the future - wouldenable the bench to eventually exceed the current record holder, the Rendsburgbench that was 501m long. Source: Interesting Facts website afactaday.co.ukLater it was revealed that there was an even longer bench at a stadium in Poland.This was 613.13m long.But it wasn’t just attaining the required length that was proving a problem,bringing the project in within the given budget was clearly also causing a rethinkin the design.
The project was put out to tender. Much to thebewilderment of many locals, the job was awardedto Millimetre, who are based in Brighton.It was widely believed it would be given toLittlehampton Welding who had built theprototype and who had built the East Beach Café.It was later revealed that Millimetre were the onlycompany who came in on budget.
Pressur e was gr it neede owing t d to be u o get th nderwa e projecthere w y by Ma t starte as word rch 201 d as CAB that som 0. An ex E’s fund e adjust tension ing spec ments t was gra ified o the de nted an sign we d re being looked a t. The ori ginal p to ‘exp lans fo r enam ense’ a elled st nd ‘pro ainless blems steel s with th lats we e enam re aban would el chip doned now be ping’. I due constr nstead ucted o , the sl f reclai ats med w ood. At th e samaddit e t im ional e, it w £50,0 as als 00 to o rep cove orted r the CABE highe had a r cos gree ts. d to awar d an
Sepa rate of ju ly, it st 30 was benc 0m, also h in arou reve the w nd h aled alf th that orld e len the f The . gth r irst orig equi phas inal red t e wo aim uld d The was o ma elive fact for i ke it rab long that t to b the l ench as it Litt e 65 onge leha 0m l stthat was mpt ong* fact sup on’s . was pos ben nev ed t ch w er c o be omm was as n ente alm ow g d on ost oing by t glos to b he l sed e les ocal ove s th s or r...a an h inde nd c alf a ed t urio s he l usly ocal pap er. Sou rce: thelon ges tbe nch inth ewo rld. com
On the night that A run Di a shor strict t run s Counc howin il met g how to give the be its fin was er nch w al go-a ected as now head, outsid going e the C to look ouncil , ’s offic e.
ns raise concer o quick t s aw it wereMany who n t was to sit o i rtable u ncomfo ab out how
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At a roun I also d this time noti , ced t here w as aIt wa nam s no e chWor w no ange ld, b t the . ut Th Long e Lo est B nges ench t Ben in th ch. e
When work finally be gan on the foundationof February 2010 the s at the end re was another surprposter now proclaime ise, the d it to be LittlehamptBench. on’s Long
At that time, workers told me they expected it to be completed by the summer, possibly as early as the end of May.
At the Annual Town meeting, when I asked when the bench was due to becompleted, the mayor confirmed that there was no completion date. Healso said there were no plans for an opening event.29 April 2010
When asked when they expected it to be completed, workers onthe site told me ‘sometime in the summer’ and that the shelterswould follow sometime later as they were proving ‘complicated.’ 30 April 2010
ic’ yn am rdl y ‘d d ha n n g’ a ‘ thrilli m ar fro oo ks f ut it l ar, b ppe t to a tar sla ts s ef irstTh 28 May 2010
And then , cur ious ly, a few days late r, th ey we re g one. Rep la ced byal eng th of re d st ring ! 05 June 2010
When t hey rea ppeared , they w ere a lo t wider 10 June 2010
The locals obviously don’t think it’s going to be completed on time.10 June 2010
ly. o f Ju end . by the e eks le ted w ow omp in t ec ng w ill b r rivi be nch ill be a ing . he ers w m s ay t e lt co te be o n si o sh o kers th e tw ll als Wor t hat wi s And s lat11 June 2010 ed av n gr
. in p lace w on i s no i sect cu rved first17 June 2010 The
And the firs t fu ll se ctio But n is han com go ple ted n, i . t’s Thi a ll b s is row not n wo hin .Wod g li her ke e ar the e th ori e co gin It j al d lou red ust esi sla loo gn ts? k ss pr om ou ise d. nin spi17 June 2010 red .
