‘Never eat shredded wheat!’ a helpful person yelled to aid with the confusion of which side of the pillar was South West and which was North East. It was a sunny Thursday morning in August and an army of volunteers had come together to paint Bottle Alley, an initiative organised by creative collective, ZEROH. Spirits were high and people of all ages were eager and ready, yielding rollers, paint trays and brushes, awaiting their instructions.

Photography by JJ Waller
Cover image: Daniel Hardiker and Neil Hetherington, Zeroh

Each person was allocated a pillar and each tin of Leyland paint had a number and a name written upon it: a system that Dan and Neil of Zeroh had only thought up that morning. They looked slightly nervous that it wouldn’t work and they also advised everyone not to paint right to the bottom of the pillars because of dog wee. Sound advice I thought.

Photo JJ Waller

Bottle Alley is a unique double-tiered promenade structure, built in 1934 and designed by Sidney Little who was known as ‘the concrete king’. Large concrete panels were lowered from the promenade. They were decorated with pieces of smashed bottles, hence the name Bottle Alley. There are several original spare panels still hidden away in one of the units, just in case. It is a walkway that has been undesirable at times but one that locals and visitors are highly fond of. Once tins of paint and pillars had been allocated, I began walking and chatting with the volunteers whose once pristine overalls were now splattered with shades of blue.

I asked one man why he had volunteered to paint Bottle Alley as his pillar changed from white to turquoise. “Bottle Alley means a lot to me. It’s the place I’ve always come to in times of joy and in times of sadness.” He is a partially sighted artist, going by the name of ‘Two Eyes Blind’. He told me that bright, colourful stripes were his thing, making it abundantly obvious why he was here, painting colourful stripes that would be seen by the whole community for a long time to come.

Six-year-old Ziggy thought this would be a good thing to do with his dad but was slightly disappointed with his colour. “It’s very pale,” he said, “too close to white!” We discussed this further and despite wanting a darker shade, Ziggy was still enjoying the ride.

Photography by JJ Waller

Artist Lorna Hamilton-Brown was also disappointed that she wasn’t wearing her usual trademark turquoise lipstick that would have matched perfectly with her pillar. “I remember when the artwork was originally done, it was so amazing and over the years I’ve watched it deteriorate so it was really nice to get involved and actually be a part of the artwork,” Lorna vowed to pop back down to Bottle Alley another time wearing her lipstick.

“…this isn’t just about us, it’s a collective respectful effort and really just the start.”

Dan and Neil Zeroh standing by pillars

Q&A with ZEROH

What is your connection with Bottle Alley? What other projects have you been a part of/created there?

Bottle Alley has captured our hearts and minds, but it’s also ruined our clothes, exhausted us and stolen our sunglasses. Ultimately it’s inspired us and challenged us in equal measures. We definitely feel an affinity with the space, we see an opportunity for it to grow and want to develop some of its qualities that will help it to meet its potential, especially now there are businesses down there too. We see it as an undervalued cultural asset that has great potential for Hastings and St. Leonards community as a whole and expand upon how it was originally intended to be used by its architect, county engineer Sidney Little. We have plans to improve and introduce infrastructure and assets which will give access to others. We view our presence down there over the next couple of years as us laying groundwork for others to build upon.

‘Wavelength’ mark II is the 4th intervention we’ve produced in the space, the first was ‘Point of Decay’ in 2015. We were commissioned by Coastal Currents to produce an opening event, but we turned the space into a gallery by commissioning 16 local artists to produce work that wrapped around the columns. The event, a champagne reception with a classical trio performing on a red carpet at the pier end of the alley, was attended by 1.5k people and pre-dated much-needed extensive repair work, hence the title.

Wavelength Mark 1, was produced in 2018 and soon after we were commissioned by the council to produce a music-to-light|show to highlight the new lighting system we advised on, videos of which are online. It’s a space for everyone, we registered BottleAlley.org so that we can start to give it even more of an identity and future-proof the space which needs resources to maintain and improve it. We are grateful that the council are prepared to listen to our ideas, no matter how wild they are. We are just getting started on the interactive and responsive qualities of the lights and we will be returning to the light shows to music this winter.

How did Thursday make you feel, seeing all those people coming together to help?

It made everyone feel great, this isn’t just about us, it’s a collective respectful effort and really just the start. So far, nearly 300 people have come forward to help. We are so moved by this, and the teams of painters were so patient with us on the day as it was quite a task. But the main point to make about the volunteers is that we want to get to know them going forward as Bottle Alley will always continue to challenge us all, and the generosity of spirit and selflessness that we experienced gives us confidence in the community and in the challenge.

What is next for ZEROH?

Neil: To keep learning and improving our art and have a meaningful life, embrace new challenges, eat more jam. Dan: Ditto to what Neil’s said and as well as the plans we’ve already mentioned for Bottle Alley we have some exciting commissions coming up and we’re in talks about a series of immersive gigs with the band Stick in The Wheel, following on from our show with them as part of Brighton Festival, with whom we’ve been working closely with over the past three years.

The weather turned on us shortly after the painting of the pillars but the colour and light along that stretch of walkway gives hope on even the dullest of days. Locals have been avidly posting pictures of it on social media, delighted that it has a new lease of life again.

The businesses down there (Starsky and Hatch and The Selkie) will hopefully see the benefits. I’m pretty sure that Sidney Little will be smiling down on his pride and joy, and when six-year-old Ziggy and all the other volunteers next take the walk from The Pier to Warrior Square, the colours will light up their faces and they’ll think “Yeah, I did that”. ⚫

To find out the latest news about Wavelength and the recent Bottle Alley Art Market that took place after we went to print — visit www.bottlealley.org

Author

  • Mel Elliott

    Originally from Barnsley in South Yorkshire, Mel Elliott graduated with an MA from The Royal College of Art in 2007, after which she started her publishing label, I Love Mel. Mel's pop-culture colouring books have sold worldwide and her children's books have been published in many languages. Mel has worked on projects with major publishers in the UK, USA, Italy, Taiwan and South Korea. She is currently working on her first YA novel... as well as Get Hastings.

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