For tourists, Jaywick in Essex is your usual seaside town. Consisting of amusement arcades and a sandy beach, it’s was once a popular destination for Londoners who used to flock there during the summer months. Why then was it voted one of the most deprived towns in the UK in both 2010 and 2015?
After the Second World War, with many homes destroyed by the bombings, and with a shortage of homes in London, people moved into their holiday homes in Jaywick as permanent settlements. Mostly consisting of holiday style homes along the beach, however, the houses were not built to last, and with few flood defences put into place, the buildings started to reach a state of disrepair until they were no longer safe to live in and were left empty. As people started to move from the area, less investment was put into the town and unemployment grew rapidly.
Jaywick has seen unemployment figures rise dramatically, with 62% of working age residents in Jaywick receiving benefits compared to the 15% national average. In 2010 and 2015, Jaywick was reported as being one of the most deprived towns in the UK, according to the indices of deprivation based on several factors including poverty, crime, education and skill levels, unemployment and housing, after being accessed in 2012-13.
Sandra Mickiewicz is a Polish documentary photographer who lives and works in North London. As a child she grew up in a small village in Poland, with a population of just over 1000. In 2007, her parents moved to London, with a population exceeding 8 million. The first time Sandra heard about Jaywick was In 2017, when Channel 5 aired a documentary film called “Benefits By The Sea”, which focused on topics such as alcohol, drugs, crime and health issues. “My first visit in Jaywick was not impressive” says Sandra. “A woman from the local post office was very aggressive towards me. People were not happy to see me with my medium format camera on the massive tripod. They thought I was another journalist who wanted to focus on the negative side of Jaywick”. Originally being from a small town, curiosity got the better of Sandra and she started researching more about the local community, knowing that the TV show wasn’t all that Jaywick had to offer.
Happy Club is a series that derived from Mickiewicz immersing herself within a local community group “I gained the trust of the community and therefore; I was invited to photograph the group” says Sandra. “My aim was to focus on the idea of community in spite of difficult circumstances and their acceptance of me, as a photographer documenting their community and becoming part of their social circle”.
The Jaywick Sands Happy Club was a group set up in 2015 by residents of Jaywick, with the idea of coming together once a week to discuss their ideas on how to improve their living circumstances and how to solve the problems which people were struggling with. The local community organise a range of different activities for children and teenagers of all ages. The most well known event is called “Jaywick’s Got Talent”, where everyone is welcome to present their talents to the audience. “I had attended Jaywick’s Got Talent twice and I was amazed not only by the talent these people had, but also how everyone was supportive of each other. However, the best event I had a pleasure to be a part of was a Christmas Party. It was that time when I felt like I wasn’t only a photographer amongst these people, but their close friend. I came into their lives from nowhere and they fully accepted me and trusted me”. Throughout the series, Sandra explores a side of Jaywick which only the local community understand and know. The project as a whole focuses primarily on this tight knit community of people coming together to try and make a change for themselves and others, although they are sometimes faced with difficulties.