17 June 2010A few of the slats are engraved. But I can’t imagine they’ll stay like this for long. Maintenence of the bench is going to be a huge problem as there’s no budget set aside. Workmen are still saying it will be finished by the end of July. We’ll see!
site. lters a rrives on sculp tured she r the e met alwork fo oving apace. Th Things are now m18 June 2010
It will be interesting to see how closely this resembles the origin al design. 18 June 2010
ts p pos nd lam u es aro nc h go th e be ’s how H ere24 June 2010
24 June 2010These Here metal ’s ho slats l w th they ook li e be could ke nch conta to t dips in co he f loure loor d bar s
This is the fo undation for 26 June 2010 o ne of the two shelters finished on July 23rd! e bench will be rkmen are n ow saying thWo
05 July 2010It’s al so br own, not the silver I was expec But it does m ting. ean it matche s the East Be ach Café
05 July 2010 ... wd o! l cro i al rad m C y as B db d B esse an tn is wi ri val s arIt
05 July 2010 e! t would b et he scale i y realised quit t I don’t think man Bu
05 July 2010Her e’s how the ben ch t wists aro und a la mp pos t an d al The low seco s ac nd s ces helt s to t er is he pr Comp due ome letion to ar nad d ate is r ive o e now s n Ju aid to ly be Jul 9th y 22nd !
06 July 2010The first shelter i s now in position . The two s helters w ill form th e booken ds to the bench.
slats are revealedThe first coloured mauve slat! , there is a of now here And , out06 July 2010
idn’t they ch oose coloursBut why oh why d hose of Littlehamp ton’s beach huts? that matched t
According to a June 20 06 July 2010 10News Release from Ar only 200 of the sl un District Council ats will contain p ersonal messages That seems a . rather pathe tic achievem ent. Here ’s ho in w th tegr e colo ate ured wit slats h th ew ood en s lats .
07 July 2010 sh elter g h the st hrou t tu mble i enc h as g the b st allin on in k s tartsWor
07 July 2010And here’s how the slats will work inside the shelter...
07 July 2010With the bench scheduled to be completed on July 22nd, surely some kind of opening event must be being planned?However, Clare Potter, Arun’s Economic and Development Manager, told me that whilst they originally wanted to involve 450 kids from ConnaughtSchool, because schools break up on the 22nd and they couldn’t guarantee the bench would be ready, they were now looking at different ideas, butnothing will happen this month. She said “Watch this space”I also couldn’t believe she said they wanted to involve the kids because ‘they were the designers’.
09 July 2010Wooden slats are now added to wh ere the bench twist s.
09 July 2010 And nowthe first a we see ppearanc e of pink slats!
the seco nd shelterThere’s been a delay in n Distr ict CouncilFor the first time, Aru ing put up posters explain g what’s happenin called h at it’s out w r ed ab nch o ng Be onfus eem c hey s n’s L o nch? st be nt o B ut eve leh ampt ge s it L itt ’s lon I m pton 09 July 2010 Litt leha
09 July 2010And here’s the first a lmost complete shelt I think it looks pretter. But that’s noy a ood. g t view shared b y most passers- Who all seem by. to hate it!
There a re app arently seven dif f erently c oloure d slats .12 July 2010
Work inside the first shelter 14 July 2010is now almost complete... But the second shelter has yet to arrive, making the July 23rd completion date seem unlikely to be achieved.
The lo cal pap er rep orts o 15 July 2010 n the a rrival of the f irst sh elter. Calling it ‘con trover sial’ The b bad iggest p ly r The the pro oblem I tr je t inst uth is t ct has hink is al h be do prov lation, is has a en com wn to h i a lw m o to s ding fu piece of ays be unicat w helt n en a e er fr ctiona public bou d. om l sea a t the wea ting rt, rath an e ther or som r than . ewh ere
15 July 2010 .. ng s properly. mm unicate thi e nyou don’t co is what h appens whThis Letter published in the Littlehampton Gazette
Even sup porters of 15 July 2010 the benc h are mi s-inform ed... And think it will set a world re cord. Letter published in the Littlehampton Gazette
The first shelter looks like it’s complete. It also proves an irresistible attraction to a bunch of kids... ...who find a way through the fence.18 July 2010
18 July 2010They are the first to discover... is not a shelter!” “This
18 July 2010 It’s a c limbing frame! me a very popular activity in Littlehampton.And I think having your picture taken ‘in the shelter’ will soon beco
19 July 2010 A section of the bench now features a backrest... although I’ve got to say it looks a little fragile right now.
