The coastal exploration of Beach of Dreams 2025 is based on a partnership of arts, cultural, environmental, and community organisations across England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland, bringing together artists, scientists, and writers with communities to raise awareness of the environment and the climate emergency, and share stories and hopes by claiming mile per mile on a shared walking experience.
This year, in 2023, Kinetika already brings a participatory programme to Morecambe Bay with Bay Lines – Beach of Dreams, offering beach installation events with walking and cycling participation at four locations across the Bay open to all from 25 to 28 August.
We’re supporting Kinetika and Creative Lives with fundraising for Beach of Dreams 2025, bringing the consultancy expertise of our Head of Consultancy Jo Dacombe, who also has an artistic background and leads creative activities on art walks in her own practice, to the project that aims to explore the massive stretches of coastlines in this multi-national partnership.
We talked to Kinetika’s Artistic Director and founder member Ali Pretty about Beach of Dreams, how the project started and her ambitions for where it will develop:
Tell us more about the work Kinetika do?
Kinetika was founded 25 years ago, and the vision is the same as it has always been – using arts to empower communities and tell their stories. We find different ways of doing that from a visual arts perspective; we specialise in creating hand-painted silks, and we have used that in many different forms. We used to do a lot of carnival when we were in London, working with groups of people from diverse backgrounds, young people particularly, telling epic stories through the artform of carnival.
In 2010, I began walking for myself. I wanted a bit of a change from carnival, and I was wondering what to do, so I started walking. What I find is the longer I walk, the less I am thinking about the shopping-list-things in my head, but the thoughts come to me, and ideas come to me. The conversations I have with people when I’m walking are different from being around the table. So, I think it’s a very creative activity. I wondered if I could do something with the walking, and walking with the communities, so I started developing the model which became Beach of Dreams – we’ve been leading artist-lead walks with communities for 10 years now.
What is the inspiration behind Beach of Dreams?
Beach of Dreams came out of a previous walk. The basic model is around collecting stories from different people – usually the walks have a particular question or theme – then translating those stories into drawings and walking with the people who gave the stories for them to tell their story in the landscape.
The beginnings of Beach of Dreams came out of a project called Silk River, where we walked along the River Thames. We engaged ten communities along the River Thames and ten communities along the river Hooghly in India, it was an international exchange. I’ve always been very keen on narrative and sharing the stories. I was walking with Kevin Rushby, who is a Guardian travel writer, and I commissioned him to write a blog every day. We walked from Tilbury at the docks in Thurrock until East Tilbury. There is a stretch of Thames and when you come along it, there’s a specific piece which is only like 50 yards long, which is a glass beach. It was a low light in a September afternoon, the sun was shining on this glass and so it became a glistening beach. Kevin was really amazed because he’d never seen it before, “What is going on with his beach?” When you look, it’s lots of bits of broken glass and plates and bottles. It’s the remnants of the dumping of domestic waste – rubble that came up to the Blitz in 1945 in London. It has been a dumping ground for lots of different materials for a long time. In this particular place, it washes up new glass every time. Kevin wrote in his blog: “What dreams were shattered when the bomb went off, this is the beach of broken dreams”, and therefore gave me the line. So I was, if this is the beach of broken dreams, where is the beach of dreams – we better go and find it. Still looking.
The vision that I had when I unpacked that story was that, along basically a scraggy bit of muddy coastline, out of the mud were shining these glistening gems. My question was what would happen if we picked them up, if we collected together all these glistening gems of our broken shore and put them together, would we get an envisioned future? Glistening gems are basically ourselves and our community and our landscapes. There are lots of fantastic things and fantastic people doing brilliant things all along the coastline, well actually in the world. And this is about shining a spotlight on those values and the quality and saying that if we all shine the spotlight on these positives, then we could change the world. And that is what Beach of Dreams is about.
What an amazing process to develop from the walks at the river…
And this walking model has been evolving. In 2021, when we did the first walk of 500 miles, we didn’t know it was going to be the first because we didn’t know we would get ambitious and scale it up. The first walking project I did was in 2012, and what I wanted was to have a continuous walk and an unfolding narrative. As I said the narrative is really important, which is why we did the daily writing. What I felt was if you walk continuously, the conversation builds, and you can build from one day to the next. The person who walks the whole thing, which is always me, holds a conversation and takes the conversation from one place to the next.
In Beach of Dreams, we invited people to adopt a mile, so we had 500 miles in 2021. We had 500 Eventbrite bookings. We did a call out and you could sign up to your mile. This was also in lockdown so the only place you could actually go was the mile outside your house. In our own way, we had a captive audience. They adopted a mile and then they were invited to write about their favourite spot on their mile and talk about what connected them, what rooted them to that particular spot. Have them think about the memories they might have had as a family, with grandparents, people that are not here anymore, the history of that place, what’s different about it, and then look out to their horizon and imagine what it’s going to be for their great-great-great grandchildren, like in a 100 year’s time. Is it still going to be here, what will have changed? And then people were invited to send in their writing about their mile and also a photograph, a close-up and a landscape shot. From the close-up shots, we made the designs for the 500 silk pennants, and then we finished them all, and when we got there, we’d ask them to tell us or read us their story, and they were very powerful stories. In the beginning of each mile, somebody would read and tell us their story and then that would influence the conversation. We also uploaded all those stories onto a digital story map, so there is an archive of all the stories of particularly that moment in time in 2021.
