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A town on the brink of change with Simon Martin

This article contains image descriptions in the captions to help those with visual impairments.

On the outskirts of London, small towns and villages are undergoing big changes. With the cost of living spiralling above your average salary and rented properties having their price hiked up, new housing developments are being built around the edges of London, known now as ‘commuter towns’. One such town is Sittinbourne, hometown of photographer Simon Martin and the focus point for his ongoing project Bearing Fruit.

Bearing Fruit – Simon Martin ID: A suburban street with new houses to the left and right of the image. Blue skies with fluffy white clouds occupy the sky.

“The project started with a deeply personal response to the plans, I felt a lot of my childhood and identity was being taken away. As I’ve grown older I’ve realised that I have those memories and that is fine, I don’t need a walk in time capsule to have them.”

With development going ahead in Sittingbourne, Martin explores not only the change of the physical landscape, but the changes in the people who live there too. Change is something we are all going through in the UK, from Brexit to life in lockdown. But change isn’t always for the best, even if it is inevitable. The development of Sittingbourne has split its community, a tension that can be found within Martin’s portraits. 

“Opinions vary depending on who you speak to, a lot of the wealthier parts of town are frustrated and don’t want their lives changed by busier roads and large housing estates; others just want a Primark and a new bingo hall.” 

Bearing Fruit – Simon Martin ID: Three young women stand wearing purple dresses, white cardigans and tiaras. They all have a sash across their bodies which say “Miss Sittingbourne Princess 2015”.
Bearing Fruit – Simon Martin ID: A bingo hall filled with two by two chairs and tables. A woman is sat at a table playing bingo with a few other players scattered around the hall.
Bearing Fruit – Simon Martin ID: A large model of a race hound on top of a car parks on a road with onlookers walking besides the car.

Although the expansion of towns and small cities can be a positive thing for jobs and attracting new visitors, the loss of identity is something that has been seen across the UK. Small independent businesses can’t compete with the big chains when they set up shop close to new residential builds for new residents convenience. Bearing Fruit brings this to the forefront, there’s an emptiness to scenes depicted and a level of anxious anticipation on the faces of local residents. The photographs have this quiet patience about them, a sleepy town with industrial roots, waiting for this change to be sprung upon them. There is a strong sense of community and how spaces are used by local residents, a sense of hanging on to identity comes across. This sense of hanging on is felt by Martin himself;

Bearing Fruit – Simon Martin ID: A factory with piles of wooden pallets and a large industrial building with its lights on in the background.
Bearing Fruit – Simon Martin ID: A supermarket scene with islands of beer stacked up and produce on the white shelves.
Bearing Fruit – Simon Martin ID: A small dog with a red harness with its owners legs and feet alongside. The dogs harness has a sign on it saying “no to 700 houses”.

“The project started with a deeply personal response to the plans, I felt a lot of my childhood and identity was being taken away. As I’ve grown older I’ve realised that I have those memories and that is fine, I don’t need a walk in time capsule to have them.”

With the memory of what a town once was and being documented as it begins to change, Bearing Fruit holds a unique place as a transitional moment in the town’s history. A place where the community carve out the traditions and future of the town, clinging on to the past whilst looking into the future.

Bearing Fruit – Simon Martin ID: A sunset sky with pink and purple colours over a wet marshland.

You can find more of Simon’s work here: https://www.simon-martin.org/

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