19 July 2010It crawls past the East Beach C afe
19 July 2010 And, for o ne fleetin g momen one shelter t, can be seen through the oth er!
e e str uctur t h t ach ed to s are at Strap19 July 2010
e plac to d in te lif ’s , it tly en ryg ve d, An19 July 2010
19 July 2010 letion... The project’s now close to comp But will it be finished by July 23rd?
22 July 2010 Wh ilst wor k goe A pr s on to oble fini ma sh t ppe h ars e seco on t n After he f d sheIt’s al just a irst lter ready few w she badly eeks lter weat expos hered ure to and s the e tartin leme g to c han nts ge co lour the rprisedion Even ors seem su teriat a t e contrbc the rapid d y
22 July 2010 ts e elemen cked by th s t be ing atta ro m the loc als lte r isn’t ju ming under fire f But the she It’s also co This week’s Gazette includes no less than six letters All expressing disdain for the de sign
22 July 2010 The fact is, pe ople just don’t get what this is all a bout And that’s la rgely down to Arun Dis trict Council’s inept han dling of thi s project Right from the start it has done a really poor jo b of ex plainin g what it is, how it wa s being funded and ho w it will benef it Little hamp ton
23 July 2010 et s cut sly g eriou myst e sign on th m ation e infor he d ay th On t e t iv - n itia ch e’ i Ben d! ang the Ch or e a a pp ‘Se ing f e scr its nd b ces of fu to oun rce ing ann sou sg o ent jor i rnm ma G ove the The -
Now here’s a thought...The shelters are actually the most interesting elements of this project But the truth is they’re not really sheltersAnd calling it a ‘bench’ really doesn’t do justice to what it is So before it’s officially named, why not give it a new one?My suggestion is to rename it ‘Anita’s View’ rson In memory of Anita Roddick, Littlehampton’s most famous pe a reality rt in ma king this projectAn d who played such a big pa 23 July 2010
23 July 2010Literally , Anita’s V iew is ab out the v ista she so enjoy ed...the beach anOn ano d the sea ther le vel, it a l ludes t o her p ioneer ing out look on ethics a nd the green mAnd oveme , imp nt o rtan tly, i t ma kes n o ref eren ce to benc hes, shelI th ters ink or bei ‘Ani ng th ta’s e lon V ie gest w’ w ould be a per fect n ame
29 July 2010 n e t all s are taken dow rrives ith no fanfartha fenceThe big day a And w e
30 July 2010 Ahnmire his design ave’s s eo ad e me J tStudio W co
31 July 2010I wonder what he makes of what’s already happening in the shelter?
31 July 2010 Oop s! T her e’s a typ o!And it jus t ha ppe ns t o be o n th e pr inci pal funde rs s lat!
3 August 2010It doesn’t take long before Mi llimetre a re back... ...taking c lose-up p hotos
3 August 2010...and taking a close look at the slat fixings
6 August 2010The slats themselves are taking a beating.
6 August 2010...as more people walk on the bench than sit on it!
7 August 2010 After just a few weeks, the shelter is beginning to badly rust.
8 August 2010 And it’s not long before someone wants to take a closer look!
8 August 2010 At least he was wearing an appropriate T-shirt!
2 September 2010 e ar app s sl at n ew oTw ed ct r re co a re p os e ty d th A n
2 September 2010 As do es an ew in scr ip t io n. ..
And the first roof graffiti...2 September 2010
2 September 2010 The graffiti has been sanded off . Although it still can be seen. But it looks like it’s going to kee p reappearing.