So I thought, we better go to COP. So, off we went to COP with our 500 silks and joined a lot of pilgrims, who came from all over Europe, and a lot of Scottish climate activists. We were having a conversation about hope in these times. What they felt was that the silks and the flags really added a completely different dimension. When we walked into Glasgow with the silks, they felt really touched that they were walking somebody’s dreams. They talked about the power of artists and art, and the power of these silks to change people’s emotional attachment to these issues – the issue of the climate emergency – and said this is really important, this is what is needed, because people are not really feeling it. So I said, in that case, we better do it nationally.
And it has grown into the big scale of this multinational project – how has working with Creative Lives further developed the approach and the scale of the project?
I’m never short of an ambitious idea and it’s not the first ambitious idea that I’ve had, but I learnt from previous attempts to do national projects that I really needed a national partner. In Kinetika, we are quite small in terms of an organisation, with a few part-time staff. Although we have worked nationally and internationally a lot, I recognise that we needed to work with a national partner. Creative Lives really aligns with the values – they are promoting creativity in everyday life – and this is call out for everyone to use creativity to explore their feelings about the climate emergency and their future. The first time Robin and I met, I thought that we were really on the same page in terms of values. This project is all about values and it’s all about changing the emphasis of all values. The only way in which we can make the change that we need to as a human race is to reorganise our value system.
It’s really interesting working with Robin, as I’m an artist. I approach projects not necessarily from an artistic point of view, but in a very intuitive way. Working with Creative Lives – Robin is very structured and very logistic. He wants to have a plan, stick to the plan and make it happen. So we have recognised that we work differently, but it’s good. It means it’s a very dynamic relationship, and being with Creative Lives, makes me feel safe.
In this kind of relationship, it’s always kind of balancing each other out in a way, isn’t it? You need to have both sides to make it happen.
One of the things that can be really interesting about this whole process is what the effect is of having these two very different leadership styles – it might throw up something really interesting in the way that it can enable these really ambitious ideas to happen, allow the artists to be that ambitious. I think what we both believe in is in social change, and we both feel quite passionate about it.
People say to me, what do you want to happen after Beach of Dreams has taken place. What I wanted it to be, which is very ambitious – I would like to imagine that the UK will feel different after Beach of Dreams has happened. Because I believe it’s such a difficult thing to do to pull everyone together, but such a necessary thing to do at this time in particular, that if we do it, we will have worked out a process by which we can impact communities and local people on a mile to mile basis. And at the moment, I feel that there’s a system that is disempowering people at the grassroots. Some of our systems are really not working at the moment, so we have to challenge them and think about different ways of working. That’s why I am doing Beach of Dreams.
Because you talked about funding, what are the benefits of having Art Reach and our consultancy expert Jo, who is an artist herself, on board in this process?
We felt when we started doing the project – when our set-up producer Mary pulled together the overview plan, programme and a starting budget – that it’s better to have a specialist fundraiser on board. Because of my track record with Art Reach, having worked with David Hill before, he recommended Jo and it’s really enjoyable and I really feel pleased to have that. I’ve only met Jo on Zoom, I really would like to go for a walk with her. She is doing a great job and I think it’s really tough because it’s such a layered and complex project. It’s good to have somebody who is not familiar with the project so much, because she can hopefully put it in a way to fundraisers so they can understand it. We understand it because we’re living and breathing it. So it’s good to getting to know each other and I hope that will flourish.
How do you think the project will be different in each region or each nation and how will the geographical differences influence the project delivery?
We’re having what we call lead locations in each of the five nations. For example, the South West Coast Path is partnering with Activate and Endorset, and they’re going to take on a couple of hundred miles. Activate have a festival called Inside Out in Dorset every two years. So their focus would be very much on artist commissions and art in the landscape.
We were just talking about maybe different regions leading on different art forms. This is good because we’re getting into more creative discussions. I’m at the stage where I am talking to lots of people about Beach of Dreams, and about how to get involved, there are so many ideas.
So once we’ve settled on all the lead players, we’ll have zooms with all the creative producers across the five nations, and I think that could start being really fertile. We can support each other in terms of different expertise, or different art forms, or maybe commission an artist who then can tour the five nations in a month.
Does the delivery across the different nations bring different challenges to you and to your team and the whole project?
Yes, that’s really interesting because I start getting a new feeling of what Britain’s like, where the tensions are and how they’re very different, even within England; obviously there are lots of different regions. Ireland have been very collaborative, and we’ve already got a cross-border partnership in Ireland, between Belfast and Cork. People came forward very fast, and also the environmental movement is really strong there. It’s a really strong partnership in academic, environmental and arts organisations and that seems to have come together really quick.