7 September 2010 Here’s how it looked a month earlie rThe rust is getti ng really bad. Su rely this can’t b e right?
9 September 2010 Oh dear! What have they done no w! This awful sign appears, replacing some slats.
9 September 2010 avin g a sign Do they really think h most people won’t even seewill stop them climbing? I don’t think so!(And surely they could have fou nd a better place to put a sign)
15 September 2010 t They’re h ere to remove the rus ar on the roof Con tractors appe
15 September 2010To tr y and p rotec t the m etal, they apply some spec ia l oil
20 September 2010 s with more of these horrible tag d The bench gets festoone
24 September 2010 2 And this is what the s helter looks like after just months! This i sn But tot just th he re ee sult ffect of s of sla e pdas a salt and h att rain emp ts at rem ovin g graff iti
24 September 2010 And despite having b een opened for nearly the bench has st ill not had an of 8 weeks ficial opening
26 September 2010The stainless ste el is now starting t o rust
An d th On ew es oo ur de el n yh sl at as sa to re qu dis e st co io l an ou n th d rin ec be g ho gi an ice o nn d fm in fe at g ar er to fo ials sp rw lit ha t it w ill so on lo ok lik e!26 September 2010
3o f th ese up righave h ts now lat been s ripp ed o ff 4 October 2010
6 October 2010 The first signs of rust have started to appear inside the shelter
Sure ly, th e stee l sh ould n’t be r ust ing thi sq uic kly ? 6 October 2010
And just look how discoloured the structure has become6 October 2010
And almost everyday new graffiti appears...6 October 2010
11 October 2010The shelter walls have become bla ckboards...
11 October 2010And something that has to be cl eaned on a daily basis
I was interviewe d on BBC Radio Sthe state of the ussex talking ab bench. out I wasn’t given ve ry long (less tha n a minute)Councillor Norm an Dingemans, fCouncil, was als rom Arun Distric o interviewed. t He had the last w ord, but only tal the problems of ked about graffiti. 13 October 2010
18 October 2010 The truth is plain to see... ever y asp ect of the ben ch is looking awful!
But this is as bad asI’ve ever seen it! 20 October 2010
It has truly become a piece of public art! 20 October 2010
g worse p s gettin just keeAnd t he rust 20 October 2010
19 December 2010 And this is what the shelter looks like once the graffiti has been ‘cleaned’ Pretty shabby for something just five months old!
19 December 2010As more and more ‘back slats’ are ripped off, they are not being replaced. New horizontal slats are being put in their place.One can only assume that eventually the back slats will disappear completely!
Ch oo sin gd iff ere nt wa col sa o ure lso d po wo int les o ds sa s in jus ta few m on the ths we a the rh as tur ne dt he m all th es am es ha de !22 December 2010
22 December 2010 M or es la ts ha ve bee n rip pe d of f
And t his is what the r ust n ow look s like22 December 2010
08 February 2011 rmanen t feature e now be come a p raffiti h asG
08 February 2011 t al is to light grey the me brown onths, m dark fter ju st six m ing fro A turn
So after six months The steelwork is rusting The shelters are full of graffiti The wooden slats have faded and been ripped off And the metal structures are streaked and fading12 February 2011
Despite everyone calling it the Longest Bench, Sussex by the Sea are now claiming the bench’s official title is The Long Bench (That’s not what it says on the bench itself!)3 March 2011
3 March 2011And when I asked them why it has never been officially launched Sussex by the Sea come up with this reply... eiling’ “Bench 2 big to hi de so decided against official ‘unv self!” & let public try it straight away so bench could speak for it
16 March 2011 slats aced oken repl he br een ote , all t ow b it ive n ha ve n On a pos l ats ded cks ad f ba een cti on o s b se ha new nd this A
Despite Sussex by the Sea telling me the ben ch’s official title is The Long Benc h A new poster on the promenade proclaims it’s The Longest Bench ! 22 April 2011
Beside the name, the poster also reveals some other interesting points... For the first time, credit for its creation is given to Jane Wood and Sophie Murray of East Beach Café, rather than the schoolchildren.It also says, again for the first time, that the bench is ‘dedicated’ to Anita Roddick. And it clearly states that the bench isn’t finished.22 April 2011
So what can one conclude? For all its aspirations Littlehampton’s Longest Bench has ended up as something unloved. Those responsible for its existence have yet to give it an official opening or even publicise it. Those who designed and built it have either chosen the wrong materials or at least were simply naive as to the ravaging effect the sea and the kids would have on it. More people walk on the bench than sit on it and the two shelters have become climbing frames just waiting for a serious accident to happen. And with no signage explaining what it is, most visitors have no idea what they’re looking at. It may never become the longest bench in the world, but what it’s longing for right now is for Littlehampton to show it some TLC.
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