The project is about offering an opportunity for people to being part of a movement. The two things that are connecting everybody is the continuous walking, which connects all along the coast, and the silk pennants and their stories. That’s what’s interesting about it. What we’re trying to do is to create a framework which creates a movement, but each local mile has its freedom to be individual, which again, goes back to the political aspect of the project – we should be living our lives and that we can have control over our local decisions.
It is about bringing all these different groups from different places and people with different interests together, isn’t it?
Yes, and because we talked about the geography, there’s also the mapping of walks. We have a volunteer called Martin, who has been trying to map all the walks and give a broad overview how the route planning is going to be, how many miles it is. We divided the coastline into 47 sections of approximately 250 miles. Now we’re drilling down onto those sections and go, well is it that many miles? How many days would it take to walk? Which are the bits you can’t walk but you’re going to kayak, like around the northwest of Scotland, which is probably going to be a kayaking opportunity. I think that out of the 10,000 miles there are probably 6,000 walkable miles on footpaths. Particularly in Scotland and Ireland, there’s a lot less of coastal paths. In Ireland, there’s a lot of private land with no footpaths, so there’s probably going to be a lot of sailing activity, and hopefully some keen kayakers in Scotland.
What we’ll do is we will invite people to sign up to the miles that they can walk. And I think we will get ultra sport people who will take on the bits that are too challenging for the normal human being. Then we want to map where all the more accessible routes are, there are a lot of promenades on beaches, quite a lot of accessible walkways, and a bit more off-road for tramping, for the super powerful wheelchairs.
How is the difference in approach of engaging the local communities, artists, writers, scientist, etc.?
Obviously what we had to do first was to identify the lead locations. Those people who had been taking on more miles at the lead locations were then tasked with identifying people in their section. So it cascades down locally. And then if you’re going to do something smaller, like 30 miles, you’re a hub, which has a little bit less responsibility because you are only thinking about 30 miles.
In Dover, we got local organisations who wanted to do about 50 miles; they’ve got several organisations that want to do this, so they will then decide how they want to do it. It’s not a top-down approach. There are suggestions of what has worked before, but it’s over to you as long as you’ve got the continuous walking.
One of the ways that we wanted to distinguish between the regions is in a different colour. So what we’re aiming to do is to get people to collect materials from their mile and their landscape, and to see what different colours come from the different regions and then the different regions would have different colourways, when you see the silks.
In August, we’re going to install the existing east silks from the East of England and then we’ll put the 120 new silks from Morecombe Bay amongst the east silks. But they should look different because there will be a different colourway. In October 2024, we’re trying to bring together a whole national residency, where from each of the 47 sections they sent one artist. They will bring their own materials that they collected from their region. We will experiment will all those colours and collectively as a team of artists we will decide on the colourways for each section and how it fits together as a whole.
Let’s talk about the digital platform, so people claim their mile and send in their story and their images?
The digital part is probably at least 50% of the project. Because if there was no digital aspect to it, you would just do your mile. But because it is digital, it connects everybody up, you can access everybody else’s stories and that’s what makes it a movement. That’s what gives it its power. And I hope people will go ”it’s my mile but I am part one of 10,000 miles.”
What do you hope will be the legacy of the project?
The legacy would be that the UK feels different, for it having happened. By that I mean that people on a mile-to-mile level feel more empowered, more connected to their space, more connected to their neighbours, more connected to a wider world. I think that the UK is in a very tricky moment of its history. I feel exasperated about the number of people I know that are suffering from incredible disconnect, loneliness, depression, cost of living. We had Covid on top of Brexit, now we got the cost of living. A lot of people haven’t been travelling very much, even out of their region, let alone internationally. I’d like to think that by challenging people, inviting people to be part of something that is really of a large scale – it’s happening in the UK, hopefully that will inspire other international nations and will connect us – I just want people to feel more hopeful about themselves and the future, and that Britain has a future, of course, it does. We’re a lovely fertile island with phenomenal walking, we need to go back out and celebrate and love it.
In terms of international, I’m part of the World Trails network, which is a network of people that run walks around the world, and I’m on the international board for that, I actually head the arts and culture team. Artists can play a role here, there are lots of walking artists, so let’s look at the walking artist models.
They have a biennale conference and in 2024 it’s in Ottawa, Canada, and they have adopted Beach of Dreams. There will be a Call to Action at the conference in Ottawa to any other country in the world on a coastline that wants to echo Beach of Dreams in their country. So I’m not dreaming when I’m saying it’s international. It’s an invitation for people walking the coast all over the world in May 2025, having a conversation about the climate.
You can read more about the Beach of Dreams project on Kinetika‘s website: Beach of Dreams.
Find out more about Bay Lines in Morecambe Bay here: Bay Lines – Beach of Dreams.
- Friday 25 August – Walney Island
- Saturday 26 August – Grange-over-Sands
- Sunday 27 August – Arnside
- Monday 28 August (Bank Holiday) – Morecambe